Thursday, February 4, 2010

Conversation Topics for Polite Company

Sometimes I think there must be some kind of cosmic order in the world, God perhaps, because I will hear about the same thing happening in three different scenarios with no link between them what so ever. I say three because as I'm writing this, I'm thinking about the saying celebrities die in threes, which I first heard back when Princess Diana died and have been spookily fascinated with it ever since.

Rationally, I know people just die and things just happen based on zillions of random factors that no one can understand completely. And I understand it seems like there's a cosmic force behind it for the same reason we see patterns in the clouds and shapes in random designs. The human brain likes to MAKE the information its taking in make sense.

The thing that I heard about a bunch of times recently in totally unconnected ways isn't even that big of a deal: a few separate groups of people I know were talking about politics on Facebook with complete strangers. Some of those groups got in fights. Everything is ok now, but it made me think of that Ben Franklin quote my moom drilled into my head when she would send me over other people's houses and wanted me to be able to make friends:

Don't talk about sex, politics, or religion with company. Or something like that.

I suppose the trouble is those are close to the most interesting topics people can talk about. Sex obviously is a very interesting topic, but really, it's largely an extension of the other two. The reason Ben and my mom said not to talk about these things (well not the sex one since I was eight years old I think) is that they:
  • reflect deeply held personal beliefs,
  • often fall along strict divisions with little or no compromise,
  • and others' opinions may seem entirely irrational to you.
BJ reminded me that people tend to think they are anonymous online and that their online persona is different from their "IRL" persona. Which is true, but on Facebook, an image of YOUR face is right next to the words you're typing. And in these cases, it was all young people that I don't think have that kind of separation - they are all online all the time and have been for most of their lives.

Is it a general trend towards polarization in this country? People fee more strongly about what's going on in politics? Is it because religion, politics, and sex are so .tightly .linked .sometimes, and more often today? I'm not sure. I think one factor is that it's easy to type something; much easier than say something to a person's face. But maybe that's for me, talking about this stuff with someone at all is a significant step in my relationship with them and that is less and less the normal behavior.

The big idea here? The way people form relationships online is different from the way they formed relationships without the Internet. We all have to make our own rules. It's bound to be messy at times, but as long as everyone keeps talking, things will work out.

My mom taught me that too!

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