Small World Problems

I’ve been writing blog posts, posting in forums, and taking part in social networks for years – since before the beginning of the world wide web.

In the late 1980s we would connect to bulletin boards via a modem, synchronising articles to read offline before posting responses hours or days later. Bulletin Boards tended to be local – serving people within range of a reasonably priced telephone call – the bigger boards would allow ten or twenty users to connect at any one time.

A few years later the likes of Compuserve, CIX, and AOL appeared – offering the first walled gardens, where we could discover communities of people spread throughout the world interested in an almost limitless range of subjects. We would still connect briefly via offline reading software, and send and receive interaction with the network in bursts, but the important thing was we were suddenly communicating with the wider world.

And that’s when the problems began.

In recent months I have been reading the increasingly bitter and acrimonious views and disagreements between acquaintances in the United States of America. At first I was horrified by some of the opinions and beliefs held by people I thought I knew, but over time I came to realise that it’s really difficult to have a valid opinion when you have grown up in a completely different culture.

There is a common saying – that America and England are two countries separated by a common language. I think it’s true. It’s not just about language though – it’s about too many things to possibly write about in a blog post.

Earlier today I read about the group of women that met in a restaurant to talk about the gun problems in their town, and the group of men that arrived outside “to take a photography of themselves” openly carrying semi-automatic rifles. That they were taking the photo directly opposite the restaurant was purely a “coincidence” (yeah, right).

As horrified as I might continually be by the “right” for people anywhere in the world to even own such weapons, it really comes down to what each of us terms “rational” – and “rational” is a very subjective term.

The vast majority of people in the developed world still believe in a god, or gods. That huge groups of them believe in very different gods, and that they can claim the rest are wrong says a lot about how “rational” average people tend to be.

Sitting on the fence is difficult. A friend who once questioned me on my own beliefs (or lack thereof) wished that I would get splinters from the fence I sit on. The real reason I wouldn’t answer his questions was because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. How do you tell an obviously intelligent person – a friend – that you think everything he believes in is a total and utter waste of time? That you think he – and a lot of his friends – your friends – are wasting a huge chunk of their life learning about something that you consider utterly irrational – idiotic even.

I guess as you grown up, you learn that the world isn’t a very rational place, and that everybody makes their own mind up about how to best survive from day to day. Some people need to believe in something bigger than themselves – some don’t. Some people feel the need to defend rights that were given to them in a previous generation (almost without question) – some don’t.

Perhaps as we get older, we realise that nobody sees the world in quite the same way, but an awful lot of people think either that their view is the majority and therefore outweighs other views, or that their view is in the minority but is obviously correct, if only they could get the rest of the world to listen to it.

On reflection, maybe it’s better that I just stay up here on my fence.

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