Hyper-partisanship is one of the hallmarks of our Internet-driven public discourse. Citizens and parties seem increasingly polarized with those most interested and active in political discussion and involvement seeming to move ever closer to the outer fringes.
Certainly shrill political discussion is nothing new in our nation. All one has to do is look at the Alien and Sedition Act to see how bad it used to be and how one of the worst pieces of legislation in our history came to be. Newspapers were expected to be and were stridently one-sided. But, one would think that with the Internet, with the new power of the news and commentary customer to choose, with all the tremendous options of voices, information and sources that we would gain some tolerance, some appreciation for other viewpoints, maybe even become a bit more educated.
Sadly, the opposite seems to be true. I and many other bloggers have commented on how angry so many commenters are, the foul language used, the hyper partisanship, the cock-sureness of their own perspectives. In this blog I’ve called it “toxic talk.” In this very intriguing TED talk, Eli Pariser provides some insight into how the search tools we use may be contributing to this retreat into our extremist corners. What is worse, he reflects that with the increasing complexity and sophistication of these search tools, it is almost certain that our exposure to contrary information and viewpoints will be even more limited in the future.
I recently blogged about the importance of contextualization and what this might mean for web design, apps and crisis and emergency communication in the future. Contextualization means the intelligence that the web site or application uses to detect the user’s devices, location or preferences based on previous history to quickly provide the most relevant information and presentation of that. In other words, if you hit a website seeking information, that site can detect if you are using your smartphone or laptop, if you are on the freeway stuck in traffic or sitting in your home, and if you prefer to approach issues from a left or right perspective. Then it delivers content specific to you.
I think that is pretty cool and will be powerful way of communicating. But, Eli has made me nervous about that. There is a dark side to the increasing power of technology used in this way. I echo his appeal to those writing these algorithms. Think about what you are doing. Recognize that the efficient delivery of relevant information may further our slide into hyper-partisanship and declining education levels.
(Thanks much Jeff, for the heads up on this!)