Media Cocoons

Calvin: The fact is, I’m being educated against my will! My rights are being trampled!
Hobbes: Is it a right to remain ignorant?
Calvin: I don’t know, but I refuse to find out! ~Bill Watterson Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, page 41.

The simple fact is you can’t force people to learn. Since the dawn of media, people have found ways to ignore points of view other than their own. Don’t like what the town cryer is saying, shout louder or leave his area. Don’t want to read an article in the paper, just skip over it. Tv news reporting a story you don’t want to know about, change the channel. There are a plethora of ways to ignore points of view you find distasteful.

As Sunstein points out, in Democracy and Filtering the Internet makes ignoring other points of view incredibly easy. Whereas before you had to actively skim over content to see if it was something you wanted to learn, new technologies (like RSS) will actively filter out information based on personal preferences. If you don’t want to learn something, the Internet makes it remarkably easy to not learn things.

Joys of the Internet
Not only does the Internet allow you to ignore things, you can find other people who don’t want to learn about the same things as you. In the same article, Sunstein reports on a study that these communities cause the members to agree with further extremes than on their own.

I don’t see these as bad things, unfortunate yes but inherently evil? No. I don’t agree with ignorance, but I’ve learned to accept its existence. When I encounter someone who doesn’t want to learn something, I try even harder to teach it to them. I think other people share this view. I feel that everytime I read a news article online with a misleading headline, the author is trying to reach these people who want to remain ignorant. Is this trickery, without a doubt. Is tricking people into learning wrong, that I’m not sure about. If you’re faced with an audience that is willingly trying to be ignorant, I think that deceit is a valid tactic.

With their Walls
At the same time, some interesting things are happening inside these communities. First of all, discussion is occuring. If the studies Sunstein cites are correct, people are being convinced into believing an extreme they didn’t believe in before they joined that community. Of course its easier to convince people who agree with you, but they still have to be convinced to reach the same extreme as the extremists.

Secondly, I think the polarization within these communities enhances democracy. For every extreme group on one side of a view, there is an equally extreme group that believes in the opposite. Inevitably these two groups will meet and argue their beliefs. These arguments will draw in others, who will then add to the debate. The effectiveness of a democracy is direct related to the number of people participating. Even if an extreme view is being presented, the fact that they are presenting it means the democratic process is working.

Technology allows people to create and inhabit their own media cocoons. Within these coccoons they don’t have to deal with anything they don’t want. Instead of trying to force these people to change, they should be pitied. In they choose to miss out on the wonders of education, let them. Its there choice and their loss.


1 Comment

  1. exploringinteractivecommunication said,

    October 9, 2007 at 4:52 am

    Where do you think news is heading in the future? Who do you think will buy newspapers not view them online? What will happen to printed media in the future?

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