Dec 15, 2007

the world is my enclave

Will Web 2.0 separate us even as it brings us together? Cass R. Sunnstein thinks so:
The Internet makes it easy for people to create separate communities and niches, and in a free society, much can be said on behalf of both. They can make life a lot more fun; they can reduce loneliness and spur creativity. They can even promote democratic self-government, because enclaves are indispensable for incubating new ideas and perspectives that can strengthen public debate. But it is important to understand that countless editions of the Daily Me can also produce serious problems of mutual suspicion, unjustified rage, and social fragmentation — and that these problems will result from the reliable logic of social interactions.
I'm not sure if this is an insurmountable problem--or even an significant harm compared to the world-opening nature of the internet.

Consider: before I discovered the Web, I was limited to whatever media were accessible in small-town western Washington. I loved the public library, but its selections were limited. Even inter-library loan couldn't allow access to the mountains of material now available online. I couldn't read every newspaper out there, from global to podunk, and, what's more, wouldn't know a paper had factually goofed unless it was admitted in the errata. I would never imagine that my ramblings on any given subject could be read, for better or worse, by people who'd need a passport to visit me in the Evergreen State.

Now it's possible to see points-of-view all across the spectrum, organized and available within a two-click distance by Google Reader. I might choose to submerge myself in an echo chamber, but I don't. The opposition enlightens even as it frustrates, and when I'm wrong, I'm corrected too fast to feel the full weight of humiliation. I feel two times more politically savvy, at least 6.5 times more libertarian, and a thousand times more cosmopolitan than the Jim Anderson who stalked the shelves of the Elma Timberland Library a decade ago.


Matthew Anderson said...

You are in the minority. From the scant studies I've seen on the issue, VERY few people read any blogs or content that they don't already agree with.

Jim Anderson said...

I'd read those studies, but they'd contradict my optimism, so no thanks.

In all seriousness, it strikes me that this is a grand "teachable moment" in internet culture. In the same way that people have learned to recycle their soda cans, perhaps they can learn to read at least one oppo-blog every day in their RSS reader. For the social environment.