Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Internet

The internet is a complex issue. I'm convinced that the best way to communicate across this "flat world" (as in The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Friedman) is to use the power of the internet for free expression. Certainly knowledge is power in the sense that if people around the world have the facts they can then make decisions. Ah, but therein lies the rub.

Anyone can write anything they want on the internet now...through blogs, personal web pages, "community" sites like Gather and Myspace, etc. It is largely unfiltered...and often inaccurate. Statements can be made as if fact when they have no basis in reality. In many cases the writers use the freedom of the medium to present their particular biases. In some extreme cases the medium can be used to foment hate. Authoritarian governments such as China, North Korea and many others strictly control the "freedom" of thought, site accessibility, and use. Even in the US the political parties and other special interest groups have manufactured concensus, created news, planted stories and videos on sites such as You Tube, and otherwise attempted to "control" (or at least supplement) the content. Clearly the "reporting" is unbalanced. Perhaps it is balanced in toto should people go to the trouble of comparing views on multiple sites (sort of like switching back and forth between CNN and Fox News Channel in order to figure out what the real non-spun version of the facts are). However, most folks don't do that. Rather they read those sites, watch those TV stations, and peruse those papers that they tend to agree with.

Okay, having said all this, and while the suggestion that England (technically it is the United Kingdom) is leading the way toward totalitarianism is more than a little unrealistic (and perhaps conspiratorially paranoid)[Note: this relates to a statement in the posting I was responding to]*, I agree wholeheartedly with the principle of keeping the internet free and uncontrolled. This is where it has the greatest power. However, to paraphrase a line from the first Spiderman movie, with great power comes great responsibility. It behooves all of us to read everything on the internet (and elsewhere) with a wary eye....to consider the source and the source's inherent bias (we all have it)...and to consider viewpoints that may not be the same as our own. We each need to filter out the noise and find the reality. While I certainly wouldn't trust some government functionary to do this screening, it does mean that each of us must take this personal responsibility upon ourselves.

Now let's get out there and blog people!!

[*Note: I wrote this in response to a comment on Gather, and decided it would be a good blog.]

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