The Opening of Communications Technology and the Shrinking of Perspective

Over the past few years, there’s been a great deal of enthusiasm about the internet and how it’s likely to revolutionize the world, and almost all of the commentators express optimism.

The Economist recently reported a study on the effect of the internet, and the conclusion of the study was that the extent and range of contacts of internet users had become more limited, both geographically and culturally, with the growth of internet usage. This certainly parallels the growth of “niche” interest sites and the “Facebook” effect, where like gathers to like.

In effect, if these trends continue, and if the study is correct, and the authors caution that it is only preliminary and a proxy for a far wider and more detailed effort, the internet is creating a voluntary form of self-segregation. What’s rather amusing, in a macabre way, is that when Huxley, in Brave New World, postulated the segregation of society by ability and by the programming of inclination, the government was the evil overlord pressing this societal division upon the population as a means of indirect and effective repression and social control. Now it appears that a significant percentage of internet users are effectively doing the same thing enthusiastically and voluntarily.

A similar trend is also occurring as a result of the proliferation of satellite and cable television, where programming is broken into a multiplicity of “viewpoint-orientations,” to the point that viewers can even select the slant and orientation of the news they receive. This is having a growing impact as the numbers and percentages of Americans who read newspapers continue to decline.

At the same time, we’ve seen a growing polarization in the American political system, combined with a disturbing trend in the government away from political and practical compromise and toward increasingly strident ideological “purity,” along with the growth and vehemence of “public” and other interest groups.

Somehow, all this open communication doesn’t seem to be opening people’s viewpoints or their understanding of others, but rather allowing them greater choice in avoiding dealing with — and even attacking — the diversity in society and the world. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?