The internet is now one of the most vital sources of information for people all over the world. News spreads at breath-taking speed across the platforms of social media. One single click is enough to agree with someone else’s opinion or forward information to others. The split-second speed at which such decisions are taken generally doesn’t leave much room for careful consideration. All too often such speed comes at the detriment of diligence and quality.

As I myself use the various platforms of social media for my OUBEY MINDKISS project, I know the ways other users react, and the challenges associated with them, from my own experience. Here are a few of my personal thoughts on the subject. 

Know-it-alls vs. knowledge seekers

Digital networking has made it incredibly easy for us to spread our own personal views. This is great because it gives a voice to people who otherwise wouldn’t be heard in public. And it also gives us all access to information and opinion which helps us to broaden our own understanding and gain new knowledge. Yet it can also have quite a different effect by reinforcing one particular human trait in us – our tendency to become assertively arrogant and self-opinionated.   

How often do we only approve and pass on that which corresponds to what we already think – without ever stopping to check whether our opinion really is well-founded in each particular case. And conversely, how often do we simply ignore information and opinions that don’t fit into our own view of the world or even worse, troll and abuse views different from our own in firestorm attacks. 

Probably people have always found it difficult not merely to tolerate different opinions but wherever possible to consider them as incentives to start fresh trains of thought. And we have always found it even more difficult to admit our own failures and errors in viewing or assessing a particular issue. Admitting to errors or mistakes is seen as a sign of weakness. 

Both the speed and the structure of communication on the Social Web seem to actively encourage this human propensity to a righteous belief in the correctness of our opinions by affording us permanent endorsement of our own way of thinking – at the cost of a differentiated view of other ways of thinking that differ from our own. 

Be strong and turn the dice

True dialogue is thin on the ground. Because far too often we take too little trouble to question and probe the different opinions other people have. The ideological aspect of opinion-formation is playing an increasingly significant role in this because the less I’m prepared to critically examine the information that reaches me and debate it, the more I’m swimming on the cusp of a wave formed by the opinion-makers – and the more I am liable to be seduced by the seeming correctness of the opinion of the multitude.

In dialogue reality always has three sides: one that I see, one that you see and one that neither of us sees. In this sense reality can be compared to a dice cube all of whose sides I can never see from whatever standpoint I adopt. To see all its sides I must either turn it or ask other people who see the sides I can’t. This is poignant and highly telling, and it means that we should be able to admit that our own standpoint must not (necessarily) be the only correct one. 

A question of mindset

Being able to admit your own limitations and weaknesses to yourself – and others – is, I believe, a sign of strength. Nobody is infallible. Only if you can admit your own errors and mistakes can you be really strong and at the same time fully human. Personally, in this sense I believe that we could use the marvellous opportunities offered by social media in a completely different and much better way. Because social media offer us the possibility of constructive dialogue. Whether this possibility will be seized and used depends solely on the mindset of each and every one of its millions of users.