by Steve Rhode
The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.1
I am all for less ignorance. And since I have worked most of my life, one way or another, to foster connectivity between people, either as a teacher of language to foster more accurate communication among individuals or in the world of diplomacy where fostering greater understanding of common interests among nations is the goal, I am in favor of more planetary relationships. But I am not optimistic that the rest of the world agrees with me or the sentiment in the statement above.
In fact, my observation of the increased ease with which we can connect with one another through social media is colored greatly by the number of dogmatic statements, so easily shared as images or links to longer articles, that make their way onto Facebook newsfeeds.
I have other social media accounts as well. I use Facebook to connect with friends and family, Twitter to connect with like-minded social thinkers, and LinkedIn to connect with work colleagues. Since the former is a collection of contacts that I chose both long ago and recently or who I didn’t chose because they are family, there is a much broader range of political, social, and intellectual viewpoints expressed in my Facebook newsfeed than in my Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. And while I am delighted to have the means to keep in touch frequently, often in real time, with relatives of all degrees of separation, I have been surprised at how deeply felt some of the most extreme views are held when I don’t share them. And I am confident others feel the same about my views.
Those same networks that allow us to connect so easily with more people are also often anonymous which fosters the sharing of thoughtless, often hurtful, comments about those whose views are at odds with ours. The world can sometimes seem like everyone is a passenger in the middle car of a three-car collision, neither causing the accident nor being in the position to prevent it, but suffering from the consequences nonetheless.
I am hopeful about the role of seniors in this change, however. First, we aren’t all like Archie Bunker who apparently made up his mind as a young man that there is only one way to do anything – his way. But then even Archie Bunker hadn’t hit his senior years. There is hope that as he aged and his daughter presented him with a grandchild for whom the future held out the prospects of a very different life than his, even Archie Bunker might have mellowed a bit, realizing that life on this planet would not survive if we all had to do things exactly the same. And as we age, we lose those who are important to us – grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, friends – and for me at least, each of those losses has made me cherish the connections I still have. Losses in one part of my life have also encouraged me to make greater connections in other parts of my life.
Another reason to be hopeful about the role of seniors is the sheer number of us. Baby boomers are now entering the senior ranks. And as baby boomers, we never did anything alone. We entered college and university at the same time, perhaps a factor in the widespread protests against the war in Vietnam. We didn’t protest one-by-one, like the Buddhist monks who set themselves afire; we banned together and marched, singing protest songs and carrying banners. We entered mid-life together. We women went through menopause together. Magazines and books we read addressed the topics we were experiencing because there were so many of us to buy them, not because the topics were so important. We are now entering our senior years together which ensures that topics of value to us will be topics being discussed in the media – including social media – for years to come.