We’re Fractured and We’re Not Coming Together

Updated December 22, 2020

Our society is fractured and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. Neither Joe Biden’s, Van Jones’s, or any other or all kumbaya efforts, no matter how well-intended and/or fervently promoted, can overcome the forces splintering us. We can’t be unified because we live in the Internet+ Age, a time when the Internet plus attendant hard- and software drive us into like-minded groups.

We now organize and form groups with other like-minded people more easily, more quickly, and more widely than ever before. Facebook Groups, which gather around a common interest, belief, or problem to be solved, exemplify this grouping/fracturing/splintering activity, as do other social media groups and platforms, including Twitter chats (e.g., #BufferChat), LinkedIn Groups (e.g., Digital Marketing), a hundred thousand or so subreddits, Parler, 8Kum, and Gab.

Online groups of people with the same interest also are organized via blogging, using, for instance, Medium, an open blogging platform that connects a blogger’s writing to other writers, like-minded industry professionals, and readers. Some people organize and form online groups whose members have the same interest by means of email lists. And then there’s Meetup, a website for organizing and forming like-minded groups, that has millions of members, about 80,000+ Meetup Groups and 50,000 Meetups scheduled each week. “[W]herever you are,” writes Jon Evans, “whatever your interests, however baroque and obscure, you can find and join groups and mini-communities of people who share them. Indeed, you can and likely do find yourself part of several or even many distributed communities, one or more for each subject or context that really interests you.”

In addition to being fragmented into countless single-focus, self-interest arrangements as a result of organize and forming groups, people in the Internet+ Age are additionally splintered into like-minded groups by algorithms. Eli Pariser calls these algorithmically formed like-minded groups, “filter bubbles.” Members of these groups become extremely intense in their commitment to the group’s values, norms, and politics because contrary information is filtered out.

To use the technology of the Internet+ Age is to intensify, as never before possible, our identity with others who think and act like us, and in the process, we become more deeply and, I believe, irrevocably separated from others who think and act differently. This is our situation, and we need to keep it in mind as we move inexorably into the future.

About George Beam

I'm an educator and author. The perspectives that inform my interpretations of the topics of this blog are behaviorism and system analysis. Specific interests include American politics, socioeconomic issues, survey research, and effects of the Internet and attendant hard- and software. I'm Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Administration, Affiliated Faculty, Department of Political Science, University of Illinois at Chicago.
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