The Necessity of Nuance

26 February 2021

Jeff McCarty

I have discussed previously the importance of communication and how we can use the power of conversation to build a better society. There will be no way to build a better society for all if we do not have conversations. When it comes to the conversations themselves, we do have to focus on certain topics that pertain to the problems facing our species, and the potential solutions towards those problems. There are plenty of conversations occurring that do not even come close to touching these types of topics. I am guilty of starting my fair share. There are also many humans though who are interested in having discussions focused on these types of topics. Although it may not be the sole discussion they are having, it leaves me hopeful to know that there are humans who want to discuss the problems facing our species and find viable solutions. If your reading, I am willing to bet you are one of those humans.

When it comes to having a discussion focused on the problems facing our species, there is a specific characteristic of conversations that must be present to ensure that the discussion is productive. This is the characteristic of nuance. Nuance in a conversation can be defined as the ability to weave between the subtle complexities of the topic. Without nuance, all conversations can fall prey to the delusion of dichotomies. I have talked about the dangers of dichotomies before as well, and though I tailored that post towards discussions based on politics, dichotomies can affect all types of discussion topics.

In the digital world of social media, conversations containing nuance are under attack. Not that I think any of the initial minds who helped mold the framework of social media had intentions of killing the nuanced conversation, yet the business models of social media have caused just that to occur. This is for a few reasons, firstly because of posting limitations that each social media platform creates. There are only so many characters that can be posted in a single tweet. There is only so long that an Instagram or Snapchat story can display. Besides the technical limitations of these different social media platforms (many of which can be overcome through simple additions like, a tweet thread or multiple stories being posted to contain the full clip) there is another more pressing limitation that influences the incentives in the social media platforms. This is the limitation of the human attention span.

Even more so than technical limitations, the limitations of the human attention span have guided the incentive structures of social media. The messages that get the most shares, retweets, likes and the accounts that get the followers are the ones who find a way to snag people's attention and keep it for a very concise timeframe. Since the incentive for any content creator on social media is to gain high followings and high rates of engagement with their content, it comes as no surprise that this influences the type of content that gets created. There is no time to indulge in a nuanced conversation when there are only a few seconds to capture the user's attention and get them engaged with your content.

There is hope for the nuanced conversations though. At least one indicator of this is that the popularity of long-form podcasts is on the rise. There seems to be a group of people in society who understand the importance of conducting and sharing these long-form discussions that contain nuance on the topics discussed. It is within these longer conversations where nuance can thrive, and where we can make sense of a topic. Though not every nuanced conversation needs to be captured on a podcast, it serves as an example that nuanced conversations are still valued and in demand. For those of us who are dedicated to building a better society for all humans, the question becomes how we intergrade nuance into our daily conversations?

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