You're Talking a Lot, But You're Not Saying Anything

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How does commentary affect the world around us?

Could Daily Me Become a Daily We?

Cass Sunstein’s Republic 2.0 discusses ways to make the internet a forum for engaged discussion. But it begins with a critique of the Daily Me, or an independently created newspaper that could be customized to an individual’s preferences (sort of like Time’s new Mine, which some people actually like). Sunstein worries that, when people select what views they’re exposed to, they’ll choose only or mostly sites that reinforce their views: a liberal might subscribe to DailyKos and Mother Jones, while a conservative might stick to LGF and the National Review. In so doing, Sunstein posits, folks ensure that they’ll only hear (see) viewpoints that reinforce their own, leading to further polarization of such viewpoints, and an increased sense of being “right.” After all, if everyone you read agrees with you, how can you be wrong?

As Sunstein says in his book, “it is precisely the people most likely to filter out opposing views who most need to hear such views” (p. 63). True–but what better place for them to hear (see) such views than online? Indeed, DailyMe.com already offers a DailyWe section, featuring the most-read news on the site. Google Reader allows you to view items shared by your Gmail contacts–often just hilarious links to lolcats, but sometimes more substantive content. The internet is the ultimate forum for interaction, and it is not necessarily guaranteed to be polarized. Additionally, Sunstein laments that, according to a study of online commentary, “only a quarter of cross-ideological posts involve genuine substantive discussion” (149). But this doesn’t mean that substantive discussion is not generated within posts of a specific ideology, or that readers of alternate ideologies haven’t been urged into new forms of thinking by mere contact with differing opinions.

Often it’s difficult to truly engage with new ideas right away, but even just being exposed to them is a worthwhile outcome. The internet makes that more possible than almost any technology. Rather than lament the internet’s existence, it should be exploited as an opportunity for cross-pollination. Google Reader sharing is one way to do that. Twitter–not yet big when Sunstein wrote Republic 2.0–is another. You may disagree with a link posted on Twitter or shared on your Google Reader, but at least you’ve been exposed to it–something that seems much less likely in an internet-free world. So while the internet has the potential to increase polarization, it also has the potential to be a tool to combat it, through sharing tools other than direct commentary. I’ll be looking for some more examples of this over the summer!

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Filed under: Blogs, Commentary, Twitter

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