The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Could Technological Empowerment Lead To The Destruction Of Democracy?
September 8, 2011, 6:11 am
Filed under: Comment

I am a big fan of the internet.

I think it has empowered millions of people all over the World to do things, learn things, understand things and connect to things that can – and does – make a massive and positive impact to society as a whole.

However, like most things in life, I also think there is a counter perspective … a counter perspective that some people choose to ignore … a counter perspective that has the potential to unravel many of the things the internet has done and given to the World.

I’ve talked about this before, however I believe for all the good the internet has done – and continues to do – it has also resulted in people losing their ability to debate, integrate and appreciate alternative views.

My main concern is that the internet encourages people to gravitate towards others who share the exact same views.

Not similar. The same.

Now there’s nothing new in that – people have been doing a similar thing for centuries – however given the shit that history has shown us and taught us, that’s not always a good thing. Now please don’t think I’m saying the next apocalypse is just around the corner, however I do find it kind of scary that anyone who expresses an alternative view on a blog or a social network tends to be met with a barrage of ferocious zeal rather than a considered and calm debate.

FHM magazine recently did an article on this, where they posted slightly negative or objective comments on blogs that were synonymous with a particular point of view.

While it was all done tongue-in-cheek, the fact people would call someone a “fucking stupid bastard who knows nothing” for simply saying they thought Harry Potter didn’t look as strong as he had in previous movies is pretty extreme. And while you may expect such a comment from the teen fan community’, I don’t think this attitude is exclusive to them.

As I’ve said before, if you offer a well thought out, alternative perspective on a blog or community site, you are generally met with the same level of vitriol as some 15 year old Harry Potter obsessive and I think that’s a very dangerous sign for how society is developing … and one place that I think has the biggest implications of this attitude is China.

Now I know what many people think … China is a land that censors information from it’s people, has a terrible record on human rights and does not believe in total freedom of speech.

And you’re right, it does do all those things … though apart from the fact you rarely feel any of those things happening to you when you’re in the country … I’d also argue that many countries act like that, the difference being China is – albeit through other people bringing it to the World’s attention – more “open” about what they do.

That aside, I appreciate in terms of day-to-day freedoms, the level of censorship the people of China are exposed to is more than in many other countries however I have this thought that the internet – and social media in particular – has the potential to make things even worse here.

Yes, worse.

You see I am currently seeing a huge amount of Chinese middle classes chattering about Government wrongs.

From highlighting blatant misdeeds to questioning the role of many politicians, it appears there are literally millions of Chinese who have adopted the same sort of stance as many Westerners, which is basically their starting point is ‘anything revolving around Chinese rule is wrong and they’re trying to cover it up’ rather than investigating all the facts before making a decision.

Now I appreciate many people – regardless of origin, gender or background – operate in this way, and I also appreciate China has a track record of trying to hide/mislead people [though I’d love to know if proportionately, they are any worse than other countries, accepting that regardless of the result, it’s the wrong thing to do] but my concern is if millions of people – all in one country – start taking an opposing stance to anything related to the government – whether right or wrong – they’re not encouraging debate, they’re encouraging dangerous and decisive action.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of freedom of speech and I am not professing that people shouldn’t stand up for what they believe in, but as much as the internet has finally given a voice to millions – even billions – of people who didn’t have that ability before, it’s also encouraged the mass formation of exclusive, like-minded groups and my concern is we’re in danger of seeing breadth of opinion being openly sacrificed or deflected in favour of the single point of view.

OK … so the internet is not to blame for this situation any more than Google is to blame for so many in society being stupid … however if we acknowledge that quality decisions can only be made when you hear both sides of the debate, we’re in danger of throwing away the heart of democracy in favour of convenience and conspiracy and as much as that might, on face value, appeal to governments and brands, as the guys in China are discovering now, it comes to bite you on the ass eventually.


49 Comments so far
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george. george. campbells doing that fucked up thing that used to get on our tits. what did you say it was called, thinking out loud?

Comment by andy@cynic

This is going to be one of those posts where planners get all pretend intellectual on our ass. At least it will be good to laugh at.

Comment by Billy Whizz

That, or the day they finally all switch off.

