The internet is the greatest invention of all time, but it is making us stupid. It is a place where one can find their niche and stick to it with the strictest precision. The goal of the internet was to create places for open communication and the sharing of ideas. In principle, this is a great idea, but when it comes to practice, it is the opposite of what happened.
Real Life Relationships
People attract people like them. In the real world, we try to befriend people who share our interests. Luckily, we can’t find anyone who is exactly like us. So we tend to intermingle with people who share some of our interests but not all.
In real life, you may be a Toronto Blue Jays fan while your friend is a Yankees fan, but you both like baseball. Friends may share an interest in sports, but not the specifics of other topics. In real life, we are forced to try to find people who share some of our interests, but not all them.
Yet, when interests are on the internet, they transcend the typical geographic barriers. This allows people with similar interests from all around the world to connect. The range of people who share interests focuses to an extreme. So, anyone who has the interest can be a part of the conversation. Online groups tend to self-select members out who don’t share all the ideas, as they leave the group for another.
This means, over time groups online, tend to consist of only the most extreme members. Thus the topics of conversation become stricter, focused and more limited. This means exposure to different ideas and opinions is difficult. As those who disagree leave and new people come for the focus.
Online groups form around specific niches, thus their focus is by necessity narrow. In the real world, as a group spends more time together a greater range of topics may come up in conversation. On the internet, with so many specific groups, one must be a member of many groups to see different ideas.
Specialized group play language games where words gain specific meanings. This leads to a difficulty in understanding the claims of other groups. When the meanings of our words change, we lose the ability to understand other views.
The internet’s greatest offers were to spread information, but our tendency is to stick to people like us. As a result, our ideas become saturated and we lose touch with the information outside our bubble. In time, we become intolerant to alternative ideas and the only views we hear are the ones we already agree with.
It is easy to get caught up in this game. We usually don’t even realize we are playing until we take a step back, but even that is difficult. The internet was supposed to liberate our minds, but it created intellectual traps. Hyperconnectivity made this worse, we lost sight of the groups we aren’t part of and forgot they exist. At the same time, we become more certain of what we already believe.
What We Can Do
If we want to expand our minds we need to step back and realize the echo chambers we have become part of. With this information, we can work towards freeing ourselves.
The worst prisons are the one we don’t realize we are in. Once we become aware we will wonder how we ever got into them in the first place. From there we seek out new groups for their new ideas, and life gets a little bit better.