I Heard It On The Internet, It Must Be True

The internet has changed the context in which we live our lives. We have practically instant access to any developments, political, social, literary, or artistic, as they occur. What’s more, the access is for the most part unfiltered. By that, I mean that there aren’t elite gate keepers that decide which items are of broad interest aren’t.

Before the internet, there were newspaper and magazine editors, TV producers, movie studios, art galleries, publishing houses, all of which exerted undue influence on what the world was going to hear about. These institutions still exist but because of the internet, they do not hold a monopoly on the flow of these ideas to the world.

Even the more totalitarian states in the world have found it hard to stem the flow of ideas that they consider objectionable or for other reasons worthy of censorship. It is hard to censor the internet. It was designed to survive nuclear war and tends to treat censorship as a transport failure around which it finds alternative routes.

When the internet was first made available to the general public many of us who had been aware of it in its use during the more restrictive research days predicted that it would be the downfall of all totalitarian states. That prediction turns out to have been naive. What has happened is that totalitarian states have learned to use the internet to spread their disinformation and propaganda.

It turns out that the ability to filter out content that you aren’t interested in has lead to a very unbalanced political situation. Instead of having healthy dialogs between parties with different perspectives, we have so-called bubbles that espouse positions based only on evidence favorable to those positions. There is now objective fact checking. The channels are saying what the recipients want to hear so nobody want to dig to deep and expose potentially counterfactual assertions.

If this were only happening on one side of an issue it wouldn’t be as bad a problem. But when all parties are only looking at the issues from their own perspective, it makes for divisiveness and lack of mutual understanding. I can understand all sides of an issue without having to agree with all or them. In fact, I can make a better decision regarding the issue the better that I understand all sides of it.

This situation is dangerous, to the extent that it may herald the end of our civilization. In any case, we have a lot to learn about listening to each other and getting along with people that have different opinions than we do. Our forefathers (and foremothers) understood this. Somehow we have become a generation in which many people have forgotten these important social protocols.

We have opened Pandora’s box. There is no going back. We can only go forward and hopefully learn from our mistakes. Technology holds great promise for the advancement of mankind but only if we use it wisely and thoughtfully.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.