November 03, 2004

Feel-Good Media

Andrew Leonard writes over at Salon about the Internet as an echo chamber. I agree with his thesis.

This issue has been troubling me for a long time, and not just the Internet, but television and radio as well. For instance, The Daily Show. Sure, it's funny, but in the long run does it really help The Cause, or does it only make its viewers feel good? I can only wonder how many Daily Show viewers secretly preferred Bush win just because Bush is better fodder for the next four years' worth of program content.

Take DailyKos. Or the Freepers. Or the Instapundit crowd. Or Air America Radio. Or Limbaugh. Or The WELL. All of these things are more than just echo chambers. They're media outlets/communities where you can tune in and know they'll deliver what you want -- you'll get a nice buzz. They're addictive. But in the long run do they really help society, or do they just provide some sort of poor man's opioid?

Meetups also trouble me in a way, in that many of them seem to tend to divide up local populations rather than unite. Are Meetups simply events where you can go and meet other people with the same interest? Is that all they can ever be? Would it ever make sense to have a Meetup where the point is to meet other people who don't share your interest?

How about a Group Meetups for All Dog Owner Meetup Groups? Where the Chihuahua Owners can meet English Bull Terrier Owners and the Chihuahuas can meet the English Bull Terriers and hopefully we can all get along? Wouldn't the world be a better place if there was some more cross-fertilization of different groups who might not normally ever meet?

Posted by brian at November 3, 2004 03:40 PM

Comments

Humans, as a whole, are tribal. They are more comfortable spending the majority of their time with members of the same tribe. This has always been true, and the people who early on thought that the Internet was a great opportunity for people to get to know others who were different were pretty clearly delusional. If anything, TV and the net make it easier for people to self-segregate, which most people will prefer to do.

I think that the Internet and the addition of feedback loops to mass communication has actually made this worse. Back before the 90s, there were only a handful of companies in the mass communication business, they needed to be centrist, and the feedback cycle was long, so they had to be cautious about offending people.

Nowadays, any given channel (tv, radio, or blog) has to drill down and find a niche audience, so they're no longer worried about giving offense to large sections of the audience. Plus, they get lots of feedback from like-minded viewers, which intensifies the split from the center.

So then you get a situation like we have today, where large sections of society aren't even living in the same country anymore, in the sense that they have so few assumptions in common that even a coherent discussion is impossible.

As an example, take Bush's Dred Scott reference in the debates. Taken literally, it made no sense, because a) it was a non-sequitur and b) if you look at the point he was trying to make, it's actually an example of exactly the kind of "strict constructionist" decision he was endorsing. But invoking Dred Scott made a lot of sense to the anti-abortion groups familiar with that kind of argument. When I try to talk (either in person or in blogs) with people on the other side of the ideological divide, we usually can't even agree on the basic framework of the debate.

Basically, I think we're doomed. Politics is going to devolve back to the party machine model, because no one is going to be able to communicate simultaneously with a large set of disparate groups. Instead, it's going to be all about winning support by convincing bellweather group leaders who can deliver their like-minded group members. And given the mega-church revival going on in the US right now, it's going to be a long Republican winter.

Posted by: scifi at November 3, 2004 10:36 PM

Humans, as a whole, are tribal. They are more comfortable spending the majority of their time with members of the same tribe. This has always been true, and the people who early on thought that the Internet was a great opportunity for people to get to know others who were different were pretty clearly delusional. If anything, TV and the net make it easier for people to self-segregate, which most people will prefer to do.

I think that the Internet and the addition of feedback loops to mass communication has actually made this worse. Back before the 90s, there were only a handful of companies in the mass communication business, they needed to be centrist, and the feedback cycle was long, so they had to be cautious about offending people.

Nowadays, any given channel (tv, radio, or blog) has to drill down and find a niche audience, so they're no longer worried about giving offense to large sections of the audience. Plus, they get lots of feedback from like-minded viewers, which intensifies the split from the center.

So then you get a situation like we have today, where large sections of society aren't even living in the same country anymore, in the sense that they have so few assumptions in common that even a coherent discussion is impossible.

As an example, take Bush's Dred Scott reference in the debates. Taken literally, it made no sense, because a) it was a non-sequitur and b) if you look at the point he was trying to make, it's actually an example of exactly the kind of "strict constructionist" decision he was endorsing. But invoking Dred Scott made a lot of sense to the anti-abortion groups familiar with that kind of argument. When I try to talk (either in person or in blogs) with people on the other side of the ideological divide, we usually can't even agree on the basic framework of the debate.

Basically, I think we're doomed. Politics is going to devolve back to the party machine model, because no one is going to be able to communicate simultaneously with a large set of disparate groups. Instead, it's going to be all about winning support by convincing bellweather group leaders who can deliver their like-minded group members. And given the mega-church revival going on in the US right now, it's going to be a long Republican winter.

Posted by: scifi at November 3, 2004 10:36 PM

We’re seeing the beginning of the "On-line Backlash". Too much of any one thing can make you sick. And backlash has always driven the American psyche. If society goes too far one way eventually there will be a backlash. You can see it in almost every aspect of our daily lives. A Starbucks at every corner to the point of supersaturating all the nooks and crannies of America, then people tend to pull away and find alternate sources like BOBA. And if you don’t know what BOBA is then you’re still safely tucked away in your own malaise to realize that Starbucks is no longer hip. You will hear phrases like “too popular”, “market saturation”, or “sellout” as the anthem to stoke the flames of any new backlash. Another example, a few years ago every one went out and bought SUV’s because they’re were all the rage and then POOF smaller sporty vehicles are now finding the new niche.

* * *

As far as the collective American consciousness goes, all anyone had to do to smell which way the wind was blowing in this country was watch the Howard Stern types hemorrhage market share while simultaneously watching the ratings sore at conservative TV stations like Fox News. I can’t even sit at my favorite BOBA shop without a few religious students debating the validity of the latest Dan Brown novel.

* * *

The end result and the moral of the story is eventually were going to have to leave the keyboard and search out more analog sources of data. Instead of formulating an opinion form what BOBIB6UB9 said on SUCHNSUCH.COM you may want to expand your horizons and listen and read what the opposition has to say. Remember, know thy Enemy!! Personally I never rely on one single source for information gathering. I’ll consult two newspapers, a few analog zines and weekly readers, or a couple of F2F conversations with people of differing opinions. There is nothing to gain by discussing a topic with people that already agree with you. If you and I already agree then I can’t learn anything new from you, and more impotently, I can’t teach you anything new. So if you and I agree then lets agree-to-agree and go find a different point of view.

Posted by: levin at November 4, 2004 04:39 PM

Ironically, the beauty of the internet is that it makes different people and opposing viewpoints so accesible and yet we still stay in our own comfy ideological and interest-based eco-spheres.

It's all about reaching out. You have to make a consciouss effort. Read a blog from Singapore or someone politically opposed and then start conversation. Start the hybridization of ideas 'cause that's really where the best stuff comes from.

Though my readership is almost all liberal, we have a Republican guest blogger on right now to get a better grasp of the other side. So it's not all just preaching to the choir and echo chambers.

Posted by: oso at November 11, 2004 12:39 AM

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