Art of understanding

New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Editor, Daily Union: As the headlines of impeachment reach the surface of popular media, I am confronted with a question I have struggled with for several years: How can Americans even begin to create an environment where we can collectively argue and exist with one another, without the whole mess devolving in a fury of insults?

This fall, I read a book that helped answer some of these questions — "Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy" by Siva Vaidyanathan. As an aspiring public librarian and historian, I urge you to pick up this book before we enter the election season.

As someone who would be categorized as a millennial, I would like to argue that Americans need to take a step back from their deeply entrenched belief systems and consider the ideas of a democratic republic once again. As Vaidyanathan so poignantly argues, “Democratic republics need both motivation and deliberation … A republic needs norms through which those who differ can maintain mutual respect for the process, if not for each other” (Vaidyanathan, 7).

I encourage you, reader, to consider how we can make this happen. I think the first answer to this, and I will be the first to admit this, is to turn off the instantaneous feedback loop of social media—in particular, Facebook. What Facebook does so incredibly well is vie for our every waking moment of attention. This feedback loop of reinforcement creates a world of sophistry, one where “we can’t agree on what distinguishes a coherent argument from a rhetorical stunt” (Vaidyanathan, 14).

The good news is, there is still time to recognize the harms of social media on our collective humanity. I know many parents, schools, and concerned community members may paint social media to be the imminent elephant in every room. However, I also want to consider that engagement in social media is not just, “young people.” In fact, it goes much deeper than that; take for example a recent statistic from the Pew Research Center last May, that around seven in 10 U.S. adults, meaning age 18-plus, regularly use Facebook.

That brings me to my answer to our problem: engagement. Unsurprisingly, I think that getting off of our digital devices is part of the answer. Engage with your local or state community and government, engage with a new or unfamiliar book, delve into a new hobby, sit and have an in-depth conversation with your children, attend a local farmer’s market, or start a local recreation class. It might restore your faith in humanity, and surely, it will surely remind you that we are all in the same crazy life… with disappointments, sorrows and great happiness.

I truly do believe that we as Americans have a mutual belief, often referred to as this mystical idea called democracy, that gives us an advantage in how our lives our structured; perhaps, if we’re lucky, we may just recognize that by disconnecting from our screens we can reconnect to our mutual understanding as citizens, and as people.

Again, the book by Siva Vaidyanathan, published in 2016 in New York, NY, by Oxford University Press, is "Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. Disconnecting to Reconnect: Rekindling the Lost Art of Understanding." — Anna Dinkel, Madison, Jefferson High School alumna and master’s candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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