Law in the Internet Society

View   r4  >  r3  ...
WardBensonPaper2 4 - 21 Dec 2008 - Main.WardBenson
Line: 1 to 1
META TOPICPARENT name="WebPreferences"

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.

Line: 42 to 41
 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



While I was probably negligent in not citing better, Andrei is correct that there is an enormous body of work in the field of the psychology of decision-making and judgment supporting the assertion that people by default seek out those facts and purveyors of facts which support their own beliefs. So, while it may be true that for every one person who says he wants to live in a contained bubble on the net there are twelve who say that they have little curiosity, the empirical findings suggest that all thirteen will, admittedly to varying degrees, tend to seek out the information that is familiar to them or affirms their pre-existing beliefs and biases. There is a reason, after all, why xenophobia always seems to be the norm instead of cosmopolitanism. As such, I don't think it can be argued from an empirical standpoint that human beings, by their nature, are likely to take full advantage of the powers of the net to expand beyond their current interests.

Using their knowledge of human psychology, the designers the content-distribution mechanisms of the Net construct them so as to capitalize on these tendencies, not to counteract them. My understanding of services like Pandora is that their developers' sole focus is on figuring out what music or other forms of content are most similar to what people are already consuming because they know that people generally want that the most. This is why the recommendations from Amazon are based on what people who bought the same books as you also bought or what books on the topics you prefer have sold well.

These services generally do not have any equivalent function to show you something in a genre in which you have previously shown no interest. Facebook used to have a random search function, but as far as I can tell it no longer does. Presumably, it is unlikely that people have any interest in knowing about “random” people now that their network is no longer confined to people they might already know (those at their college). Wikipedia has a random article function, but I can't imagine that it is widely used. Moreover, the net offers no real equivalent to being dragged to the ballet by your girlfriend, or any other mechanism by which people can be forced to consumer culture they do not believe themselves to be interested in.

-- WardBenson - 21 Dec 2008


Revision 4r4 - 21 Dec 2008 - 07:29:24 - WardBenson
Revision 3r3 - 17 Dec 2008 - 21:14:45 - AndreiVoinigescu
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM