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In case no one has noticed, it seems we’re greatly divided as a society, with more than a smidgen of bitterness, intolerance and outright hostility towards our fellow citizens thrown in for good measure.
I don’t mean the United States or Canada specifically, nor do I mean it in a strictly political sense. It goes deeper than that.
Sometimes it seems we occupy the same spaces – real and virtual – but there’s precious little in the way of community or camaraderie to go along with that shared presence.
The question is not how our society became divided but – given the modern way of living – how could it be anything but?
We choose who to follow on Twitter, we’re able to personalize our Facebook feeds and there’s surely a channel on our cable packages that speaks to our interests and world-view. It has become easy to avoid the distress and bother of a public marketplace of competing ideas where all sides were at least heard – if not equally valued or ultimately endorsed.
This type of constant reinforcement is gratifying to those who wish to see only their passions and prejudices reflected back at them. It’s frustrating to those who believe that a smorgasbord of ideas and a myriad of experiences is the best way to decide on a positive path forward as a society – one that considers all points of view, even if ultimately rejecting the vast majority of them.
We can live in Calgary but choose to watch only the local news from back home in Toronto. We can relocate to work in Houston but still listen every day to our favourite Edmonton radio station. We can take steps to make certain that our cozy cocoons are never violated with anything disturbing or different.
It’s as if the entire world has been reduced to a room service menu of personalized choices. We may not exactly get to remake the world in our own image but we certainly are able to experience it according to our interests, outlooks and opinions. We take steps to eliminate the possibility of accidental discovery – lest anything seep into our daily lives that may be contrary to our already congealed way of thinking and being.
I’m left wondering if the very notion of community is becoming anachronistic. Divided is probably not the right word. A better word might be fragmented. Fragmented in a shattered glass kind of way where all that’s left from a once-recognizable whole are shards of various shapes and sizes corresponding to our jealously held personal comfort zones.
Just think of how entertainment is consumed and presented to us. Gone forever are the days when we sat together at an appointed time to watch a favourite TV program on a single day of the week. Whether it was I Love Lucy or M*A*S*H, there was a shared ritual associated with how a vast audience experienced their broadcast.
But think of those humble beginnings as opposed to the circumstances now. My Netflix homepage is not the same as yours. Yours is not the same as your children’s. We all have an individualized interface with those entertainment providers that react to our past viewing habits to present those programs deemed most likely to meet with our approval.
This might seem like a good thing but it’s also a sign of one more severed strand of community – and communal experience – that the modern age has taken from us.
Our ability to place the individual desires of every citizen at the forefront might seem like a positive thing. However, in the long run, it may lead to the destruction of the very collective will and shared experience that allows us to flourish in the same communities in which we’re still destined to live, work and raise our families.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
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