Olu Online


This post is related to bump, boost, but focuses more on the ways that mass social media and the internet in general aren't great for facilitating meaningful discussions between strangers. I think this is (arguably!) one of the internet's main use cases, so I am constantly baffled by how it's such a bad experience.

Mass social media is accused of many things: creating filter bubbles where only certain opinions are ever heard; drowning out nuance and relatedly only ever allowing the most inane opinions to be surfaced; encouraging copying; encouraging a race to the bottom where only a certain style of post that has gained popularity ever gets views or clicks; the list goes on. In the list of positive aspects, I have rarely seen that it encourages people to have better discussions.

People are exposed to new ideas on social media constantly, for better or worse, but as much as people like to pretend the internet has democratised access to information, it very much has not democratised comprehension and spread. Both of the latter would be easier in a world where discussion online was fruitful, rather than either stressful or unproductive. More casual forms of education happen easily in active discussion groups, and much as MOOCs have tried to spread the university experience1 for free, it ends up mostly benefitting a small subset of people.

Anecdotally, I've generally seen the smaller and more focused the community, the more fruitful and useful the discussions have been. That of course raises its own issues around what used to be open forums now existing in a WhatsApp group or Discord chat. Conversely, I assume a lot of these conversations wouldn't happen in completely open-to-anyone style forums.

Our current technologies do tend to have many ways to discuss with those we already know. This is good, at least in the practical “I am able to talk to my friend in various formats and the platform gets out of the way” sense. They're lacking in many others; privacy and security chief amongst them, unless you have persuaded friends to switch to the current Secure App™ of choice. Another is usability; the amount of times an online community effort has been ended by someone's concern around platform security or platform policies is probably uncountable at this point.

Separately; lots of people, I would hazard most, really hate talking online, even through video or voice call, and say that face to face is better for the avoidance of misunderstandings and to explain technical problems, for example. Would person and life centring technology avoid us talking online as much as possible? Would it guide us towards connecting face to face where appropriate and possible?

This piece is part of my attempt at Alphabet Superset, a 6 month creative challenge.

  1. My experience of university didn't really live up to my expectations of Socratic seminars spontaneously bursting out in the hallways anyway. University is hardly the most conducive environment for learning for most people, due to grade and financial stressors, amongst so many other things.