I’m addicted to TED videos. I love watching brilliant people talk about something interesting for 15 minutes. I feel smarter or happier or energized after they’re over. Usually. But this video just left me concerned. It makes the point that the internet (and here, specifically, Facebook and Google) is tailoring the information we’re receiving just for us based on our preferences. So we hear more of what we want to hear and fewer dissenting voices. This strikes me as dangerous.
Know what’s not edited by an algorithm? A letter. Reaching out to someone new through a letter puts you in contact with a person who likely holds world views very different from your own. I find it a wonderful exercise to meet people via mail that I’m just sure I won’t have anything in common with and then find we have a few shared interests on which we can build pen friendships. I have pen pals who are in high school and who are elderly, male and female, disabled, from big cities and small towns, who are straight, gay, other, who have diverse ethnic backgrounds and who hold different religious beliefs. I enjoy this, because it’s good for me to stretch my world view once in a while. Meeting a new pen pal is a great way to do it!
We need to reach out to others directly, because, as Jon Stewart just showed us, we can’t rely on our media not to cater to our interests… (Update: I’ve now linked to the Huffington Post article on Stewart’s making fun of Time Magazine’s fluff cover stories in the U.S., because the video of him doing it has disappeared from The Daily Show’s website…)…Update: I found a copy elsewhere, maybe this will stay up!:
We need to reach out to others to find out what our new interests should be! Hearing only what we want to hear reinforces a dogmatic way of thinking. Reaching only for the “fluff” information will hasten brain softening. We become so reassured of our own way of thinking that we know without a doubt that we are right and everyone else is wrong. That’s what Congress sounds like these days. That’s what the media is showing of religious disagreements. That’s the red state vs. blue state concept.
Researcher Brene Brown argues that we are increasingly shielding ourselves from feeling vulnerable. But as we shy away from sharing ourselves in ways that leave us vulnerable to others, we also lose the opportunities to open up and truly connect with others. (This video is really worth the 20 minutes.)
So as the election season heats up, and it seems like civil discourse is out the window, I encourage you to reach out to others through letters. You may find that people you don’t share political or religious views with are actually nice folks who deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, and understanding even as you disagree. And while you’re at it, let yourself be vulnerable in your letters–share aspects of yourself that you may not generally divulge. Recent letters with my pen pals have shown me that opening up can result in a lovely reciprocation that feels deep and warm and comforting. It puts you at risk for rejection as well. But it’s worth it.
Is this all too touchy feely for you? I admit, it strikes me that way a bit, and I’m writing it. But I think that proves the point that we’ve become so resistant to being vulnerable that we react negatively to it before we give it a chance.
As March arrives and spring is on its way, I encourage you to let yourself bloom out of your winter shell and connect with others fully, openly, and vulnerably in life and in letters.