The modern world has connected us more than any generation before us. We can now talk to people around the globe instantly and cheaply. A person literally from the other side of the world can read this within seconds of me posting it. This means that someone in Bermuda can talk to me in Perth without any delay. More significantly, an average citizen can speak as loud as a millionaire to far more people. Such connections have instilled freedom and diversity like never before.
Or have they?
Facebook is well known to, and makes no effort in hiding, change your feed based upon your preferences. If you keep pressing links from Facebook to go to scientific articles then Facebook will start to make science articles appear more often. If you keep pressing links about muscle building then you will get more posts relevant to your physical looks. And if you keep commenting on Jeremiah’s posts then you will get more of Jeremiah’s posts… that is how it works, it feeds you what you want. It does exactly what it is supposed to do, it supplies a customer with a desired service.
Google search is very similar. If I search up “Inertia” then I will be linked to articles on Newton’s First law, that is because Google’s algorithms have worked out that I do regular searches on science thus I would be more interested in physics than other things. In fact, the whole page is full of physics references, but if I regularly search for music (which is not something I usually search for) then when I search for “Inertia” I will come up with links to bands and music groups called ‘Inertia’. Sure the first link might be physics, but a lot of the other links will not. Google has deliberately analysed your search patterns in order to supply you, the customer, with what you desire.
This is great if dealing with subjects like inertia, I am in no way interested in music and bands called inertia and yet for my work are very interested in Newtonian Physics, however, a serious issue comes up when you do more important issues. For example, if I were to do a search on “government” then Google analyses my past searches and looks at my location to give me results that dominate in Australia, filling my search with things about Australia. Thus I have been put in a bubble to accept that when the word ‘government’ is used then it is referring to the apparently dominant Westminster System of government present in Australia… which is crazy,most people do not have the Westminster System of government and it is in effect influencing me to think that that form of government is ‘normal’.
Consider an alternative, if I lived under an oppressive regime that for some reason did not limit my internet use, and did an internet search for “Government” then Google would feed me a similar web page and present me with what is perceived as a normal government, one that is oppressive. Unless I did more research, such as looking a few pages in advance or deliberately searching for criticisms then I would in effect become naive to the problems in my perception of the world.
Lets take this example to a social perception.
Facebook, and other social media platforms, select your friends and connections based upon your choice. YOU put in who your friends are, YOU ‘like’ pages, YOU join communities. YOU have selected the subject materials and the people you want to connect with. Facebook then identifies which of your friends you most interact with and promote those posts above the rest. So if you were passionate about ‘same sex marriage’ then you would interact with lots of posts on that subject and thus see lots of posts about ‘same sex marriage’, especially those ones that agreed with you on the issue. In fact if you were to go down your feed you would likely find most people agree with you. You will therefore assume most people in society will agree with you, which ever side you take… which is a false assumption to make, because you are basing that assumption on a selective and restricted sample.
And this is where we find that technology has made us more connected, but only to those people that think in ways similar to us. Technology has made us into tribes of people that believe in the same thing and support each other in the same way.
Thousands of years ago a tribe would have consisted of the local village or town. People in that town would have agreed upon ways to behave, what days events were to be held, and which religion was the dominant one. The town was unified in its beliefs and goal. If you did not fit in with the town then you were usually socially excluded, which over time may have mean you got blamed for something, even if you were not responsible. It was often wiser to just go find a new village… but the town itself would stay unified. Likewise the development of religion would unify a small area, possibly a country in a single set of ethics that could easily be agreed upon, thus unifying the area in a ‘tribe’ like way. when we became large cities, however, this changed. The mixing of different beliefs meant we then challenged each other, leading to conflict and problems.
The Americas, for example, was settled greatly by Europeans that desired to enact their beliefs without interference. Some of these beliefs were about power, some about peace, some about religion, and so forth, but it was about escaping the clustered warring tribes of Europe and making a new tribe. You see similar with those that dream of colonising Mars. They dream of making a Utopian society on Mars exempt from the pressures of ideals on Earth… the fact that it would be easier to live in central Antarctica than on Mars somewhat eludes many people.
Thus we arrive at the internet, a way for people to form new and unique tribes without having to cross thousands of kilometres of water or millions of kilometres of vacuum to get to.
When you get online and start talking to people you are forming a new tribe. Your tribe may intersect with other tribes, but in the end you don’t worry about those tribes. Once you have settled in then you only care about your own tribe. Unless a prophet from another tribe comes in and announces a miraculous new revelation then you are happy in your naive bliss. You sit in your bubble of ignorance, happy in the contentment of others that believe similar to you. As we develop more and more interesting ways of generating connections then we will likewise continue to generate tighter and tighter ways of keeping inside our tribe and not letting other tribal disorder enter it. We form countries in an online environment. Anti-vaxxers hiding in one corner, Atheists in another, Christians over there, Hippies here, and so forth. If we wander into another area we get a shock when we wander into the wrong community before running back to hide in our tribe again and criticise the tribe we glimpsed at.
The internet has formed areas where people congregate and communicate, but only with those they identify with. They create virtual villages and towns. These towns exclude people who disagree with and blame each other on the problems of society. If you find yourself excluded from one village then it is not hard to find another one. And that is the sole advantage of the internet, being excluded is temporary. There is always a tribe out there for you.
This thus results in the conclusion that diversity is squashed, often more than before the internet. Previously people were forced to cooperate with people in their village, now if you want to leave you can. You are not forced to put up with the perceived disagreements over whether tea is better than coffee, or if gluten is worth dieting over. Instead society becomes fractured into these tribes of yes-men. When we speak loudly we are heard and a following shouts ‘YES!’. Those that disagree say nothing… because they can not hear us from their tribe, they are busy shouting yes to something else.
And then there is this post… which a very small tribe will read over and smile, then lie down in their huts and go to sleep… Us connected, technologically savvy savages.