Just as a disclaimer: I love social networking. I am an advocate of it. I practice it a lot, and have done for several years. But this is really interesting to think about.
Facebook? Twitter? Omegle? I am almost positive that you’ve heard of at least one of these sites, if not them all. One is the biggest social networking site online, one is fast becoming the biggest social networking site online, the last is a place where you can chat anonymously to absolute strangers. Yes, there is the whole problem of, you know, complete pervs on there and that it is completely unsafe for children. But, having said that, the possibilities on this site are endless.
On the internet, we create a utopian society made up of people we like. But without a hetrogenous society, we create difficulties. Cass Sunstein asks us “Is the Internet a wonderful development for democracy?”. He believes it is in many ways, but there is downsides to this wonderful invention, however. He continues, “in the midst of the celebration, I want to raise a note of caution. I do so by emphasizing [sic] one of the most striking powers provided by emerging technologies: the growing power of consumers to “filter” what they see. As a result of the Internet and other technological developments, many people are increasingly engaged in a process of “personalization” [sic] that limits their exposure to topics and points of view of their own choosing.” So in this respect, social networks are very fine examples of how to show this idea in practice.
We can choose who to add as friends, reject or accept those who do, follow who we choose, speak to whom we wish to speak – and all these people are generally who we have things in common with, otherwise we wouldn’t interact with them would we? Essentially, we isolate ourselves. This is where we are more comfortable or assured, and we practice what’s known as group polarisation. We aren’t exposed to points of view which necessarily differ from our own and therefore we are never challenged. And in this sense, the internet produces narrowness, as opposed to breadth. We have a dramatic increase in choice and control, and a decrease in the power of things where we don’t choose that are in say newspapers for example.
The reason I write this blog post now is I recently discovered Omegle, and it got me thinking about the idea of choice and power. I was told, “you are now chatting with a stranger. Say hi!” and then, if I didn’t like that stranger, I could simply disconnect and move on. At first I found myself giving these “strangers” a lot more of my time than I should have, I was reluctant to just disconnect on someone for fear of offending them. Then I started to think, hey they haven’t got a clue who I am, and this conversation does not reflect badly on me nor them so, what if I disconnect? What if I’m an asshole to this person? So I disconnected within the first couple of seconds if they didn’t grab me with anything interesting (on a side note, hi asl? is not interesting. Ever.) I have to say I have had the most random, funny and altogether disturbing conversations with absolute strangers. You wouldn’t have such conversations as you do on here in real life for fear of being judged, or offending. So why do we do it on the Internet? ‘Cus it’s fun.
Cass Sunstein’s article “The Daily We” which inspired this blog post is available here.