How the in­for­ma­tion revo­lu­tion lim­its po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion


Con­sider this: The World Wide Web was in­tro­duced about three decades ago. In 1997, less than 2% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion was con­nected to the In­ter­net. To­day, that pro­por­tion has risen to over half, and by 2021 more peo­ple will have smart­phones than run­ning wa­ter.

We are zoom­ing down the in­for­ma­tion su­per-high­way at full speed, but are grossly un­der-pre­pared for the un­prece­dented all-you-can-eat in­for­ma­tion buf­fet that is now be­ing served.

In­deed, the world is un­de­ni­ably smaller than it has ever been, where ev­ery­one has ac­cess and ev­ery­one is ac­ces­si­ble. Fur­ther­more, the bar­ri­ers to en­gage­ments in the dig­i­tal age are in­cred­i­bly low.

Users have not only the power to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­duc­tion of their own so­cial con­tent, they are also en­cour­aged to do so by a very pre­cise al­go­rithm and thereby be­come ac­tive cre­ators of con­tent – “pro­sumers” if you will.

The amount of user-gen­er­ated con­tent be­ing pro­duced is mind-bog­gling. In one sec­ond, some 7,700 tweets are sent into the Twit­ter­sphere, 796 In­sta­gram pho­tos are up­loaded, 1,272 Tum­blr blog posts are up­loaded and 2,613,436 emails are sent.

The­o­ret­i­cally, one might think that this would lead to true ob­jec­tivism. In­for­ma­tion is out there for the world to see, and to let go of one-sided, self-cen­tered nar­ra­tives and em­brace an eye-open­ing, prej­u­dice-free com­plex view of the world. How­ever, this is far from be­ing the case.

In his 1928 book, Self-Re­straint vs Self-In­dul­gence: Re­la­tions of the Sexes, Ma­hatma Gandhi de­scribes what will ul­ti­mately be­come the most ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion, in my hum­ble opin­ion, of the be­hav­ioral scale in the age of in­for­ma­tion. Some use the plat­forms given to them to en­gage in a self-cen­tered, at times even nar­cis­sis­tic and one-sided con­ver­sa­tion, while oth­ers use it with great sen­si­tiv­ity and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Nat­u­rally, our po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion is heav­ily im­pacted by this new re­al­ity in one ma­jor way: De­spite the amaz­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties, the “pro­sumer” chooses to en­gage only in worlds they are al­ready a part of or in­ter­ested in.

This is a well-known sci­en­tific phe­nom­e­non. Peo­ple do not turn to mass me­dia to shape new opin­ions. On the con­trary, most peo­ple turn to me­dia to seek re­in­force­ment to their pre­ex­ist­ing con­vic­tions.

In other words, two peo­ple can be ex­posed to the very same po­lit­i­cal text, opin­ion, speech, im­age or ar­gu­ment – but each will draw an en­tirely dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion.

In re­sponse, me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions, in an at­tempt to sur­vive and con­sol­i­date their base, have be­come even more loyal to their po­lit­i­cal agenda – more vis­i­ble, as­sertive, bold and at times ag­gres­sive. This phe­nom­e­non takes place es­pe­cially in the dy­ing world of print, but not ex­clu­sively.

It has also taken place within the main­stream me­dia out­lets. This tran­si­tion into the world of “niche me­dia” has oc­curred within less than a decade, be­gin­ning with the rise of the In­ter­net as a mas­sively pop­u­lar plat­form in the mid-1990s.

Thus, me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions have in fact lost the abil­ity to “cross over” – to touch the never-touched-be­fore and gain more in­flu­ence. This is how we ended up here: a never-end­ing po­lit­i­cal ca­coph­ony with very lit­tle abil­ity to truly in­flu­ence.

The world of me­dia has turned into a glob­ally pro­lif­er­ated sys­tem with count­less “niche con­ver­sa­tions” where pro­sumers en­gage, for the most part, only with other like-minded par­tic­i­pants. This very “dig­i­tal trib­al­ism” se­verely lim­its the abil­ity of the me­dia to in­flu­ence, not to men­tion their abil­ity to bring about a full con­ver­sion of opin­ion.

This goes way be­yond news and opin­ion. Ev­ery tech com­pany de­signs its an­a­lyt­ics so that you only see what you are al­ready in­ter­ested in. Your news­feed or home­page re­flects your search his­tory, “likes” and on­line shop­ping habits.

Just like ca­ble news, where de­spite myr­iad op­tions lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives ac­tively choose to watch pro­grams that al­ready con­form to their own world­view, this new gen­er­a­tion’s re­liance on new me­dia en­sconces them­selves in worlds they al­ready know.

The writer is a for­mer For­eign Min­istry con­sul-gen­eral in New York and is the founder of Emer­son Rigby Ltd., an Is­rael-based full-ser­vice con­sul­tancy firm.


FIL­TER­ING THE news. ‘In re­sponse, me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions, in an at­tempt to sur­vive and con­sol­i­date their base, have be­come even more loyal to their po­lit­i­cal agenda – more vis­i­ble, as­sertive, bold and at times ag­gres­sive.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel

© PressReader. All rights reserved.