25 - student - NYC That's all for now.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Speaking Out into the Void

Back to internet speech for a moment. Cass Sunstein, U. Chicago law professor, argued in his book republic.com that the birth of new technologies and filtering processes is going to lead to the break-down of our deliberative democratic government. Basically, he claimed that the filtering technologies available through the internet were going to allow people to go through life without ever being exposed to ideas contrary to their own. He called this phenomenon the "Daily Me."

In other words, I might be able to set up my computer so that I only receive sports and news with a leftist slant. I might only read blogs that already agree with me. I might only participate in usenet discussions with people who shared the same opinions and viewpoints. And this, he claimed, would lead toward extremism. If everyone in every subgroup substantially agreed, they would naturally tend toward the most powerful argument on their side. Because there was this tendency to move toward the poles, it would further stigmatize any dissent and so the best arguments for the opposition would be left unmentioned.

Without the constitutive power of social deliberation, the democratic system would decay as it became more polarized.

The above is certainly a vast oversimplification of his argument, but it touches on several points. I think there are several problems - the first among them being his initial fear of filtering technologies. I think the capability of these filters to avoid any excess unwanted information is vastly overstated. Moreover, Sunstein seems to ignore the significant amount of filtering already present in the newspapers we read, the TV stations we watch and the music we listen to. Also, I think he ignores that people are not glued to their computers, that we are still (most of us) social animals and that we interact with each other at work, on the subway, in the streets or wherever. We can't possibly avoid all exposure to competing viewpoints.

Anyway, those are my two cents for the moment....

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