It’s increasingly clear that the information cocoons woven from technology-enabled communication has contributed to the divisiveness in society. The internet in general, and social media in particular, has facilitated the self segregation of individuals into like thinking communities. The communication within these closed communities forms a positive feedback loop where a common set of ideas, however extreme or meritless, eventually becomes dogma within the group. Conservatives get their news from conservative sources while progressives get their information from progressive sources with very little cross pollination of ideas. The net result is that members of each group have an illusion of invulnerability that profoundly shapes their world view and their interaction with all others.
Homophily facilitated by the internet is not really a new concept, but there are other subtle indications of how we humans tend to insulate ourselves from external stimuli that we have come to perceive as noxious which brings me to car windows. Yes, car windows. This could be my own observer bias from living in south Florida where temperatures typically range from oppressively hot to hot but it seems that even on undeniably pleasant days it is rare to see people driving with their windows rolled down. Instead, climate control systems are invoked to maintain a temperature inside the car of 71 degrees when the ambient temperature is 72 degrees. In essence, these people have insulated themselves from the sounds, smells, and overall ambiance of the environment through which they are passing. With the air conditioner running, windows securely rolled up and listening to tunes from the iPod or satellite radio we have effectively created another cocoon spun from everything explicitly under our control.
Whether we are reading a blog that reinforces our own view or riding in a car with the windows tightly shut, it seems we go to great lengths to avoid having to adapt to any outside stimulus. That’s unfortunate because it seems there is much to be learned from adapting to something rather than insulting yourself from it.
Almost all of our evolution as a species has been marked by our ability to adapt to our surroundings. We learned to adapt and accept temperature fluctuations, seasonal food variations, and adjusted our activities based on sunrise and sunset. We were part of the universe and adapted to it, but somewhere along the line that relationship has reversed and we now have to tools to shape our own, personal universe where everything is just the way we want it.
Maybe it’s just human nature to shape our environment to meet our every want or desire. But in the end, I think there’s value in recognizing that sometimes it’s alright to accept things as they are and enjoy the fact that we don’t need to control them but can enjoy them for what they are, as they are. That’s why it’s cathartic to roll down your car windows, turn off the radio and listen, smell, think, and live in the moment.