Facebook and the end of conversation

urlToday has been a day for Facebook.1 The results have been interesting.

Following a Skype meeting I joined another Facebook “gated community” (you know one of those “closed groups” that is closed so people can say things freely without worrying about being attributed out of context. These communities are needed. But membership in them conflicts with one of my Facebook principles, I try not to write anything on Facebook (or here, or anywhere on the Internetz) that I am not OK with saying in public. In principle my public and private faces should be one.

Apparently2 I am an extrovert on Facebook, I “speak” before I think. I posted a quick knee-jerk response to a friend’s post, another friend of that friend objected strongly. I defended myself. By this stage my brain was back in charge, so I believe the reply though firm was curteous. The response was “we’ll have to agree to disagree”. Now, agreeing to disagree is fine, on occasion. When an atheist and a theist have been arguing for a while and neither is any more coming up with interesting new twists, time to agree to disagree. When a Muslim and a Christian discuss the divinity of Christ or the place of Sharia law, time to agree to disagree. For sure “agreeing to disagree” is often better than the alternatives. But is agree to disagree the appropriate response after just a couple of exchanges all of just a few dozen words at most?

My take is that “agree to disagree” engaged too quickly is an easy way to avoid the stress of having to consider views different from one’s own. (Which given the stresses and pressure of life is sometimes appropriate, God knows.) But it happens in a world mediated by Facebook and Google, both of whom make their money by not showing us things we dislike/disagree with but instead confirming our prejudices. In a world thus mediated “agree to disagree”3 are dangerous tools.

It is this agreeing to disagree that enables Jerry Falwell’s disciples to stomp and cheer his hitlerian remarks, or that permits the radicalisation of Muslims in the streets and busses of European cities.

  1. On Tuesday early I finished marking for the year, after a weekend trip to Auckland for a wedding, and went back up to Auckland for the Aotearoa New Zealand Association for Biblical Studies meeting. I am due a day off! []
  2. I blame my “performer” trait. []
  3. And its cousin censoring by deleting comments you do not like. []