Back in September, the fortunately former president, Barack Obama, sat down for an interview with that esteemed journalist, Prince Harry of Great Britain. We seem not to have known about it over here for some reason, and only in recent days has its content been aired. I've no idea why it took so long.
That said, this past week saw a number of networks commenting on it, with what I thought was a surprising sense of unanimity in interpreting what the former president had said. In fact, this was common to both leftist media and the conservative outlets.
Their point was that at least one passage was, they assured us, directed at President Trump, without his having said that directly. Obama was talking about the Internet, and in doing so he was quoted as having said this.
"One of the dangers of the Internet is that people can have entirely
different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces
their current biases. The question I think really has to do with how do we
harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices,
allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a balkanization of our
society, but rather continues to promote ways of finding common ground.”
Regardless of the network, this was all supposed to be about Donald Trump and his use of Twitter to communicate with the people directly, rather than his assuming that the news media would ever properly represent his efforts and opinions. "Veiled reference to President Trump" was the term used all over the news.
Was it? Well, of course it was; Obama can't possibly shut up and drift back into the woodwork like a decent ex-president would. He firmly believes he knows more than you or I know about everything, and he knows his "legacy", not that it was any good one, is being ripped to shreds on a daily basis -- in the better interest of the USA, of course -- by our current administration.
But the thing is, the whole "cocooned" comment, which was absolutely correct (even a blind squirrel finds a nut on occasion), well, it doesn't really apply to the current president. You see, whatever Obama intended to say or to mean, that comment really applies, truthfully, to those people who gravitate toward modes of Internet communication -- Facebook, I assume, and a few others I also am not on -- where they end up communicating with a group of like-minded individuals to the exclusion of outside voices.
But that ain't Donald Trump. The Trump Twitter presence, which is a force of its own, is a "push." He uses it to say things, not to listen so much. He has over 45 million followers on Twitter alone, so he could not possibly be listening to what is being said back to him by reply. President Trump sends tweets, and his points go out to the world. There is no "cocoon" involved in his communication model.
There is, however, another group that's aptly characterized.
I'm talking about snowflakes. I know this to be true, because my best girl used to have a Facebook account that was mainly to communicate with extended family members in her extended family. They're Italian, so they're very extended, if you get the drift.
Well, the discussion part, meaning the back and forth posts, gradually got taken over by the millennial snowflakes in the group, particularly last year during the whole election campaign. The missus sat back some, because she's not really a political type, and because the millennials were all Hillary types, but one particular comment was so, well, factually incorrect, that she felt obliged to reply.
I read her comment, and it was really innocuous -- pretty much that there were two sides, and the right were out there every bit as concerned about the country as the left was, if we all sat back and were rational about it, however hard that might be in an election campaign. And maybe Hillary wasn't exactly the savior they thought she was, and that possession of a uterus did not innately make her a better candidate.
You would have thought she had advocated for killing babies or something. The little snowflakes went all The Hulk on her, disrespecting her opinions, her age, and well, it was not pleasant. She decided to drop Facebook and has not returned, and will not.
Now that, friends, what she left, is a cocoon. My wife had actual things to say, and opinions that deserved a hearing. Perhaps the little snowflakes might have actually learned something, except most coffins aren't as closed shut as their little minds. I mentioned a month or so ago in one column how one of them was causing her aunt to stay away from a Thanksgiving gathering rather than cause a stir.
I went to M.I.T., as you know, and there are discussion groups on LinkedIn that include one for our alums, and there are various years-long discussions that go on. I was involved in one that had a lot of political overtones to it. There were several active members with strong political views -- M.I.T. alums tend to have strong views on everything -- and although I was a participant, I was not the most active.
I noticed that the leftists were amazingly intolerant, even by M.I.T. alumni standards, of opinions that challenged their own. Now, one of the participants was a brother of Al Franken, the recently-disgraced and about-to-resign far-left senator, but there were some even more intolerant than he. I finally had enough and left the group after one comment was responded to in a way that reminded me that I could say all I want, but it wouldn't help the discussion move toward either civility or rational discourse.
I assume that particular discussion has now gotten to snowflake land, where only people of common view are welcomed, and that view had better be leftist, or else you should fear the wrath of their world view.
Barack Obama probably didn't think he was talking about snowflakes when he made his comments in the interview with Prince Harry, but I wonder how you could have read the words any other way. It is a gargantuan problem with Internet usage today that people's opinions are reinforced by closing themselves off and isolating themselves inside groups of those of common opinion. I certainly thought that, the moment I heard the words.
It may not be what he intended, but what he said rang true in that context.
Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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