Julia Kamin / May 4th, 2011 / Tweet
If you agree that having a common national identity is critical to a well-functioning democracy, filter bubbles may give you cause for concern.
Not that there’s anything wrong with sub-national identities. Since long before the days of Dixies and Yanks, America has been a vibrant mix of regional and sub-cultural identities. That’s a feature, not a bug.
But even as we self-sort and brand ourselves as Hipsters, Hip-Hop-sters, Christians, Vegans, Locovores, Nascars, etc. – Americans have shared a common narrative that’s lets us all, more or less, identify as “Americans” and work together when times get tough.
As filter bubbles draw us deeper into our sub-cultural silos and place a narrative wall around groups of Americans, however, that shared national identity could start to erode (if it hasn’t already).
The good and bad news is our sense of identity may be pretty malleable.
In a study published last month, researchers were able to induce a new identity in test subjects in under an hour. The fresh identity participants took on? Vampires and wizards.
All it took was a little narrative. 140 undergrads sat down to read 30 minutes of either Twilight or Harry Potter and then take a couple of personality tests. Students who read Twilight were more likely to associate themselves with words like “blood, fangs, bitten, undead” and to say they had sharp teeth. The effect was even stronger for test subjects who were more group-oriented.
The bad news is that if we can identify with mythical creatures so easily, then it’s no surprise we readily take on the identities of humans in our narrow social networks.
The good news is that, as long as our filter bubbles let even drops of a common national narrative seep through (as it did this week with the OBL story), it might be enough for us to feel we’re still all “Americans.”