I totally don’t have the time or the emotional energy to be writing this post, but in fact, I kind of feel like I don’t have the time to not write this post. You see, someone who I don’t know seems to have un-Friended me on Facebook.
I first accepted a Friend Request from this person – whom I will henceforth call 'Gina' – sometime before GDC. I remember noticing her updates around that time because we had a friend staying at our place during GDC and I remember lamenting that this new Facebook Friend was causing me some consternation.
I am Canadian. As such, I tend to have fairly left-leaning political opinions and moral convictions. To boot, I am probably more left-leaning in the ideological sense than the ‘average’ Canadian. That said, when I agreed to come to America as a guest of this nation, I decided that I would put a lid on my politics, and do my best to observe and understand how Americans think and feel about their nation and about the issues they struggle with, while trying not to pass judgement. I suspect that I fail to keep my opinions in check more often than I succeed, but I do try.
Judging from her updates over the course of six months or more, my former Facebook Friend Gina has fairly right-leaning political opinions and moral convictions. Her stances on a variety of hot-button political issues in America today are virtually the opposite of mine. She questions the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate. She opposes gay marriage. She opposes more stringent gun control laws. She is against health care reform. She supports the Tea Party. When I told my friend during GDC about Gina, his response was simply that I should un-Friend her.
But I didn’t (and don’t) see the point in that. I don’t see the point in that for two reasons.
The first reason is Facebook itself. The beating heart of Facebook is the idea that you can connect with people who you otherwise would never know – never mind share ideas with – by way of something else you have in common. Whether Gina knows a friend of mine, or has played one of the games I have worked on, or went to a school I went to, the point is that whatever tiny thing connects us has the potential to be the thing that bridges the gap between us and allows us to reconcile our differences. Now, I am a pretty cynical guy, and while I see that Facebook has the potential to be that, I also see the reality that it is mostly just a platform for marketing and self-promotion and for reinforcing already-held ideas. In the end, though, that’s the point. If we give up on what Facebook can be by un-Friending all the people whose opinions we disagree with, then we submit to a more cynical Facebook that nobody wants or needs.
The second reason is America. If there is any country in the history of the world where thinking differently is not just accepted, but is embraced, celebrated, and rewarded, it is the United States of America. I didn’t come to this country because I wanted to be around a bunch of people who looked the same, acted the same, sounded the same, dressed the same as me and/or thought the same as me. I came here to be challenged. Now, being challenged does not mean rolling over and accepting things you oppose – and I remain opposed to most of Gina’s positions – but it does mean coming to understand how and why you hold the ideas you hold, and why and how others hold differing ideas. This understanding strengthens your ideas and prepares you to challenge their ideas when the opportunity arises. But that opportunity will only arise if you continue to listen and refuse to walk away from the table. You should never turn your back on someone with a bad idea. If you don’t convince them it’s a bad idea when you have the chance, they’ll convince others that it’s a good idea and when you next confront it, it will be a bad idea with momentum....
So why am I sad?
Well, the end of this story unfortunately starts with the recent shooting at the theatre in Colorado. I didn’t read too much about it, frankly. I already read that story when I was in high-school, and again in college, and again in university, and again, and again. I have my opinions about how to better deal with the problem of murderous rampages, but those are not ideas I want to discuss on Facebook. I am fortunate to have a career where I can share ideas about the shape of the world, both as I see it, and as how I feel it ought to be. When it comes to complex issues of human nature I would prefer to spend the three or four years of effort it takes to develop a well-reasoned position on one idea than to scream hundreds of ideas at the walls of Facebook – which after all is just that – screaming at walls.
After the Colorado shooting, Gina put a lot of updates on Facebook of the fairly predictable sort; pro 2nd Amendment, anti-gun control rhetoric of the ‘from my cold dead hands’ sort. All of that is fine. I disagree with the idea, but it’s irrelevant because firstly I support her right to express those ideas (under the Amendment that comes before the one that enables them) and secondly because I am a Canadian, and I have no say in the matter anyway.
What did trouble me a bit was her blanket assertion that the guns used in the shooting must not have been legally owned by the shooter. When I later read the guns were all legally acquired, I was tempted to post on her wall to ask what she thought about that fact. But I didn’t. Maybe I should have. Maybe that was the moment when Facebook could have been good for something and allowed two people with differing ideas to connect. Opportunity missed.
But then, this afternoon, I read (sadly) about another mass shooting by a person with a legally owned firearm. I remembered Gina’s update (it wasn’t long ago), and wondered if in the ensuing weeks people had pointed out her mistake, and if a discussion had arisen there and if I might have been given a second chance to see if I could reconcile my ideas with hers.
I typed (her real name) into Facebook’s friend search, and turned up nothing.
In the preceding 24-36 hours, she had inexplicably un-Friended me. I know because I remember seeing an update from my timeline at mid-day on Saturday. I wondered if she was just cleaning out her Friends list, and so I scrolled back through the last day or so of updates to see if I could find a clue.
And then it dawned on me that very probably she had un-Friended me because I had said something she didn’t agree with. I had shown her that I was not the same as her, and (probably) she wanted a wall that reinforced what she already believed, not a wall that challenged her ideas.
Now, probably, since most of my own friends, and most of the people who come to my blog, are self-selecting and will be inclined to agree with me, I suspect most of you will say ‘good riddance’. You probably think it’s a good thing that she has cut herself off and further isolated herself. If that’s what you think, I direct you to the title of this post. It’s not titled ‘fuck you, Gina’, it’s titled ‘I’m sad’.
I’m sad because the fact is that my and Gina’s differences – relative to the scope and scale of human disagreements in general – are effectively non-existent. Gina and I live in the most enlightening society in human history, and we have access to the most powerful connective technology in the history of the world, and we still managed to outmaneuver each other. I’m sad because, in some sense at least, I invested a lot of time and energy into this pseudo-relationship with this person I never met. I persisted in not un-Friending Gina based on principles that I actually care about, even though at times it diminished my own happiness to do it. I tried – for months – to make this technology work for these people in this culture, and at the end of the day it seems to have not mattered at all.
I’m sad because sometimes it seems like it doesn’t improve my life, or the lives of those around me to even think about these things, never mind talk about them. And that sucks.