If you are anything like me, you have engaged in a heated Facebook exchange once or twice. Recently I’ve had two interesting chats with old friends—one of whom I’ve lost touch with for over two decades who has political views on the complete other side of the spectrum than me. Rather than a reminder of how technology connects people from far afield, both exchanges reminded me of just how rare it is for me to bridge wide social distances. Where do you get to interact with people who are different from you?
We imagine a time when an open public square was where a community could find that exchange of ideas. As German sociologist Jürgen Habermas wrote, the public sphere is “a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A portion of the public sphere comes into being in every public conversation in which private individuals assemble to form a public body.” But we don’t have a social space like this today.