I recently re-read Rebecca Blood’s 2003 BlogTalk presentation: “waging peace: using our powers for good”. It is worth revisiting by anyone who is a blog evangelist or critic. Taking a look at the daily lack of cross linkage on memeorandum.com, unfortunately, it seems almost prophetic.
…People agree most readily with the things they already believe, and everyone has only 24 hours in a day. Because of these two factors, weblogs are too often enclosed in echo-chambers of their own making.
In the book ‘Data Smog’, David Shenk says: ‘Birds of a feather flock virtually together’ and this is certainly true of weblogs. He goes on to say: ‘The problem… is that people are tuning in and becoming informed–but they’re tuning into niche media and they’re acquiring specialized knowledge. As our information supply increases, our common discourse and shared understanding decrease. Technically, we possess an unprecedented amount of information; however, what is commonly known has dwindled to a smaller and smaller percentage every year. This should be a sobering realization for a democratic nation, a society that must share information in order to remain a union.’
Let me add that it’s not just specialized knowledge that we are accessing. It’s news and opinion about current events. The Web has given us the ability to retrieve news accounts from around the world. It used to be that most people got their news from just a few sources. This limited access meant that most of us were evaluating events from a common pool of information about the world, or at least a pool that was common to the people around us. But Web users can choose to get their news from wherever they like. And factual accounts of the same events quite often differ substantially in their wording, emphasis, and in the conclusions they draw. We now have the ability to choose from among news accounts until we find one that we feel gets it right.
Now, I don’t advocate returning to the pre-Web world of local newspapers. But there are consequences to the wide access we have gained.
Democracy depends on groups of people coming to terms with one another, and devising solutions that will address the needs of most, if not all, of its citizens. Even a system like mine, in the United States, where majority rules, cannot afford to completely ignore the needs of anyone not in the winning party. Democracies simply cannot function unless citizens and policy-makers can talk to one another and achieve some sort of common ground in addressing the issues of the day.
However, when people can choose their news and information from an unlimited variety of sources, they usually will choose sources that confirm their pre-existing biases. According to theFolklorist.com, confirmation bias is ‘a tendency on the part of human beings to seek support or confirmation for their beliefs.’ It makes sense, if you think about it. The only basis we have in evaluating any source of information is the set of information–including opinions–that we have already decided is true. Very few people will be inclined to choose primary sources of information that consistently put forth ideas that just seem wrong.
This isn’t deliberate malice. It’s a simple matter of choosing, from the available sources, those that seem most accurate, and those that seem most accurate will always be those that most closely reflect one’s own view of the world. So while the Web, in theory, makes it possible to explore many more points of view than ever before, in practice, few people actually do this to the extent that they can.