Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Engage! Engage! Engage!

Bhakt. Aaptard. Congi. Anti-national. Fascist.

If you have been online and have expressed an opinion on anything at all in the past two three years, you would have definitely been called one of these. This is what makes up majority of the vocabulary of online 'discussions'.

The level of debate and discussion in the online world has dropped so much that I am more likely to hear nuanced points from Grade 2 students than from a Facebook or Twitter exchange between adults with different ideologies.

Facebook has become a collection of photos of my friends getting married or sharing articles which either attack or support a government or an issue. While I really appreciate the engagement with important topics. I detest the way that engagement happens. I have either seen people take sides and have extreme opinions or I have seen insignificant things being blown out of proportion followed by random name calling. The number of people I have seen being convinced about an opposing view because of a discussion with someone online is almost next to zero. I agree that the online world is not the most convenient to express views let alone convince someone. I believe we do a really poor job of even trying to be civil in our conversations.

Given below is the photo I saw a few days ago. It truly represents what I believe is the actual political spectrum.

Unfortunately, the online world is giving mics to the right most and the left most individuals on the spectrum. As the photo points out, they do not true representatives of their sides. They form a really small part of the group that believes in the left or the right wing ideology.

I keep writing online world because that's probably the only one that cares so much. In a country like India, where a very small percentage of people have internet and an even smaller percentage actually participates in these discussions online, opinion of online radical groups should ideally have no credibility at all.

Unfortunately, in a click bait and breaking news obsessed world, we have news houses peddling views by these people who have extreme ideologies. It brings them advertisement revenue because everyone seems to love an outrage. The crazier the article and its headline, the more shares it gets. It is pure business for them. It doesn't seem to matter to them that they are radicalizing the undecided crowd and pushing them to the extremes.

Once you have chosen a side, it seems like it is illegal to even listen to the other side's argument. You have to disagree and you have to tell them that you are right and they are wrong. This just promotes echo chambers where because of our online activities, the algorithms show us what we agree with which in turn reinforces it. Hello Confirmation Bias!

[Listen to this debate if you want to understand what role algorithms play in narrowing our world view.]

Confirmation bias is one of the most common traps to fall into. Your opinion of this post might also be affected by confirmation bias you have against or for me. Confirmation bias makes us jump to conclusions without needed any facts/evidence to support that conclusion. Scientists call it jumping 'Ladder of Inference'. 

Our current generation is also prone to over simplifying difficult things to make it 'easy'. Well, some things are complex for a reason. Sometimes when someone over simplifies something, it loses its value. It also leaves it open to misinterpretation. Embrace complexity.

Here is a fallacy which we have seen in action multiple times on social media

This is basically how lawyer students make fun of people online. It is also how 'outrage' is generated. I wonder if we have a recent example of where this was used. Oh wait. Gurmehar Kaur.

I am not on either side of this debate but I know that the above photo and the nine words in it were not her entire argument. It was a lot more than that. Unfortunately for her, these are the nine words that everyone has read the most and well, you already know how that ended.

The point I am trying to make it, there are always going to be people who will believe in different things. It has been the case in the past and it will be the case in the future. If we disregard other people's opinions, we stop ourselves from evolving. It will also completely diminish your chances of trying to convince that other person because if you are not going to listen to them, they are not going to listen to you.

So we end up with people with radical views and no one wanting to engage in a conversation. No one is forcing you to change your opinion but if you don't know the other side's argument, how are you making an informed choice?

I am not saying we should engage with every nameless egg dp-ed twitter account which only abuses but there are genuine people out there who can discuss things in a more civil manner. We must not assume that just because some random guy on the internet is not conversing that all people who believe in something different are not open to conversation.

It also starts with us. We have to be open to new ideas to meet people who are open to new ideas. If you are open minded, you have to be open minded enough to realize that not all people will be as open minded as you right from the start.

People behave the way they do because of experiences and the more deep rooted the beliefs become, the more difficult it becomes for the person to evolve. New experiences is what pushes our beliefs. If we resist them, we are slaves to our preconceived beliefs.

Engage with that person who supports a different political party than you do.

Engage with that person who believes in a different religion.

Engage with that person who think someone you consider a hero is a hack.

Engage with that person who believes in a different economic system.

Engage with that person who believes we must do things differently than the way you believe.

Engage. Engage. Engage.

It is the only way both sides will learn and understand better. It is the only way the 'right' path can be found. It is the only way to live in a civilized society.

Ask questions with genuine intention of wanting to know/understand more and not to patronize or troll or demean.

There are more than seven billion experiences available for you. Why limit yourself to just one?

Make the world a safer space to share ideas and opinions. You never know which one might be that changes our lives forever.

I wrote this as a long rant. I will keep editing it as and when I understand this better myself. Please do suggest any changes that you think might make this better.

Thank you