In the circles that I travel the Internet is often breathlessly embraced as the herald of all things good; the bringer of increased choice, personal empowerment, social harmony…and the list goes on. And yet, as with any powerful technology, the truth of its consequences eludes such a singular and happy narrative.
Here is the first of three paradoxes of the Internet Age. I would love to see Radar readers point out others.<br
More access to information doesn’t bring people together, often it isolates us.<br
Elizabeth Kolbert has a piece in this week’s New Yorker reviewing Cass Sunstein’s new book, “On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done.” In the review she lays out the concept of “group polarization”
People’s tendency to become more extreme after speaking with like-minded others has become known as “group polarization,” and it has been documented in dozens of other experiments. In one, feminists who spoke with other feminists became more adamant in their feminism. In a second, opponents of same-sex marriage became even more opposed to the idea, while proponents shifted further in favor. In a third, doves who were grouped with other doves became more dovish still.
The Internet is becoming a vast petri dish for the group polarization phenomena. As Sunstein puts it “The most striking power provided by emerging technologies,” is the “growing power of consumers to ‘filter’ what they see.”
(Thanks to Jim Stogdill for surfacing this link via email)