Trapped in a bubble

We hear a lot these days about ‘the bubble’ that we are all trapped in. I’ve spent this election thinking, writing, talking and campaigning about the issues that I care about. But, what is the point, if everyone that I’m talking to already agrees with me. What if I’m living in an online and offline world which is totally populated with people like me. This isn’t good for me as it feeds me a weird distorted version of reality. It also isn’t good for everyone else, because it means that they only get to hear from me if they already agree with me (when of course everyone would benefit from my wisdom)!

I decided to conduct a little experiment to investigate the nature of my bubble. So I ran a Twitter poll asking my network to say how they were planning to vote.

The results to the poll suggested that I did indeed live in a bubble. When I compare the voting intentions of people who live in my bubble to the national polling the differences are really quite stark.

My bubble is heavily dominated by Labour supports, but also over-represents Lib Dems and supporters of other parties. Most importantly is massively under-represents the supports of the most popular party that is currently in government – The Conservatives.

There are many reason’s for this. The sectors that I work in and interact with online: largely education, careers, public policy clearly have a political flavour. The world of recruitment, where I’m also active, has a less obvious political bias, but is also somewhat less active on Twitter, so may be under-represented. What is more I spend a lot of time espousing political opinions and campaigning for things that I believe in. This may have put off people who don’t agree with me.

I do make an effort to listen to voices from outside my bubble. I follow various Conservative politicians and right wing commentators and thinkers, but it seems from this poll that not many of them return the favour. One person suggested that I follow some people at random to try and enlarge my bubble. Explaining that she had followed everyone with her name on Twitter (she has an unusual name). So I’m now following 20 new Tristram’s, but none of them are saying very much so far.

People also responded to my Tweet giving their perspective on the election. In general people talked about tactical voting, their frustrations with the electoral system, some felt that there was nothing on offer that fitted with their opinions, whilst others, of course, were passionate about one party or another.

It strikes that we are between a rock and a hard place in terms of political discourse. On one hand social media allows us to find our tribe and move towards less and less people who agree with us more and more. On the other the electoral system pushes people into making an either/or decision or risk abandoning any chance of influencing the outcomes of the election. I know it is not original to say this, but this situation can’t be healthy.

We need to find ways to engage in open dialogue with wider and more diverse groups of people. This applied to politics, but also to everything else, including things like the educational philosophy that you subscribe to. One of the most grounding things that I’ve done in this election is knock on a bunch of people’s doors and call a bunch of people up to try and get them to vote the way that I want. These discussions were a lot more difficult than the ones that I’ve been having on social media. People come at things from so many different perspectives, even when they agree with me, they often do it from unexpected directions. This process has convinced me that physical, face-to-face campaigning and discussion still has a powerful place in our politics. It has also shown me that I need to be skeptical of what I hear in my social media bubble.

This is not to say that social media is a busted flush. There is still a purpose to talking to people who share ideas and perspectives with you. We refine our ideas collectively and social media has been useful in helping me to do this, but I need to recognise that what seems obvious to me and my bubble looks insane to some people outside of it.

I’m not sure what to do about this. I’d be interested in people’s thoughts. But, I’m sure that an awareness of the problem is helpful, even if it isn’t sufficient. Social media/the internet adds something vital to democracy, but it also endangers it. If someone can figure out how to figure this conundrum out then please let me know.

In the meantime you’ll find me banging at the walls of my bubble.

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