Yesterday, sharing was something intimate. Today, in digital terms, sharing almost knows no borders. Nevertheless, sharing something with hundreds of people at once is a daily, effortless activity, which requires just a couple of clicks. Whether it’s a selfie from the beach, or an article written to stir up the public outcry, what we post will have a small (or a significant) impact on the day of our contacts. How do we interpret the news on our display, and how do we decide whether to share it in turn?

Simple is good

Let’s assume the human brain is a shrewd, fast organ, which works with the least effort possible. If there’s a shortcut, our brain will take it. We can find examples everywhere: just scroll your Facebook home page to chance upon riddles and optical illusions that take advantage of our brain’s ability to distort our perception. In the light of this, consider that humans are such extraordinary creatures that they got to understand even the functioning of their (extraordinary) brain, such as the way it comes to our aid, or the way it tricks us.

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But it’s not like our skull is inhabited by an evil entity, aimed at deceiving us, to make our lives impossible; it’s just the opposite: the immediate interpretation of reality may be misleading because our brain tries to simplify that reality. It tries to clarify a reality that is very often much too complicated. That’s why it is essential to be aware of the simplification of reality implemented automatically by our mind, especially in an age when our poor brain is exposed to countless stimuli. And we need to figure out if our ideas originated from a summary reading of this simplification, or if they were developed through some reasoning (in the first case, therefore, it would be advisable to reconsider our assumptions).

I can think of two examples of the way we meekly let ourselves get persuaded from the simplest solution. They’re both such banal concepts that we don’t pay any attention to how they creep into our daily life. Or rather perhaps we notice it, but… let’s keep turning a blind eye, it’s so simple!

In search of confirmation

The first one is prejudice. Actually, there’s nothing to explain, it’s all in the word: prae, ‘in advance’ + judicium, ‘judgement’. Everybody knows what it means: a judgement that we make beforehand. From the earliest age we have been told how wrong it is to be prejudiced. And yet, even prejudices stem from a very basic and fundamental need, that of simplify reality.

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Let’s use a less unpleasant term, which is still useful to convey the idea: expectations. If we couldn’t have expectations, our life would be a nightmare. Everything around us would be a novelty, and we couldn’t make head or tail of anything in a world exclusively made of novelty. Expectations help us organise the world and act accordingly. The point is, we can’t stop at expectations when we bump into a totally different reality. We can’t make our expectations the preconceived view of something that just contradicts the reality of the situation.

Let’s return to that “unpleasant” word. If I read a piece of news through the filter of my prejudice, I won’t see the facts for what they are; my view will be aimed at the search for that single word which can confirm my prior perspective on things. Prejudice doesn’t seek the truth, it seeks confirmation. The confirmation that I’ve always been right. The confirmation that there’s something fishy about that guy. The confirmation that my world isn’t messed up.

Strength through unity

The second is belonging: being part of a group is essential for human beings. Once again, because adapting one’s ideas to those of a group is easy and conveys a comfortable sense of confidence.

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I’m picturing a beach party, late at night, around a bonfire. Maybe you are not exactly a fine dancer, or a party animal. However, if you let loose, encouraged by other people laughing and singing, you find yourself there in the middle of the others, blending perfectly into that group of people who have party in their blood. And you have so much fun. You feel like the ruler of the world. You dance with everybody, you move fluently among people, and it’s so easy that you wonder why you didn’t do that sooner. The idea of being out of place doesn’t even cross your mind, because your place in the world is precisely what you have just found.

I think that opinions sometimes work like this. I’ve found my place in the group, why jeopardise it because of a dissenting view? Why get away from that joyful, dancing crowd? The people around me think that way, so I should probably think the same. There’s safety in numbers. And I certainly don’t feel like giving me a hard time asserting my individuality.

A more critical approach

Why don’t we ever let our world be unsettled by disorder, and let our conscience go away from the din of the crowd, so that it can listen to itself? At that point, if your ideas are still the same, well done! This means you have amazing intuition. If, on the contrary, something that you’ve always thought doesn’t add up, well done! You’re on the right track to change.

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You’ve probably heard that, according to the statistics, in Italy an alarming number of people are fooled everyday by fake news, regardless of the truthfulness of the facts. And very often, this is partly due to prejudices. Any piece of information which matches perfectly with our preconceived view of reality is accepted by us without resistance, and, in fact, with great relief: “Exactly, that’s what I thought! This news is the ultimate confirmation that I was right all along!” And here’s how the endless loop of sharing goes on.

In my opinion, when we handle such a powerful and accessible tool like a social network, we should ask ourselves: why do I feel the need to share this news? How could it benefit my friends? Is it really necessary for me to enlighten them on a piece of information that I read – considering that whoever uses social media has most likely already read it – or may my action be nothing but a way to strengthen my belonging to a group?

JUPE

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