Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The internet- polarizing or not?

Is the internet a polarizing force?

I have seen where a lot of people claim that the internet has caused people to seek out- "self select"- only those voices who they agree with and exclude opposing views. This, supposedly, causes "us" to be less likely to experience differing points of view and makes confirmation bias almost unnecessary because we hear nothing but what we want to hear. I seriously doubt this.

I don't know about you, but for me the internet has exposed me to points of view radically opposed to my own (both past and present) that I would have never heard had I never gotten online.

I have also noticed that people who I have known for years who are online a fair amount have had a greater change in their overall attitudes on different issues than those who hate the internet (or avoid it for whatever reason). I don't think this is a coincidence.

Every controversial idea I espouse meets with opposition at some point, and I am constantly disagreeing with someone on some site. In "real life" I never debated politics or religion even when I was thinking the other person was completely off their rocker- preferring just to stay silent for the sake of peace. How many times did others do the same for me? On the internet, for good or bad, this doesn't happen. If you claim "liberty is better than slavery" someone is bound to vigorously type "BS!".

I'm not sure where all these people are who have managed to find corners of the internet that only feed their already dearly-held convictions, to the exclusion of everything else, but that isn't my experience. Not by a long shot.

It makes me suspect the agenda of those who make the claim that "the internet is polarizing society".



  1. Yeah, I remember how in the old days, before the Internet, I'd go to the library and come home with a balanced load -- for every book I wanted to read, one that I didn't want to read but would read anyway because I didn't want to get all, like, polarized and stuff.

    Also, for every left-wing documentary I rented on VHS, I balanced it with a right-wing documentary.

    And I subscribed to both National Review and Mother Jones.

    Also, I attended mosque on Friday, synagogue on Saturday, and church on Sunday, because polarization is bad, m'kay?

  2. I spent 50 years learning, seeking, considering, weighing all sorts of things. I even endured a whole semester of "comparative religion," for pity sake. I was active in electoral politics for 20 years and debated anyone and everyone in the course of it.

    Then I entered the internet in 1991 or '92 (can't remember) and my whole world expanded incredibly in every direction. By that time I had seriously consolidated my base line convictions, best expressed as the non-aggression principle. I was already measuring every other idea or proposition against that absolute.

    What I learned on the internet (among many other things) is how challenging that actually is so often and how varied the interpretation of that "absolute" can be among people of honorable intention and rational thought. Always having known that "one size does not fit all," I could see more and more what that really means in life, let alone a free society.

    Live and let live took on a whole new dimension and new knotty questions replaced all the old ones I'd thought so neatly answered.

    Oh me... A serious challenge for someone who tends toward extremely literal thinking and loves simplicity. But I don't ever want to be without that challenge again, including the internet - however it evolves.