It’s difficult to be angered anew by the world every day. It’s not that there is nothing that is happening to generate anger. Rather, it’s more that there are things happening constantly. Thus, constantly triggered, we find ourselves in a cycle of rage that eventually numbs us. Eventually all those deaths, those rapes, those thefts become statistics.
And statistics are comparable.
So suddenly things can be spinned because surely we “are not as bad as” and in being “not as bad as” we must be doing “something better than” and if we’re doing “something better than” then things can’t really be bad, can they?
blood is blood is blood is blood is blood
the stupid, the venal, the cruel inherit the earth
we withhold our grief
from the merchants of death
- Blowback, Shailja Patel
But we’re cognizant of the fact that a death is a death is a death. And that every person should be accorded the ability to live with dignity. So when journalists report of the killings of young men by the government write hashtags and letters. When the film classification board drafts a bill to censor creatives we show up in a hall and say no. When a woman is stripped at a bus stop, thousands of women march in protest.
But there are so many of these things happening every day. And amidst all this we all need to go about the business of living within these same structures. This not only involves the banal stresses of life (fees, bills, relationships and such) which are a load by themselves. It also involves navigating the paranoia that comes with knowing that you could be next. That the only difference between you and the suspected gangster was an incident of birth, accent and probably what you were doing at the time. Or that street harassment isn’t real to you because you live in a closely controlled environment.
“The problem with the bubble of security is the bubble of security. By its nature, it is fragile and precarious, it can pop at any time. And, when your bubble pops it will only be your bubble.When that mugging, that police harassment, that carjacking happens, it will only happen to you. Your friends, whose bubbles are still intact, will tell you that you are over-reacting, if only a little. That you need to get over it, everyone goes through these things. From the safety of a security bubble it is easy to dismiss the pain of others.”
With this knowledge it makes sense why it is easier to believe that our bubble is safe. But bubbles also cause separation. And when people within a bubble begin to talk it becomes an echo chamber. An effect that is magnified when a different sort of bubble comes into play.
A filter bubble is the intellectual isolation that can occur when websites make use of algorithms to selectively assume the information a user would want to see, and then give information to the user according to this assumption.
Websites make these assumptions based on the information related to the user, such as former click behavior, browsing history, search history and location. For that reason, the websites are more likely to present only information that will abide by the user’s past activity.
A filter bubble, therefore, can cause users to get significantly less contact with contradicting viewpoints, causing the user to become intellectually isolated.
Filter bubbles create resonances within themselves. Which is to say, you can think that there is a lot of noise being made if you’re six people in a small room. But if that room is virtual, and the six of you know each other in different combinations and have different relations to each other – then there is a multiplying effect.
This separation, both ideological and physical, of people and spaces is very important. It makes them knowable, trackable and manageable. It is because of this separation that Ezekiel Mutua hold a meeting telling creatives one thing – and then say the complete opposite on tv. This separation means that different messages can be given to people in separate bubbles until one gets their way. These messages, that manipulate whatever they need to, are used to create legislature. Want to kill a few kids at the coast? Tell the people it’s Al shabaab, drop a few videos on the right pages on the internet and write some pieces in the paper.
Except all of these things continue to happen simultaneously.
So now we find ourselves propped up by this intricate tangle of half truths, tenants in our very own house of cards. We are vaguely aware of the damage that is done to keep us afloat, like we are vaguely aware that the meat we eat was once alive. We have cognizant knowledge, but being far removed enough from the violence, we are more concerned with rare or well done.
“Talk to strangers when family fails
and friends lead you astray.”
- Talk to Strangers, Saul Williams
Stories rule the world
In this context then conversations become a form of power. Being able to reach and interact with others outside your bubble allows one to start working at the false walls that keep them locked out of the world. Conversations become a version of truth seeking and narrative correction. Conversations allow for that story about 1,000 deaths in Moyale become about Jane’s sister’s cousin’s friend, who was studying. This consistent re-creating community counters the banality of statistics. And helps work against the idea that deaths are comparable. It helps us remember that a death is a death is a death and that is enough to get angry – again.