After the 2016 election, there was a palpable feeling of bewilderment among Democrats who wondered how so many of their fellow citizens could have voted for Donald Trump. For many on the left, it was the disorienting sense of living in a country that they no longer recognized. But while this may have been a new feeling for liberals, many conservatives have long thought they were a “stranger in their own country.”
The United States is a nation with an incredible amount of racial, political, religious and geographical diversity. It’s no wonder that we don’t often agree with each other. But diversity is not the source of our current problems. Instead, it’s that we have become deeply incurious about each other, no longer interested in getting to know even the people who live next door. We live in a nation of strangers. Even when we do talk to our neighbors we’re increasingly doing it online, using platforms like Nextdoor or Facebook.
Ironically, the information age has provided us with more opportunities than ever to learn about our fellow citizens, even those in the most far-flung parts of the country. But while social networking sites may be a great way to interact with strangers, they are a poor way to get to know someone. Scrolling through Instagram may provide the illusion of intimacy, but the images and videos in our feed often bear only a passing resemblance to reality. While it may feel like we are more connected than ever, the reality is that we are profoundly ignorant about the way that many of our fellow citizens think, what they feel and what they want.
As a nation, we need to embrace curiosity and cultivate the desire to learn from each other. There is no simple remedy for this. Human beings are experts at self-sorting. Many of the choices we make, conscious or not, are designed to insulate ourselves from people who do not share our values, backgrounds or beliefs. Social media algorithms designed to filter out differing opinions have only alienated us further.