Social disparity: Is the world growing further apart?
Last year, we saw many issues that divided the world. The US presidential race, the world-wide Black Lives Matters movement, masks, to name a few.
Of course, this extreme polarization itself isn’t the issue. There will always be people at either the ends of the spectrum of any debate. Social disparity lies with the lack of nuance. The ‘you’re either with us or against us’ attitude.
We find ourselves in a very black or white world without the many shades of grey that color any healthy debate. Complex issues are boiled down to simply ‘For’ or ‘Against’ and we find ourselves growing further away from those who have a different perspective.
But how have we got to this point, and how can we fix it?
Social media advertising breeds disparity
Mika Raulas talks about the social media advertising model in his blog. Social platforms package up data on users and sell super-targeted advertising to companies who want to reach their perfect customers.
But these algorithms aren’t designed with the individuals using the platforms in mind, rather those who want to target them.
This is why you often see the same type of content that you’ve engaged with displayed over and over again. The results are an echo chamber where very specific views are played back to the individual, and amplified through their network.
There becomes very little space for diversity of thought when it appears as though your particular brand of thinking is the main stance on a subject.
Social disparity hinders problem-solving
Segmented perspectives are great for advertisers, but not so good for problem-solving.
When we consider wicked problems and the systems thinking needed to approach them, polarization makes it harder to come up with a solution. I talk about the future of humanity and how a holistic view helps us understand the full problem, but also how changes to one component affects other areas.
On the other hand, a narrower view removes our ability to address these types of problems. We become so focused on our own view without considering the big picture, and without exercising our curiosity or empathy.
For example, lack of fair access to education is a global issue, a wicked problem, and a symptom of social disparity. Improving access to education requires exploring every perspective to build a better understanding of the issue.
Diversity in perspectives challenges our own thinking and encourages us to view the world in a different way. It can even make us smarter. It’s here where creativity and innovation are born.
Disparity in gathering information
But even gathering different perspectives to further our thinking, can promote social disparity.
In today’s world, information is fragmented or held in siloes. You might watch a video, or read an article and browse the relevant Wikipedia page to understand an issue. But you may never get access to academic research on the topic or have sight of someone’s private musings.
Pulling together information to get a true picture of things takes time and money. Gaining understanding becomes about those who have the ability to do so, and those who have not. It also limits the scope of design, problem-solving and decision-making to be geared towards those who have, which widens the gulf further.
If we want to close the gap, we must stop wearing our differences as badges and start embracing our diverse points of views. Once people can be brought together around a theme, we can start building a better society, together.