How do conversations happen these days? Where do people interact with people of fairly different perspectives from themselves?

Cass Sunstein has lamented how the internet allows people to live exclusively in their own communities (couldn’t find a good link quickly, but I’m fairly positive he’s talked about this). I recently ran into another example of this lament from a Brit, Tom Scott, who describes how in the social-network sphere of conversation, people speak in their own space, rarely venturing out into common conversation areas. These are broad claims and I have little total-internet-trend data to back them up, but there’s an element of truth to them.

Aside from all the ways people can communicate on the internet (different web communities like political blogs or hobbyist discussion boards, different communication tools like facebook or email, different uses like work or entertainment, different media like video or text, etc etc) where else do we interact? Certainly not through other mass-media. TV allows a select few to hold conversations that others watch, and the same goes for radio and print (letters to the editor and call-ins don’t count – they are still very few people). We hope that those conversing are smart on the subjects since their views are being broadcast more widely than our own.

So do we have places in our daily lives where we can interact with people who might have a slightly or drastically different opinion? People do talk about things at work, or church, or at school, or waiting to pick kids up from school. When it comes to public affairs, governments occasionally hold public-comment periods and town-hall debates.

So where’s the daily/weekly/monthly/or even annually (whatever your frequency of engaging in discussion about society) meeting area for you to seriously bring your views to the table and hear from others? With our mass communication tools, is there a way to allow everyone to do this and then categorize and distill them the best we can, especially when public officials have to make decisions?

Broad questions. I don’t really see these things happening. From my perspective, a lot of people say stuff to the world. They write columns, they go on tv, they complain at a town hall meeting, they call-in to a radio program, they complain to a friend… I don’t see a good culture of forums where all kinds of people show up and bump and elbow and listen and consider and engage with each other.

I also know that when I’ve talked to some people of seriously different perspectives, it’s hard to have a conversation where we aren’t just disagreeing all the time. So are we all just bad at even reckoning with each other, and don’t know how to have real conversations where we acknowledge differences and find common ground? Is our political system just set up to manage everyone’s strong opinions so that no one completely dominates anyone else (in an ideal sense)?

Or maybe we just don’t really see the need to care about what other people think, because their business isn’t really our business. One quality mentioned occasionally in good politicians is the ability to listen, because they have to represent a lot of people. They are running into all kinds of different perspectives that they have to deal with, so if they act like they are listening and responding to most of them, they do better. People are just representing themselves (maybe a family or a business or a community too, but that’s still a smaller scope).

I think that what Cass and Tom are doing is providing a snapshot of conversation (or lack thereof) in a couple places in current society. Perhaps our problems of conversation are broader than the tools we use for conversing.

Or maybe it’s not all that bad and things just work themselves out anyways… Who knows.

I still want forums. And I want everybody there. Because we don’t all live like 6+ billion self-sufficient isolated hermits.

Explore posts in the same categories: Communication, Society

2 Comments on “Forums”

  1. Peter Says:

    I certainly appreciate what you’re saying. It would be nice to have a place where everyone could discuss issues, perspectives and points of view.

    The difficulty in creating such a forum is that people, in my opinion, tend not to listen so much as talk. They like to be right, they like to have others agree with them and gain approval. Seeking out a niche where this happens is more likely than seeking out one where they will be criticized, scrutinized and made to argue their point or perspective.

    Personally, I like to seek out people that are saying interesting things, and coming from different places and engage them cause while I have my doubts about an all-encompassing forum, there will never be a lack of people with different ideas and world views than my own.

  2. […] 3 – Public forums. I’ve written about this before. People need to make sure their ideas are heard by others and people need to hear unfamiliar […]

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