October 25, 2008

Filters and Belief Systems

By Rob Diana of Regular Geek (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Some days, there is a minimal amount of news and discussion. Yesterday was one of those days. Today, however, is different. In the morning, I read my feeds and had two interesting posts that will spark much discussion today.

First, Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins has quit FriendFeed. I am disappointed, but he puts it concisely, "Unfortunately, I just don't think I can take it anymore." In Mark's case, it was a political discussion that went awry that broke the camel's back. He lists the usual problems with any internet discussion, people not doing any fact checking and just spewing opinions, people insulting your intelligence and people calling you a racist. Disappointingly, the internet is full of people with different opinions and many discussions end in this manner. He does summarize his feelings nicely though:
As I said before, it's not a blanket indictment of everyone on there, but of the community spirit on the system. Almost everyone I know uses FriendFeed, and that includes my best friends. Somehow, though, when all my friends (and their friends, and their friends) get together in a conversation, something goes horribly awry.
The second blog post came from Louis Gray where he talked about his dilemma of being a Mormon, a Democrat, a friend of gay people and how to vote on California's Proposition 8. Prop 8 is a highly divisive issue because it is about eliminating the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Louis' dilemma stems from the idea that "Politics and religion make tough bedfellows. (No pun intended)." As a Democrat, he should obviously be against Prop 8, but as a Mormon he should obviously be supporting Prop 8. So, what do you do? This dilemma is true of any liberal-minded person who is also religious, because most religions are against same-sex marriages. The problem really comes down to something Louis mentions:
In theory, politics should be based on one's studying of the issues, and reaching a conclusion through a combination of facts. Religion, while often largely fact-based, also asks you to make decisions based on faith in things not fully understood and unseen, while trusting leadership who give guidance said to be of divine source.
Of course, Louis is already wondering what kind of response this will draw on FriendFeed. So, what do these posts have in common? Politics and religion. What is the common bond between these two topics? Belief systems. As much as people want to believe Louis' assertion, politics is based on studying the issues and reaching a conclusion based on facts, most people base their politics on their religious beliefs. These types of topics are very volatile because disagreement becomes an attack on "everything we believe".

The Importance of Filters

I have talked previously about the importance of filters when using an application like FriendFeed. Filters are mostly talked about in how to find information in the flood of noise. However, filters can also be used to avoid things you do not want to listen to. Anyone who follows me on FriendFeed can find that I rarely take part in conversations about politics or religion. There is a very good reason for this. Look at any of the political discussions lately on FriendFeed. You will find that the conversations may start as intelligent but eventually degrade into name calling. This is not always true, but it happens often enough. When belief systems are involved, I tend to avoid the conversation because I want to enjoy my experience, not argue.

This is the main reason I am disappointed with Mark Hopkins' decision to leave FriendFeed. His disgust with some of the conversations is his own making. Not because of his political views, but because he partakes in the political discussion. I value the benefits of FriendFeed too highly to allow the political discussions to bother me. I hide most political items because I am not on FriendFeed for that purpose. I may find some interesting political article to read, but I not discussing things there. The main reason is because I do not want to leave FriendFeed.

With services like FriendFeed and Twitter, you really do need some method of filtering. One of the obvious methods is a FriendFeed list. For Twitter, you can use software like TweetDeck to group users. The difference is that using application filters can improve your experience. That is why they exist. The other part of the filter equation is you. You may need to filter yourself. What I mean is that if you really like something, there may be compromises that need to be made. In Mark's case, maybe this means not getting involved in as many political discussions. If you do not like what Louis said in his recent post, then just hide the post.

The most important ingredient in the filters is you. If you do not like what is being said, you do not have to listen.

Read more by Rob Diana at RegularGeek.com.