The world is slowly being split into two. Views are becoming polarized, grey areas are vanishing, and you’re either with ‘em, or against ‘em. This has been happening for a while and became crystallized here in the UK with the Brexit vote.
I blame Facebook.
Although actually, if I remember rightly, all this began with Amazon.
They started to personalize your recommendations with their ‘if you liked this, you may also like…’ On the face of it that’s a good idea; if Amazon know that people who bought a particular book also tend to like a particular other book, then why not gently nudge you in that direction. They might sell another book, you might find a book that had otherwise passed you by.
Except that it polarizes. Same with Facebook.
You follow people/groups/brands/politicians/comedians/authors, which leads you to follow similar people/groups/brands/politicians/comedians/authors, and you end up in lively and passionate debate with a load of people who all feel largely the same about the world as you do. Meanwhile, over on the other side of the internet, a group of people are busy re-enforcing a different view of the same subject largely in isolation from you.
And there’s a chasm between the two.
My Facebook feed, you may not be surprised to hear, is packed full of cycling; admittedly a subject which is not quite as important as Brexit, political parties imploding, hate crime on the rise on the streets of Britain, and the dissemination of spurious nonsense about how leaving the EU will allow the UK to reclaim its independence*
The Facebook effect does apply to cycling too, though, and occasionally gives me the not entirely accurate feeling that everyone also loves my favourite sport. I met up with a couple of old friends recently for a beer and a catch-up, and when the conversation lulled slightly I reached for my go-to conversation generator of choice.
“So,” I said, “what about the Tour de France, eh?”
I have friends for whom this one generic question can lead, if unchecked, to a good hour of cycling debate. But I could tell immediately that I’d misjudged their level of interest in the world’s greatest bike race. Their joint facial expression was a combination of blank confusion and mild pity.
“Oh…er,” my friend replied, caught on the hop, “…yeah, so, is it in Yorkshire at the moment?”
“No, that was a couple of years ago,” I replied, already regretting the topic of conversation.
“Oh right. So, do they all still take drugs then?”
“No. I mean, it’s complicated,” I replied, “…anyway, I’ll go to the bar.”
And off I went.
It’s not the fault of Facebook that my friends have no interest whatsoever in cycling – that’s a perfectly reasonable position to take, apparently, so I’m told – but I do blame Facebook for the fact that I’d assumed they’d be excited about the spectacle of Bastille Day on Mont Ventoux, the resurgence of Mark Cavendish, Steve Cummings’ impressive role as a freelancing maverick Tour de France stage winner, and Peter Sagan being Peter Sagan.
I also blame Facebook for the fact that it never occurred to me that the UK would vote for Brexit.
After all, I was surrounded by people who felt the same as me.
The world is polarized. Reasoned debate has been replaced by entrenched arguments. You’re either a leaver or a remainer, a lover or a hater, a cycling fan or someone with a massive cycling shaped hole in their life.
Whatever happened to the grey areas, and how on earth does everyone manage to cultivate such certain opinions on such complicated topics?
Maybe it’s time to start mixing the Facebook gene pool?
*Seriously, we’re independent. Have been for ages.