The Tribe

I was listening to a TED Talk last night that referenced tribalism in politics. It got me thinking about how and why we form communities.

We often gravitate to people who are similar to us, right? I know I do. It’s comfortable, conflict-free, and very human to do so. It makes us feel like we’re each part of our own little “team.” But doing this also leaves us ignorant of the world’s true diversity. We become engrossed in our own ideas, culture, and identity, to the exclusion of everyone else’s.

I would hope the internet has solved some of this. Now, it’s so much easier to see where people are coming from. There’s very little reason for people to be mysterious anymore; their entire lives and cultures are online for everyone to see. You would think we’d have eliminated all misunderstanding by now.

You’d be wrong.

We’re still getting to know each other, it seems. The internet looks a lot like New York City now; it’s diverse overall, but if you look at a single neighbourhood, things get homogenous pretty quickly. There is a stereotypical Tumblr user and a very different stereotypical 4chan user, and I doubt there’s very much overlap between the two.

The internet was supposed to bring down walls, and in some ways it did. But where there were walls before, now there are lines in the sand. We gained the ability to discover all sorts of new people and ideas, but we never quite developed the desire to.

To be fair, those lines aren’t in the same places the walls were. Race, income, gender, and geography, while significant factors in who relates to whom, don’t match exactly with what makes an online community tick. On the internet, it’s more about how you think: what you like to read, what you want to say, and what you believe in.

That’s definitely a good thing. It lets us choose which communities to be a part of. But there’s a lot more progress to be made.

I don’t think humanity needs to become one big, beige blob of harmony and understanding. But right now all we’ve got is a bunch of tribes that don’t understand each other very well. And if history is any indication, eventually tribes will go to war.


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