Social media discussions most often disregard context, context based on the perspective of author. Instead most discourse happens only on a surface level.
What if instead of automatically jumping into a discussion and making judgement calls we first looked at the background of the authors and commenters. But this can only be accomplished if we know something about them. And we can only do that if information is available to us.
More times than not virtually nothing is available though. Aside from LinkedIn (which really isn’t a discussion platform), On Facebook and Google+, where the majority of conversion happens, profiles are virtually blank: no locations on where they’ve lived or even live now, no the type of work or type of company they’ve worked at – or not even a personal statement that isn’t so cryptic that little can be gained without any other context. I’m not looking for a resume … but, jeez – help me out a little.
The first thing I do when engaging with someone on social media is to look at their profile page and then often delve deeper into their background by investigating any links they may provide. Just knowing the country where someone lives gives me insight, especially when discussing deep social and political issues. Context is everything. Even in the United States nothing should be taken at face value (i.e gun control). Someone who’s lived most of their life in Montana (where I currently live) will have a completely different life view and set of societal norms than someone from Los Angeles (where I used to live). I encounter this reality everyday.
For the sake of disclosure and context, I should mention I spent fifteen years as a headhunter. My livelihood was dependent on how well I knew one of my candidates. I looked not only at resumes, but at their families, their dreams and the real reasons why they were talking to me in the first place. Nothing could be taken at face value, references were checked and motivations critiqued.
While I shouldn’t assume everyone is going behave the same way I do; I’m sure some do … or at least would like to if the information was available to them. I don’t know why so many people don’t disclose much if anything about themselves. I suppose it might be a privacy issue. That’s cool. But then again often those with least available background on themselves are the most prolific commenters – with some of the most intriguing things to say. Someone who wishes to be known as a contrarian can make a much stronger case if its taken in their personal context.
The rise of social media can be looked at as a societal double-edged sword. On one hand it brings people from all over the world together to discuss issues that affect all of us. But what good does it do if we don’t know who these people are and how they’ve come to have the views and articulations they wish to have us hear. So instead, rather than bring us together, social media polarizes us because comments on controversial issues are taken out of context. Rather than gaining empathy and expanding our minds – we dig in our heals even more.
While all this might seem laborious for just social media. But if we really want to take this incredible phenomena to the transformative place it can go, it’s a lot less laborious than just wasting time regurgitating our same old positions based on our same old set of experiences – blind to nuances of the backgrounds and experiences others around the world.