I had a fascinating discussion yesterday with a scholar who studies the impact and use of digital media in teaching civic knowledge and skills.
Despite the widespread concern about use of the Internet to construct our favored realities–to build a “bubble” consisting of our preferred “facts” and interpretations–his research suggests there is less “bubble living” online than in the physical world, where we often choose to live and move in neighborhoods of the like-minded.
The Internet has facilitated what he calls “communities of interest”–Harry Potter or Star Trek fans, knitters, collectors, etc. Those communities include folks with varied political views, and political discussions come up in their interactions more often than we might think.
For those of us worried about the demise of the daily newspaper, where readers would encounter subjects and points of view that differed from their own, this research is reason to cheer. It also should remind us that there is so much we do not know about the ways that Facebook, Twitter et al are shaping social interactions and building different kinds of community.
It’s also well to recognize the ways in which geography can insulate us. Look at those maps of red and blue states. Or ponder the observation of the older student in my media class, who noted that she’d grown up in Martinsville, in what she described as a “racist bubble” composed of neighbors who all held the same attitudes about African-Americans and other people of color. As she pointed out, the Internet allows people to escape those kinds of bubbles.
Reality is more complicated than we think. Fortunately.