Monday, April 1, 2013

'Citizen of the world,' eh?

In Cass Sunstein's "The Daily Me," many topics and issues arise concerning advanced technologies surrounding the personalization of news, web content, opinions and views. The backdrop to these issues is of course, that we--society--is headed toward fragmentation. This fragmentation, she believes, will hurt or damage democracy as we know it. I may be exaggerating or stretching her viewpoint, but I believe between the lines that is, in fact, what she is stressing. However, she counters this "inevitable" downward spiral in democracy with some very colorful language!

"Censorship is indeed a threat to democracy and freedom," she writes. "Filtering is inevitable, a fact of life." And lest we forget, society is "mainly listening to louder echoes of their own voices." I pulled these quotes not just for the vivid language, but in many respects, I agree with these statements entirely. It is impossible for us to consume all news, all opinions, and all topics, so naturally we filter out first what we don't want to hear, see or read. We often choose news or opinions that mimic or intensify our own internal voices. This is fact, and really can't be disputed. If I had to highlight the best insights Sunstein offers, I would choose the two distinctive requirements for a well-functioning system of free expression;

Seeing and being exposed to another point of view
I could not agree more that without hearing, reading and seeing what the "other side" has to say on news, political topics and opinions, I could not possibly consider myself 'well-rounded' or an 'active citizen.' We all know and realize that hearing a different opinion than our own, on any topic, can either reinforce our own thoughts and opinions, or challenge us to examine the facts further. As I'm sure you can imagine, I've always enjoyed a healthy debate! Win or lose, you're better for having the conversation than not having the conversation at all.

Common experiences form "social glue"
The more we--society--can relate to one another on shared experiences, the further we can develop as a society. Sunstein suggests that the news as we know it, does just that: provides a platform for people to connect with similar experiences through prominent news stories. While no clear examples are given, we could use Sandy Hook as an example for the gun control debate. An isolated shooting became a national topic for reform and has brought much heated debate. While many conservatives believe a reform on guns breeches on the second amendment rights, people across the nation, democrat or republican, can form some shared experiences on how guns have affected society and where they stand in our own social fabric or "glue."

What can I offer up on the topic of social fragmentation? Like the author may or may not suggest, I believe it has always existed. With new technologies and the incredible amount of information available via the Internet, it is only natural to filter out some of what we don't want.

I began reading this piece and instantly thought of the application Flipbook, and how much better it COULD be in terms of organizing my social media and preferred news. Ha. They have a ways to go to completely isolate us from news and crap we don't want, right? Reading a little further, I thought to myself, "I keep some friends with opposing views on my Facebook news feed, so I can have the satisfaction of seeing what ignorance still looks like." That comes across as crass on my part, but I believe it to be truth. By having those viewpoints visible, it also allows me to intermediate with links to facts about issues when people post erroneous commentary, photos and what they deem to be 'facts.'

Sunstein hits the nail on the head with her comments on attention being a crucial and scarce commodity. Because our attention spans have decreased significantly in the last decade, filtering has became the new norm in consumers finding news. But I don't want to admit that, "mass media are dying," as she states, and that the mass media "was a short episode in the history of human communications." I don't think I'm in denial for not wanting to believe that. Am I? I may or may not picture tomorrow's class and the heated debate Tim or Lucas may have on this very topic! (Hey guys: If you can't laugh at yourself, you can't laugh at anyone!) :-)

The BIGGEST shock of the article for me: When I got to the "this may change by 2005" quotes, I about lost it! I believe it is time for an update and re-write!

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