Hedged Opinions

I’m noting something happening in the online realm—both with others and with myself. Perhaps you’ve seen a post in this format, on FB or elsewhere:

  1. Strong claim made or opinion expressed, possibly ad hoc or unsupported. “I hate apples” or “I don’t understand why apples are not oranges!” Or something along those lines.
  2. Someone challenges this claim or opinion.
  3. If the response is strong, the original opinionator backs off, gently rationalizing or “clarifying” their original statement.
  4. The respondent, perhaps to show their appreciation for this accommodation, also moderates their original response with a conciliatory remarks.

These exchanges are often harmless and fluffy, and probably makes many of our workdays more tolerable. But are we ever really engaging in interesting debate anymore? We live in an interesting age when opportunities for ubiquitous, 24/7 public exposure and expression are expanding, but so are the possibilities of embarrassing ourselves, offending someone, or generally losing face (or “shī miàn zi ,” as the Chinese refer to it). We are simultaneously emboldened by technological empowerment, restrained by the dictates of proper etiquette, and wary of reprisal on our reputations.

Thus we crowd-source our jokes and opinions while simultaneously homogenizing discourse. Anyone with a provocative, contrarian, or unexpected remark is quickly admonished, and to perpetuate the thread would be bad form. This encourages POV-based segregation, with people congregating in smaller, more accepting communities.  In the echo chamber of the pea pod, self-expression garners near-guaranteed acceptance. Gratification and approval are traded in for a “marketplace of ideas.”

Of course, this may be preferable to the now standard experience of the race-to-the-bottom comment thread, where human beings troll content with lazy and aggressive statements, debasing public discourse in every online forum from YouTube and newspaper websites to social media.

FB, Twitter, and other social media forums are often not the best platform for debate, but the reality is, for the average person it’s a quick and easy way to disseminate information to the most people possible. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Maximizing hits/views/eyeballs? We are all of us pundits these days, and we will be heard!

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Ex-Soviet immigrant turned wanna-be scribe. I bite off more than I can chew, but at least I've got good teeth.

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