The way forward

I was leading a (virtual) workshop this week, and one element involved mapping out a timeline of the past 30 years, to help us imagine the future ahead. What headlines and events shaped us? How did it impact our daily life? What institutional changes occurred? How did that change our values?

The storm of digital post-it notes overtook the screen within the first 10 minutes, and 10 minutes later we had constructed our working timeline.

As the dust settled, what emerged was this: we could see a blizzard of globally connecting technology in 2005-2008 hitting the world. Facebook opened up, YouTube was launched, the iPhone appeared, the web went mobile. And in the years that followed, what we saw was an intense increase in polarized opinions.

It continues today. You and I are both in it. We’ve felt it over the past four years, sharply. We may be feeling it more acutely these days, as perspectives swirl and clash. It’s the divide, the difference, the debate. We seem to hold vastly different opinions from each other now, and we all tend to believe we’re the right ones. Every side believes they are the Resistance.

But what is the way forward?

One of the most valuable talks I’ve ever encountered on this topic is from the early pioneer on studying online communities, danah boyd (the lowercase name is not an error, it’s her intentional styling. I enjoy that.) As an academic who specialized early on studying the impact of social media on young people, she is now employed in Microsoft’s research division to continue studying the ways humans connect and discuss online.

I was privileged to be in the front row of the audience when she delivered this talk at the South-by-Southwest Education conference in Austin, Texas in 2018. The intensity, intelligence and passion of her speech blew me back into my seat. I highly recommend you watch this talk in its entirety. It’s never been more relevant.

The reason I resonated so deeply with her talk is the case she builds for something she never quite says: the answer is community. The answer is care. The answer is love.

The act of fact-checking and debating only creates stronger divides. While it may make us feel superior or intelligent when we engage in arguments, here’s the result: the person feels further alienated from you, and more closely bonded with the community that shares their viewpoint.

The way to interact with opposing points of view is not to get sucked into debate, or into attacks on character. Instead, the way out is to choose inclusion. Radical inclusion. To choose love, and offer deep, real, actual connection.

There is no other way forward.

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