Comment by Rob

i dont understand a fucking word of this and i dont want to understand a fucking word but i think its about the internet not being the fucking happyland that every 20 something hipster says it is so im right befuckinghind you campbell.

but for porn it cannot be fucking beaten.

Comment by andy@cynic

Can’t be beaten as much as millions of men’s cocks, don’t you agree John Dodds and Dave?

Comment by Billy Whizz

Is that your preferred viewing?

Comment by john

we all fucking know it is. at least the wanker is open about it. im fucking impressed he has time to make any comments on this bollocks at all.

Comment by andy@cynic

You’ve talked about this issue for sometime and while I accept FHM magazine is the pinnacle of investigative journalism, I find your commentary about the rise of China’s suspicious middle class more interesting. There’s much in this post I agree with, for the rest I need some time to think things over.
As you point out, the internet can not be handed (all) the blame for this situation and you offer no suggestion on how to alter the path for the circumstances you describe but the implication of what you describe is serious, especially in China where public resistance is met with immediate and overwhelming force. A particulary heavy post from you today Robert, I like it.

Comment by George

you only like it because hes blaming every fucker but google. you corporate fucking toady.

Comment by andy@cynic

Wait, you’re saying the internet is more than a 24 hour porn cable channel? When did that happen and how do I get to see it. On second thoughts, don’t tell me, I’m not interested.

Comment by Billy Whizz

While I’m tempted to “offer a well thought out, alternative perspective”, it would require me to understand what you’ve written and life’s too short. So I’ll go off and re-read Lanier and Pariser and get back to you.

Comment by john

There are plenty of alternate views John, Robert’s is simply one of them. I believe the heart of Robert’s argument is that the industry often washes over any alternative perspective, preferring to view and promote the internet as some sort of nirvana for democracy and he believes it isn’t.

Comment by George

It depends what you mean by the industry, but Jaron Lanier, Nicholas Carr and Evgeny Mozorov are dissenters who have all spoken at Google as well as numerous tech conferences, so I think the alternative perspectives are getting a pretty good airing.

Comment by john

I believe Robert is mainly referring to the marketing industry in his post. As for the technology community, this issue has been discussed as you point out, but as high profile as the people you mention are, I think claiming their counter perspective is getting a “good airing” may be overly positive.
Correct me if I am wrong, but are we having a discussion on Robert’s blog. Something not involving the merits of queen or birkenstocks. Astounding.

Comment by George

just what we fucking want, tech guys judging if their bollocks might not be the “perfection 2.0” they claim it is. like having hitler judge the fucking nazis. doesnt everyone know you just have to ask campbell for the answer? thats what he tells everyone. in his fucking pig ugly poxy head.

Comment by andy@cynic

slagging off queen and campbells dress sense is much more fucking fun.

Comment by andy@cynic

I was talking mainly about the marketing industry, but having worked within and around the tech crowd, I would say that the majority of opinion is firmly in the ‘we are great, we can do no wrong’ crowd.

That’s just a personal opinion, but I don’t hear many alternative views about digital and social out there. I should remind everyone I am not anti-digital or social … as I said, there are many amazing things it’s done and it does – I just think this myopic view that it can only benefit society without any longer term possibly negative implications is naive to the extreme.

Sure, the good will outweigh the bad, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

Comment by Rob

But you’re suggesting dissenters should stay silent for fear of retribution and I don’t believe you think that.

Comment by john

I didn’t get that perspective John. In fact his penultimate paragraph clearly states the opposite.

Comment by George

Agreed, but the paragraph before that seemed to me to contradict that. I am genuinely confused.

Comment by john

even i know campbell isnt saying that doddsy and ive not even read this shit.

i like how george is the most active hes ever been on this pile of bollocks because the post has fucking technology, politics and civil fucking unrest in it. though its probably harry fucking potter. sad fuck.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’m not saying that at all John, I’m saying that we need to re-educate society to get breadth of factual opinion before making a final call. I know that is near impossible, but what the internet has done is give us an attitude of ‘instant gratification’ and so it’s no longer for looking at facts, just what suits your particular opinion – hence people are forming alliances with like-minded opinions and shunning any alternative.

