Not for half a century, since the civil unrest of the 60's has the social divide been so wide. Thanks to social media, however, it's never been easier to blast "those idiots' who disagree with you. Is it worth it though? Apart from the fact that the likelihood of changing someone's convictions being next to nil, a recent study highlights some other ways that arguing online is, at best, a waste of time.
The internet has not always been considered the nicest place in the world. Something about the sense of anonymity seems to inspire situations similar to the kind of road rage you see in heavy traffic. The reason, some Berkeley and University of Chicago researchers, believe may lie in how our brains process information differently when we read. 300 subjects were offered an argument about controversial topics in multiple formats. They either read, watched a video or listened to arguments on war, abortion and country or rap music. Afterwards they were interviewed about their subjective reactions.
In general, the results showed that most people tend to believe that people who disagree with their political perspective do so either because they are stupid or simply uncaring. This one shouldn't be a shocker to anyone who has been involved in an online flame war, or just taken the time to brave the comments section of a news story on any hot-button topic.
What researchers found interesting was the difference between the level of response across formats.The separate groups exhibited strikingly different behavior depending on the medium however. Those who listened or watched someone speak were less likely to shrug off the opinion as resultant of being uninformed or stone-hearted than if they merely read the text.
"One of us read a speech excerpt that was printed in a newspaper from a politician with whom he strongly disagreed," Juliana Schroeder, researcher, told the Washington Post. "The next week, he heard the exact same speech clip playing on a radio station. He was shocked by how different his reaction was toward the politician when he read the excerpt compared to when he heard it." It was this experience that prompted the idea of the experiment initially.
You might have experienced something similar to this in relationships. Text can come off as impersonal, toneless and flat of affect. This leads to miscommunication that can quickly become malicious. As a result, are we using the right medium to communicate? It seems that the formats we've developed currently would support the growing rage machine that fuels the ever growing socio-cultural divide.
So what do?
Forewarned is forearmed. Before you go on an angry Tweet streak or delete that childhood friend over the latest political non-event, maybe it would be best to attempt to speak face to face (in person or virtually) or at least add the second layer of communication via spoken word. As is, communication is far more than the words used alone.
Finally, if you're already in the middle of an argument over Facebook (or Twitter, or Instagram or email or text), and the person on the other side of the issue is someone you care about, please don't just keep typing out comments and replies and replies to replies. Instead, make a coffee date so you can speak in person. Or at the very least, pick up the phone.
Picture credit: Alejandro EscamaliaPosted in Science and filed under Facebook, Social Media.