The Young and The Feckless: Bursting Bubbles
It was oddly apropos to be mulling over the idea of social bubbles over bubble tea. Totally unplanned, though (as was the choking on a tapioca pearl). A friend and I were discussing the need to stop accepting online culture as the status quo. It's exclusive and exclusionary, with its own language, its own jargon and touchstones and for all of its ubiquity, the culture of the internet isn't universal*, not even amongst our generation. My brother-in-law doesn't have a Facebook account, my former coworkers had no idea what LinkedIn was, people who aren't using it don't give a flying...fig about Twitter and on and on. But if you're immersed in internet culture, it seems like the norm. Everyone blogs! Or comments on message boards. Or knows what a lolcat is, etc. It's not the norm, though. It's a bubble. And given that the topic recently came up again in an online (har, har, har) discussion wherein the majority sided in favor of the supportive power of surrounding oneself with like-minded folks for the sake of encouragement and motivation, I thought I should finally get around to digging out my hatpin and getting to work on breaking down (bursting if you're the punny sort) the idea of the bubble.
Photo by rksura (Pentax Man)
We all live in bubbles. Although they might reflect class, privilege, sexual/gender and racial divides, as a concept, they also transcend them. Bubbles writ large are universal, even as the individual ones serve to insulate us from others. We construct them from our lived experience, the norms of our social group, our relationships with institutions, the way in which we interact with the broader society and it in turn interacts with, evaluates and classifies us. It's only natural, really; you know what you live and who surrounds you–whether that's fellow grad students, engineers, artists, eco-activists or drug dealers, Oxford, Soho or a corner in West Baltimore. Bubbles are an unconscious intellectual self-preservation technique, a means of warding off a tidal wave of cognitive dissonance. Much easier to simply tacitly accept our experience as more or less representative of capital R reality than to acknowledge that there are billions upon billions of people out there whose lives bear no resemblance to our own and who are equally convinced of the universality of their insider shorthand. It's not even a matter of the simplistic, "We're right, they're wrong," in many cases, but a more nuanced and genuine naivete that the assumptions and premises on which we base our world view are understood by the masses.
Everyone is on the same page, even if we disagree over interpretations of the words printed on it, right? Except that that isn't true. This person can't read. That person doesn't have a book. That guy over there will deny that there even is a book, etc, etc. And it's humbling to realize that not everyone cares about what you care about, that the issues and causes and ideas that fill you with passion or outrage or righteousness aren't even a blip on others' radars (this is how student journalism broke my heart–ask me about the time I fell in love with freedom of the press and alienated my entire campus in the process). We take this indifference to heart. If what you care about so deeply (Space exploration! Roman architecture! Animal rights!) doesn't matter, does that mean you don't matter, either? Ouch. Just ouch.
In a forum such as Bitch, this might read as preaching to the choir (or maybe not, it would be rather ironic of me to assume that), but it's approaching the end of my tenure here and I tend to get a little maudlin around closing time. Besides, sometimes, we all need a wake-up call, me most certainly included. We need to brush up against the truth that, for better or worse, our reality is not necessarily replicable, nor is it a solid basis for extrapolation and to acknowledge our part in creating and empowering a self-reinforcing space in which we surround ourselves with the voices and perspectives and experiences that are most likely to keep order and harmony in place and cognitive dissonance at bay. And, of course, it's much easier to do this from a place of privilege, to acknowledge your privilege and your insularity and work to sensitize yourself (although, not in a "I'm not a ____, I have _____ friends!" way, obviously) than it is to stand in a place of disadvantage and lack of privilege and imagine another achievable, well-resourced context for yourself (which is why I get into fights with folks who talk about scholarship programs for marginalized youth as some sort of panacea when it comes to educational attainment). It's the difference between the bubble as a protective force field and the bubble as a claustrophobic enclosure.
Your world is not a proxy for or a microcosm of the world. And if you have the capacity and means to create it in the image of your choosing and to populate it as you see fit, you owe to yourself (for the sake of intellectual honesty and not appearing to be a sociological ostrich if nothing else) and those on the outside to acknowledge it for the bubble it is.
*somewhat of an understatement from the person who once referred to social media as an intellectual circle jerk of epic proportions.
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