I have mixed feelings about the animosity created with clashing ideologies and ideas in social media. I think it is a good thing that we can't hide some of our crazy ideas that easily anymore. But ironing out the inconsistencies in these ideas can get very aggressive. A natural tendency when the temperature rises is to check out. I come from a family of debaters. I loved debating at school. People who become my close friends often have very strong opinions. So figuring out a way to challenge ideas and keep the ones that are strongest is appealing. Appealing but draining.
When I was in first year university, Thursday nights was the night the night to drink. Gareth Cliff, a controversial radio host, coined "Phuza Thursday". I had rugby practice on Thursday nights and so by the time I would be able to catch up with my buddies, they would be too advanced down the path for it to be much fun for a sober late comer. Friday morning also used to have a poorly timed tutorial that had a group assignment that had to be handed in for our most difficult subject. So I often ended up getting the task of herding a few hung over friends towards completing the job.
My memory of Phuza Thursdays is more closely linked with the effects on Fridays
I am at my very worst when I get into task mode. If something has to be done in a fixed time all my social graces can disappear. I try compensate for this by starting things very early, but that can't always happen. If things get tight, democracy isn't very useful. There needs to be a dictator. You need to be the teller or the doer. Add hangovers and difficult questions that required debate to the mix and you get some great fodder for self-reflection about what really matters. One of the biggest insights a friend has ever given me as feedback came on one of these post Phuza Thursday Fridays. 'Donkey', he said 'You have no interest in the truth, you just want to be right'.
Take away my elaborate excuse of rugby, Phuza Thursday and short timelines and the accusation still rang true. I did like being right. I got a huge kick from winning an argument. I spoke much more than I listened. I convinced much more than than I heard. In debates, you get given a topic and you have to try win either as the opposition or the proposition. The truth is not the aim. This is possibly okay if after the debate, people are able to disentangle themselves from the two sides and then ask, independently of how well something was articulated, which is closer to the truth.
I can't really blame Barney - the local watering hole
Disentangling is where things fall apart. Our identity is made up of our ideas. Our ideas don't only belong to us. The network of relationships that build up our world is glued together by these ideas. Changing an idea, particularly an important one can threaten things you care about much more than the truth or otherwise of the idea.
With Social Media, we realise that our network of 'idea carrying people' include the ideas that we thought were crazy. Offline, we have social skills that allow us to read body language and avoid controversial topics. Online, we start seeing people we like, respect or value exhibiting glue dissolving ideas. It is tempting to defriend or disengage. As the temperature rises, just step away.
In the Academic world you have to 'defend your thesis'. Progress happens by making errors in public so that people can help you by aggressively pointing them out. This leads to temperatures rising. So the benefit of the social world is you get to retreat to bubbles where you are right. I don't think we can do that anymore. We have to be brave enough to make our social errors in public.
The thing I am trying to work on is being less task oriented in ending the argument. Add a little time. I think the better ideas tend to win in the end. Perhaps what we think is less important that what we think our grandchildren are going to think?