Law in the Internet Society

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WardBensonPaper2 3 - 17 Dec 2008 - Main.AndreiVoinigescu
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Bifurcations – Part II

A key theme of my first paper was the way in which the Net contributed to a bifurcation of the exercising population. Much has been written about the Net's power to bring people together to share knowledge and so to create a global community where all knowledge is more widely distributed than before. However, such speculation may, in fact, be based on optimistic predictions of how information could be distributed and consumed, but not on how it necessarily is in the real world. Indeed, in the future the Net's unifying powers will be counteracted by the ways in which bit streams are actually distributed and consumed. Much of the current discussion about social divisions created by the Net focuses on the information disparities between those who can afford to access the Net regularly and those who cannot. However, in a world of $100 laptops and free software, this will soon cease to be the primary cause of divergences in what knowledge becomes widely acquired. Far more important than who has money and who does not will be who is curious and who is not; or, perhaps more importantly, who is curious about some things and who is curious about others.

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-- AdamCohen - 17 Dec 2008


Loss of cultural cohesion is only one of the worrying potential consequences of the proliferation of choice bitstreams provide. The general preference for pull over push is well supported empirically. Social psychologists have been investigating conformation bias, belief preservation and attitude polarization within groups for several decades now, and their findings give cause for sobering reflection about whether more choice is always better.

People tend to search for information that confirms their existing beliefs, and they selectively avoid information and interpretations that are not in line with pre-existing beliefs. Those who regularly interact only with others that their beliefs, interests and outlook on life tend to adopt more radical and extreme positions than they would have in a more neutral environment. The dark side of everyone being able to choose whom he or she associates with and what culture, entertainment, knowledge and commentary he or she consumes may be the gradual splintering of society into groups that not only share little in common, but may actively despise each other.

-- AndreiVoinigescu - 17 Dec 2008


Revision 3r3 - 17 Dec 2008 - 21:14:45 - AndreiVoinigescu
Revision 2r2 - 17 Dec 2008 - 17:35:47 - AdamCohen
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