2 min read

Generalizations and Anecdotes

Generalizations and Anecdotes
Photo by Gilles Lambert / Unsplash

Warning: I have a vague idea of where I'm going with this, but I think we will end up somewhere sensible. Maybe. No promises.

An interesting phenomenon that I have seen with social media is the collectivization of groups. We often see it in foreign policy issues:

"People are saying that in country X people think Y, but I just had an Uber driver from there and he told me that's not true at all and it's really Z"

I've seen this kind of thing on social media a ton. I don't know if it's because the personal nature of social makes it seem more personable or real but people will latch onto these types of stories and it's truly asinine if you take a step back and draw analogous stories.

Imagine somebody from another country coming to the United States and going to a meeting of the Socialist Club at a school like Cal or something and then taking your entire view of the US from that. Or going to the Tea Party Club at Liberty or Hillsdale and making that your entire view.

We are here and know that isn't the case. Both of those are extremes. And extremes are what go viral because they are noteworthy. Which brings me to McClintock's First Law (Not to be confused with the McClintock Effect)

Anything that is viral or newsworthy is by definition an outlier and should be framed as such.

It's all anecdotes. They are factoids, but they should drive policy or major decisions because they are exceptions, but social media lets us paint them as the norm.

There have been many studies done relating mental health issues with the usage of social media, and I think this is a large reason why. What previously was so different and far from us is now in our face every day. With 7b people in the world, there are thousands of these types of stories a day and we take all of them as the norm, but it really isn't the norm.

This isn't to take away from real problems that real people have, but we can't control or have any input on almost 100% of these, but the way we consume them we take the emotional toll as if we are intimately involved, but have no recourse. Our Information-Action Ratio is completely out of whack - we bear all the world's problems now despite them not having an impact on our own life.

We often point fingers in the same way at those we disagree with. If there are two conflicting viewpoints held by members of a collective - the overlap in the venn diagram is probably really small - but we are all guilty of generalizing them into everybody in both circles holding both conflicting opinions and therefore the entire collective are hypocrites.

Which outrages us. And so we continue to let (inaccurate and an unfair assessment) information that we have no control over affect us emotionally.

So what can we actually do about it?

Go talk to your neighbor. Talk to that random person in your ward you never talk to. Don't waste our limited capacity to empathize on social media where we can't do anything, find somebody near you and make an impact on one person. Just one.

The irony of trying to change the world for 7 billion people is that if we try to do that, we will fail. There is no central planning or program or anything that can do that. The way it happens is by individaully helping those around us. So we can't change the world, but we can change one persons world - and that adds up.