One of the many themes up for exploration at our Internet & Society Conference: Votes, Bits and Bytes later this week is whether Prof. Cass Sunstein is right, in Republic.com and elsewhere, about the Daily Me. The exceptionally sharp UVA Law Prof. Tim Wu, in an interview by Ernest Miller, makes the case
(from this link, you have to scroll down the page a bit, as I don’t see
any anchors in the page; sorry) that Sunstein’s instinct was right on,
but the reality is even worse than he expected. Wu told Miller:
“I think things are even worse than Cass Sunstein predicted. What Cass
wrote about in the 1990s was the basic problem of debate polarization.
But I don’t think he expected that even facts themselves would come up
for grabs, leaving each side living in fully constructed parallel
universes of disinformation.
“I don’t blame the blogs. Here is the problem: we are living with the
unexpected consequences of low-cost information dissemination, or
‘cheap speech.’ Cheapness is generally good, but it also creates
strange consequences. Cheap corn, for example, makes us fat. Cheap
drugs, like crack cocaine, can destroy neighborhoods. And cheap
information is making us stupid.
“As a society, the only answer is likely to be painful: an information
diet. Consider the food analogy: in another age, food was scarce, and
so everyone ate anything they could get their hands on. Today that
approach will make you look like Andre the Giant. We have learned,
albeit imperfectly, to eat more carefully. We similarly need to learn
to regulate our information intake, or we’ll end up with brains that
look like CNN Crossfire.”
Then Prof. Wu ends with a few choice words about some leading
bloggers. (This interview by Miller is the second in a very fine
— so far! — series on Digital Media at Corante. The first
interview, of Jeff Jarvis, should also not be missed).
More on this theme, and others, later this week.