Derek Gentle | Benefits of conversation suffer from online echo chamber

PITTSFIELD — I got a few emails in the wake of my column on D-Day last week. Always nice to be noticed.

One of the notes is from a guy who knew my father, although he and I have met. It was something along the lines of, "Good job. Hard to believe a tree-hugging liberal understands the sacrifices of our veterans."

I chuckled because this was mostly in jest. He's a good guy, and most of our conversations, when we meet, are about the Red Sox (whom he loves) and local politicians (whom he doesn't love).

But it got me to thinking. To a whole lot of people, I'm the liberal reporter from the liberal newspaper.

For a lot of people, that's enough. I'm the good guy to some people, the jerk from The Eagle to the rest. That's fine. I can't change it. When I write about either conservative or liberal issues, the assumption is that I will always take a certain position.

For the most part, I'll admit, that's true. But like a lot of people, I'm not a monolith. My beliefs are nuanced, molded by my life. I'm not a huge fan of abortion, for example. On the other hand, I'm a man, and I can't imagine taking away a woman's right to control her body.

And I've said all along that I don't have a problem with more aggressive border control in the Southwest. But that building a $15 trillion dollar wall is silly.

OK, I'm not running for office, here. My point is that I've discovered that in the 21st century, we thought the internet would lead us to a new level of understanding. But instead, this huge, sloppy soup bowl of real and fake information has enabled people to believe what they want, and back it up with an outside source, whether it's true or not.

In turn, that has sort of cut off a lot of the real dialog people used to have. We rail against people on comment pages in ways we would never do in a face-to-face situation.

We use the web, as someone else has said, to affirm, not inform. You are laid gently into an informational feather bed that is too comfortable to leave.

For me, that's too bad. I enjoy a good back and forth, and I've always been open to other points of view. That's what rounds a person out.

These days, I think there are too many people that have sharp edges.

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-629-4621.


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