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In Defence of the Grey Area | PR Ireland

In Defence of the Grey Area

There is still a very large number of people who remember what life was like before social media. Naturally, it will always be a shrinking number from here on in.

Everyone’s parents would share stories of life before washing machines, while our grandparents would tell us stories of life before indoor toilets. Anyone aged over 25 today will be telling their kids about having to spend 25c per text message and what it was like to actually talk to people.

It was much easier for older generations to explain the benefits of not having to spend an entire day every week handwashing clothes than it will be for today’s generation having to explain why we all embraced social media. What exactly did we gain?

The advent of the social media era promised connection, being able to stay in touch with people we knew and being able to build relationships and share ideas with people we don’t.

Instead of connection, societies around the world are divided more than ever. The simple reason being is that the business model of the major social media companies values engagement more than connection. What really gets us going on social media are the things that divide us, turning every topic into a debate about which ‘side’ you are on.

Divisive content gets our heckles up and encourages us to wade in. Those who shout the loudest get the reward – engagement. Nobody makes balanced or nuanced points about complex issues on social media, analysing both sides of the argument and suggesting a few reasonable concessions for both sides to make a healthy compromise.

We have seen the middle ground in most cases disappear. There is no grey area. This black or white approach to public discourse spreads into politics, where politicians are reward for all or nothing approaches and sticking resolutely to their guns.

In a year when we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it makes you wonder if that momentous occasion could have happened in the social media era. Like all negotiations, that deal was sealed in the grey areas between both sides. It even created an entire compendium of further grey areas to be worked out later. However, the objective, peace in Ireland, was achieved.

That room for manoeuvre, which allowed a compromise to be reached, possibly wouldn’t exist today.

Events in the UK have thrown up some good recent good examples. The hard-line approach of large sections of the Conservative Party killed off a number of good compromises around Brexit, instead of the current situation which is damaging the UK economy and social cohesion.

In Ireland, we see continued use of social media to stir up division and hatred on the refugee issue. Climate change is another wedge issue used by some to drive a gap between rural Ireland and Dublin. There are a whole plethora of issues which are complicated and not easily solved. Social media rewards people for arguing in 2D about 3D issues.

Former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best; ‘’Things are not all black and white. There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.’’


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