The potential is still there

I recently watched a Louis Theroux documentary on the Hillsboro Baptist Church. It was the second one where he goes back to visit the community after the father, who founded the church, had died. One of his daughters summoned up the courage to leave the group and ended up being a very articulate critic of its ideas and the behaviour of its members.

When explaining to Louis how she had become aware of how wrong headed their views were, and how she had realised that she had to leave, she placed great importance on the connections she had made on Twitter. These connections were her first experience of a world outside the church and the ongoing conversations there had helped her realise that there was another way of looking at the world.

In the early days of the web, and my interest in explaining its potential, I used to use the example that in the past if you were the only bloke growing up gay on a remote island in the West of Scotland you had no way of know that that was OK. With the internet you were suddenly able to connect with people beyond your limited community and explore other ways of viewing society and your place in it.

With all the current headlines about the downsides of social media, and the problems it is seen as causing, it is easy to get disillusioned with the web. It is also fashionable to denigrate the original excitement that we all had in the early days as being naive optimism.

But what I loved about the Hillsboro story is that it shows that the potential is still there. That ability to cross boundaries, expand our view of the world, and foster new connections is still available to all of us. We just have to choose to use it.

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