Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Bubble We Live In

Several years ago I was talking to my dad about technology and we got into a debate about some random, minor issue. In the end he made point that even though my experience would show X, X isn't necessarily true because my life experience isn't really that broad yet. I took this with a grain of salt, not really believing him. This because I'm a college student at a university with 40K students from all across the world; I have friends I've met online from different regions of the country. I'm pretty broad, right?

Well the problem is that over time as we amass friendships and connections, we tend without realizing it to connect with people similar to us. So yes, I've met people from across the US via the internet. But they are all the type of people who are okay with meeting friends via the internet. They tend to have a more technical perspective, be younger, and probably more liberal in views about social and technological issues. Yes I go to a school with 40K students from across the world. But I don't know hardly any of them. A few hundred tops, and more like 20-40 more closely. And nearly all of them I have met doing things I was interested in. Playing HvZ, taking civil engineering classes. Whenever you meet people while doing something you're interested in, those people are going to be similar to you in at least that way and probably more.

The fact is that we tend to live in a bubble of our own world view. Our perception is warped by the fact that most people around us tend to have similar beliefs; to find similar things interesting or funny. It's only when we step out of that and starting hanging out with people who are very different that you realize how unrealistic our worldview might be.

I was made more aware of this over the past few months by the romantic relationship I'm involved in. Over the summer I decided to try my luck with online dating. I met someone and it's worked and we've been together for almost three months now. It's great, but there have definitely been some unexpected differences between us. She is far outside my normal realm of people. She's not a geek or nerd, not a technie, not a political activist. But that's great, because it's shined a light on some of my own preconceptions and forced me to re-evaluate things I took for granted as universal.

Example, I find lolcats cute and funny. Every single person I know does as well. I eventually introduced my parents to them and even they found the concept amusing. So to me it seemed pretty universal. I didn't consider that despite the generational difference, my parents probably have similar worldviews in many ways given that I got a lot of my beliefs from them as I was raise. Fast forward to this fall;I introduced my girlfriend to lolcats and got ... a blank look. We showed them to several of her friends and got a similar reaction. She doesn't really find the concept of cats talking with bad grammar to be amusing, and when you actually describe lolcats that way, it kind of makes sense.

Love of lolcats isn't the only thing I took as universal that I've had to rethink. Take Star Wars. I figured that everyone has at least heard of it, and probably seen it. I'd never met a person who didn't recognize the phrase "these aren't the droids you're looking for", and I really couldn't imagine someone not recognizing it. Maybe in Africa, sure, but in America? Yet I was wrong about that as well. And Lord of the Rings. And quite a few others.

All of which are inconsequential for the most part, yet demonstrate my point. Just because you and everyone you know "know" something, doesn't really mean that it's true. Because even though it feels odd, the fact is that you and everyone you know is a rather smaller circle than one might think. Your challenge then, for the week, is to find some way to peek outside of your bubble. You might be surprised what you find.

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