May 1, 2006

Off topic: Serious Comedy and
the Internet is the root of all evil

Thank you for Smoking(the movie) and Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent's Dinner are pretty bitingly funny bits of recent satire. There's definitely a "liberal bias" (if you're a conservative), so you may not find them funny depending on your political bent. But interestingly, the protaganists of both pieces (who are both fictional) are particurlarly amusing (and scary) because of the earnestness of their convictions. To me, they reflect (in jest) an increasing trend in the real world, particularly among public figures on all sides: more and more, there are lots of lots of people talking, and not so many listening.

I blame the Internet.

Seriously.

In the U.S., we saw a massive polarization during the last two elections (red states vs. blue states) that reflected a heightening contrast in ideology.

Its easy to dismiss this breakdown as
religious politics or as an IQ gap. And maybe there's some truth to that, though I find those arguments facile.

While there are numerous good things that the broader communications palette afforded by the Internet enables, I tend to think there's one big capability that cuts both ways: like-minded people can trivially find each other.

There's really no longer any compelling reason that you can't live a functionally complete life being connected to only the things with which you agree. Unfortunately, the diluting effects of community homogenization (the great melting pot) are only effective if there's meaningful interaction of thought.


I guess the question is: does that make a society stronger or weaker?

And why do people get so upset? Yes, often its because the issues are serious. More and more, though, I think its because one-sided houses are easy to knock over, and nobody likes getting conked in the head with a bad assumption two-by-four...

More on this in a future post - there are a few other important contributors to consider, including the sorcery that modern technology has become, the cognitive information overload of modern life, and the implications of truly global living.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Its not the quantity or the volume. The anonymous nature of the web allows for increasingly extreme views to be aired and nurtured. It doesnt matter if my avatar is "acting crazy" in the safety of an anonymous post or chatroom.

For every person on the radical fringe who finally finds an audience, there's an innocent victim of the hate, or ignorance, or stupidity, or bad taste...

So I guess when everybody finds their voice online, its easier to listen to the ones that sound the same, but most look for those who oppose as a way of defining themselves.

metamerist said...

I find Christopher Buckley generally pretty even-handed, which is one of the things that make him a good satirist (e.g., the William H. Macy character). As far as I know he's a Republican; for a spell (1981-1983), he was George Sr.'s speechwriter.

Anonymous said...

From an ethics point of view I think it makes society stronger.

Ethics of the individual are shaped by the ethics of the society, by allowing the individual to rage against the current societal trends. And in turn, the ethics of the society develop slowly from the ethics of the individuals that form it.

The Internet and other advanced media helps illuminate the fringes of society and bring it to greater attention, fortifying the process.

Roopa said...

the internet is the source of all evil - I Love It!

Anonymous said...

Definitely weaker. Extreme views, quickly escalating rage, and disruptive behaviour are nurished by continued disconnection from direct human contact. When's the last time a moderator was needed at the local 4th of July fireworks show, yet sooner or later most popular online forums quickly devolve into flame wars, trolling, and spam. It's easy to work yourself into a froth over an email, a chatroom, or even a radio/TV broadcast...but see how long that froth lasts when you meet your neighbor at the mailbox and discover that they're "guilty" of that very same point of view you despise.

Roopa said...

maybe we need that space to vent?

Anonymous said...

Roopa seems to be the prototypical Rabble-Rouser (sp?). He fires off pithy inflammatory one-liners and sits back to watch the fun. Maybe HE is the root of all evil.

Sree Kotay said...

lol - first of all, Roopa's not a "HE" of any kind, though I suppose if you're feeling judeo-christian, you could argue that makes her even more the root of all evil :)

Secondly, my bias is indeed to agree with the point about flame-wars, trolling, and the other ricdulous behaviours you see online that you'd never see in the real world - which I think are caused by (a) anonymnity, i.e. lack of social consequences and (b) information overload - i.e. everything seems equally plausible

Or maybe Roopa's right, and its just that our venting is more publicly visible (and archived for convenience :)) now... I dunno, I just work here.

Michaela said...

I'm reminded of the JFK quote “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought". The Internet (and all that surounds that)can magnify that. The Internet is only a tool. But just as that tool makes shopping easier with just one click; it can make jumpinig to an opinion easier too. Taking time for thought is harder. Waiting to send that quick nasty email (often to many) is easy and fast, but often not thoughtful.

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