That has nothing to do with dissenters keeping quiet – if anything, it means finding a way for their alternative view to be given a fairer hearing.

Comment by Rob

I have no comments/insults for you, other than to say you might be interested in reading this: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/11/02/091102crbo_books_kolbert/?currentPage=all

Comment by Simon Kendrick

youve been fucking quiet for a while. finally got let out of prison? and you here, the brain jail? fucking fool.

Comment by andy@cynic

Thank you for your concern. The intensity of the bro-mance in these threads gets a little too much for me at times; I can only deal with it in short bursts (innuendo sort-of-intentional)

Comment by Simon Kendrick

You’re wrong Robert, it is all Google’s fault.

Comment by Bazza

resfuckingpect.

baz 15. auntie 0.

Comment by andy@cynic

Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will be met with immediate legal action.

Comment by George

good attempt but still a fucking fail.

Comment by andy@cynic

Immature. Petty and bloody brilliant.

Comment by Rob

Likemindedness is a human trait rather than a product of the internet. The amplification of it online is, to my mind, hugely outweighed by the expansion of access to information and the individual’s ability to broadcast that the internet has provided.

Algorithmically-induced likemindedness is a different matter and a little bit worrying, but I don’t want to be sued so lets not go there.

Comment by john

people might have more fucking information to their dirty little hands but they dont want to do anything that requires any fucking effort. mobile carriers. cable companies. facts and infofuckingmation.

Comment by andy@cynic

Likemindedness is a human trait John – I agree. And yes, the mass of information out there means that people have access to the broadest views of opinion they’ve ever had available to them. But as Andy kind-of said, that doesn’t mean they are seeking it out. In fact, in this instant-gratification society [which I do believe has been influenced by tech, amongst other things] many people only are interested in hearing the things that reinforce their particular point of view … it’s easier, makes them feel better and more confident.

Sure, not everyone is like this … and I said, I am not saying the internet is directly to blame … however when you mix human traits of likemindedness to a technology that allows people to seek out others of the same opinion on unprecedented scale and match that to a reluctance to explore whether your opinion/choice is the right thing … there are implications that could be quite serious down the line and I believe China is definitely one of the places where this could happen first.

Comment by Rob

hey billy. you were fucking right.

Comment by andy@cynic

That means I’m a better planner than any of those other pricks and I don’t even have to try.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Yeah … yeah …

The other issue is there is now so much information available to people that they are no longer able to easily identify when something really valuable or important is in front of them. In the old days it was much easier because quality was in far less easy supply – hence this situation is further pushing [some] people to accept what suits them rather than truly explore and evaluate all the views that are at the push of a few buttons.

Sure that’s an extremist view – I accept that – but it’s just interesting that in the past it was about too little info and now it’s about too much.

Comment by Rob

Sorry Rob but the American government are nothing like the Chinese. They don’t have any money.

Comment by DH

everyone is in fine fucking form today. almost makes this hole worth visiting.

Comment by andy@cynic

PornForEveryone.FreedomForChina

Comment by freddie

Porn has been made available on line in China. Allegedly. Not that I’d know. Oh no. I’m not Northern Planner.

Comment by Rob

fucking pervert.

thats a billion chinese and you campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

So if China has a protest like London would be with dildos. Pretty fun.

Comment by freddie

I thought the rioters in London were the biggest dildos around.

Comment by Rob

Given the theories and rumours about 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc etc it wouldn’t surprise me if our governments were far worse.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

anyway campbell this is old fucking news. tech fucked democracy when the voting machines fucked up and made bush jnr the fucking president of the united bankrupt states.

late afuckingain.

Comment by andy@cynic

thats you whose fucking late campbell, not fucking me.

Comment by andy@cynic

I don’t care what it could do, youporn makes the internet awesome.

Comment by Billy Whizz

interesting perspective’;)

Comment by Ali Hasanov

[…] However I do know that gained’t occur so I suppose I’d simply be glad if we taught the significance of context and perspective … which might not solely [hopefully] assist guarantee the most effective elements of religion are protected [slightly than fall sufferer to spiritual extremism inflation] however might cease individuals turning the web right into a place of mass segregation. […]

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