A few decades ago, it became fashionable to frame disagreements as misunderstandings and blame social tensions on a failure to communicate. The best solution for conflict, the thinking went, was honest, uninhibited dialogue. Pouring out our feelings and getting to know one another as individuals would bring us together.
Today, technology is testing this idea as never before. Immersed in mass media and armed with smart phones, 21st-century Americans communicate like crazy.
We’re happy to share our feelings with anyone who will listen, or check us out online and we’re militantly sincere. As for knowing our fellow citizens on a human level, we’re practically sitting in each other’s living rooms.
If this tide of in-touchness has helped unify the country, the evidence is scarce. Polls say Americans are distrustful, polarized and increasingly tribal. We probably had better chances for social harmony before we littered cyberspace with our every impulse and irritation — that is, before we knew each other so well.
Ignorance wasn’t bliss, but it was a buffer.