I have a friend who believes that the popularity of Nickelback- as evidenced by the band playing on the world's stage at our Olympic ceremonies - foretells the end of the world.
"But people don't love them!" I said. "Everybody hates them!"
"Everybody," of course, wasn't strictly accurate, although that was how it felt in the moment. And, well, okay, I had to fend off doomsday feelings myself. "Everybody" meant everyone I knew on Facebook. And Twitter. ("Pieces of bird poop stuck on cars is better than Nickelback," read one tweet.)
When you want to take the public's pulse on an issue, the Web seems the logical place to go. Not only are people increasingly turning to Internet sources for their news, but a study last week from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that, of people who do get it online, 75 per cent have links sent to them via e-mail or social media. As people continue to join online social networks, and online news sources continue to proliferate, this number will grow.
With so much information clogging the nets (the same study also mentioned a large majority of people feel "overwhelmed" by the present amount), it makes sense that we share the burden of sorting through it.
Since we usually socialize with others like us, much of the news we are exposed to on Twitter or Facebook is curated, to use the verb du jour, by like-minded people. For instance, an unfiltered Twitter search showed that plenty of people were getting their Kroeger on during the Olympics. Just no one I knew.
(I settled the matter by asking "TweetFeel," which analyzes the emotional content of recent Twitter feed. It claimed the global sentiment was 63 per cent negative. In hindsight, though, I should have settled the discussion with the pickle.)
Increasingly, the Net is where we go to seek out our tribe - of raw-food lovers, North Korean traffic-lady fantasists, vaudeville music collectors. So surrounded, we relax into the illusion that the world is populated by our favourite kind of people. It's the perfect setup for the conflict-averse.
This tribalism is a great tool for mobilization, as the Facebook anti-prorogation kerfuffle showed. By the same token, though, it can shrink our world view, shielding us from some things we don't want to know.
Twenty years ago, we got our news from a few major players. Now that everybody's got a smart phone grafted to their palm (and I mean "everybody"), news comes from every direction, from a million sources. If we read something we don't like, we don't have to pay attention to it. The people we don't agree with are obviously in the minority.
The thing is, they aren't. Sometimes, to give myself a bracing blast of reality, I will check up on Sarah Palin supporters, social Darwinists, or those crazy kids over at 4chan. There are way, way more of them than I'd like to think. I usually sightsee until The Fear overtakes me, and I go scurrying back to familiar digs.
For some, these episodes would spur them on to combat. That's not in my constitution. But it makes me feel how small my own cyberworld is, and make me realize I have an increased responsibility to be the dissenting voice within my own little tribe. Uncool is the new cool. Just don't ask me to say something nice about Nickelback.
Follow Lisan Jutras on Twitter @lisanjutras