When people talked with each other across the fences in the backyard, they knew (with some certainty, though certainly not ontological certainty) which of their neighbors were angry and which were pleasant.
The bowling league, the local bar, the country club, and even the grocery store served as locations that allowed people to bump into each other in ways both random and purposeful, and to take each other’s’ temperature about the news of the day.
There were opportunities for thought leaders, opinion makers, and public intellectuals to educate the public about what they believed, and because first the Church, and then the government, and then the corporations acted as gatekeepers, democracy of thought and passion was tamped down successfully enough.
If you were an individual looking to step out from the shadow of conformity and the comfort of the crowd, there were few venues that existed for you to walk out those minority viewpoints, and the gatekeepers of the majority existed primarily to ensure that the minority was never heard from.
Or at least, rarely heard from.
Fighting for a minority belief against a seemingly overwhelming power structure became sauce for the cooking of the goose of ideas, and passions, and sometimes, those ideas broke through the dominant culture, leaped over the gatekeepers and struck a chord with millions of people.
In the 4th great human revolution, the one being driven by a global communication channel known as the Internet, the gatekeepers have little power to police, minority voices and viewpoints can connect with each other and influence like never before, and you know how angry your neighbor is, because she tweeted out a passionate comment last week and it popped up in your feed.
Here’s the thing that we forget, in light of the technological show being put on by the Internet now:
Your neighbor was always angry and disgruntled about the way that the world fundamentally worked.
There were always minority viewpoints in the culture, looking for connection, engagement, and searching for meaning against a dominant culture that was perceived as arrogant, conformist and overbearing.
The bowling league, the local bar, the country club, and even the grocery store have been replaced first by chat rooms, and now by the “impermanent” web, and will be replaced further by whatever comes next.
Since the magnification of a problem is not the same as the problem’s ‘root cause,’ it should come as no surprise to us that people are at the root of our angry, passionate, loud discourse, on an open, democratic and connecting tool.
We all can now say, due to the overwhelming evidence and with almost ontological certainty, that if we fix the people the tool will magically change.