Letter: Evolution of internet takes a detour

From: Tom Lane


I am old enough to remember about 25 years ago when the internet was in its infancy and how many were hoping this new technology would be a great tool of an enlightened populace. There were stories of how everyone would have access to a broad range of information, right at their fingertips. It was compared to a library in every home. It held out hope for the most informed population ever.

It did not happen that way. Along the path of this new level of accessibility, we did not realize that we would create a new world of information supply. The visionaries thought that the demand side would dominate this new era of information. What did we want to know about, and the world would put it on the internet. No one saw (at least no one I have read about) that it would be a supplier-based information network.

All of sudden, we had an explosion of information, data points, viewpoints, slanted news, distorted facts, downright lies, yellow journalism, biased reporting and outright lies, flooding this new technology. Never before could anyone find material to support just about any belief or idea of how life works.

A whole network of organizations and individuals arose to provide sites, blogs, official sounding posts and other ways to create a separate reality that only existed on this new computer-based medium. And the masses flocked to it. We humans found ways to justify about any idea we had about what was wrong with the world, right with the world or who or what view should be in charge. The notion of going to a library, where information had some level of verification to pass to get on the bookshelf, was put aside. Now it was as simple as a click on your favorite issue, to find a wide array of positions. From there, we could filter out those that contradicted and choose those that supported.

We humans have a library of ideas that is not based on research, facts or critical thinking, but only on agreement of those who wish to read. We have found the utopia of ignorance. People could sound like they have data and research to prove some of the most absurd positions. Putting data on the internet has no bar to pass, in terms of accuracy or truthfulness. Truth became arbitrary and a matter of number of hits and likes.

The internet has created a deeper solidifying of our mental constructs that takes us more and more from the present. We want to view the world from our preconceived ideas. We do not want to look at differences. We want confirmation. We want ammunition to battle the other side. We do not want to work it out for ourselves. That grand premise that the internet put forth has turned into a way to solidify our polarization, to fix our bias, to stop exploring and listening. Hey, the best laid plans.