A Long-Winded Excuse to Run a Dead-Squirrel Video
Eli Pariser, the 30-year-old president of MoveOn.org, has been living with the Internet for half his life. And now he’s fretting that the Internet is not living up to its early promise of liberating people from being human:
I’ve always believed the Internet could connect us all together and help create a better, more democratic world. That’s what excited me about MoveOn — here we were, connecting people directly with each other and with political leaders to create change.
But that more democratic society has yet to emerge, and I think it’s partly because while the Internet is very good at helping groups of people with like interests band together (like MoveOn), it’s not so hot at introducing people to different people and ideas. Democracy requires discourse and personalization is making that more and more elusive.
Yes, how we pine for the good old days of three networks and one newspaper, when we were much more likely to be introduced to different people and ideas, at least those deemed safe to expose to an audience that was substantially more uptight than we were.
Eli’s concern, which he somehow manages to inflate into 304 pages of his new book, is that the more websites and search engines tailor their results to your perceived interests, the more they exclude the things that bore the shit out of you:
Sometimes, this can be a real service — if you never read articles about sports, why should a newspaper put a football story on your front page? But apply the same logic to, say, stories about foreign policy, and a problem starts to emerge. Some things, like homelessness or genocide, aren’t highly clickable but are highly important.
Yes, they certainly are. But if we’re inclined to throw away Section A without reading it, no amount of scolding on Eli’s part is going to change our mind. The Internet simply automates a process that citizens have enjoyed for generations: The right not to pay attention. Call it a “problem” if you’d like, but don’t call it new, kid. You weren’t around for the first run of Happy Days.
We can’t deny that it would be A Better World if people took things seriously, but people aren’t like that. No, people are more like this:
Mark Zuckerberg perfectly summed up the tension in personalization when he said “A squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”
Which might explain this video making the rounds yesterday.