Here’s another chunk from that collection of Edge essays that I linked to the other day:
It’s less than twenty years since the living presence of networked information has become part of our thinking machinery. What it will mean to us that vastly more people have nearly instantaneous access to vastly greater quantities of information cannot be said with confidence. In principle, it means a democratization of innovation and of debate. In practice, it also means a world in which many have already proven that they can ignore what they do not wish to think about, select what they wish to quote, and produce a public discourse demonstrably poorer than what we might have known in the past.
This is an under-discussed aspect of modernity. If you asked me: “What’s going to be the biggest problem for human civilization in the next twenty years?” I would give an answer similar to the above-quoted text. Which might seem alarmist, but think about it: your average citizen now has the power to construct whatever reality he wants. It’s not that dumbasses are bigger dumbasses than they used to be, all else being equal. It’s just that all else is never equal. You can now spend 24 hours a day reading and watching stuff that confirms whatever it is that you happen to believe.
When every citizen sucked from the same three televised teats our mental faculties might have been grossly under-utilized, and our pictures of the world stupendously myopic, but at least our opinions were grounded in a common subset of information. All of us regularly brushed up against opinions we didn’t share, analysis we disagreed with. Not so any longer, and the effects are as corrosive as anything I can reasonably imagine.
Remember that crazy-ass poll of self-identified Republicans? You wonder how half of them could possibly think that the question of whether the President is a terrorist was seriously up for debate? Well, it’s not so hard to understand if you imagine that 100% of their media consumption is exactly this type of lunatic whispering, like having Grima Wormtongue on call every waking moment. And it’s not like only Republicans who are sick with this scurvy, although they probably have it worse than most because the machinery pumping it out is so much more developed. Thanks Rush; Glenn; Ann; Bill.