Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Just because we shouldn’t, doesn’t mean we won’t

It seems slightly curious to be how public debate on various technology issues fall neatly on two sides:

  • This is technologically inevitable and therefore, we should embrace it as progress for mankind
  • This is socially corrosive and so therefore we should fight as much as possible to combat it

These lines are relatively similar regardless of whether the debate is about music piracy, biofuels, strong encryption, ad blocking software, transhumanism or biotechnology. The obvious missing argument is: “This is technologically inevitable and also socially corrosive”.

It seems entirely reasonable to me that music piracy will be harmful to most artists, strong encryption will be used by terrorists more than “freedom fighters”, ad blocking will severely hamper the ability to monetize the internet and transhumanism will lead to humans being kept as pets of intelligent AI. Such a view is not popular because it presents no solutions, only a slow grind towards inevitability. What’s more, it’s in contrast to the standard stories about progress and the long steady march towards the future.

Bill Bishop in The Big Sort talks about how people are increasingly segregating themselves into more intelectually homogenous communities since the 70’s. What’s even more disturbing, the more educated you are, the less change you have of meeting someone who disagrees with you. The proximate causes of this are easy to explain, as our society has gotten more wealthy, “lifestyle” factors trump all else in the choice of where to live and people self-segregate into homogenous social groups.

I would consider myself as someone who actively works to meet people who disagree with me and yet even I’m no exception to the rule. On the eve of the 2008 election, I can count a total of two people within my social network who I know to be voting for McCain. Every single other person, I’m almost certain is an Obama supporter. What does this hold for the future or reasoned political discourse?

We’ve given people choice, we’ve given people liberty and diversity and the right to pursue wealth and happiness but the result is a stultifying, homogenous echo chamber. This wasn’t a bug, it’s not something that can be engineered out, it’s what people want.


  1. alex says:

    December 9th, 2008 at 11:40 pm (#)

    save to my Bookmarks )

  2. alex says:

    December 9th, 2008 at 3:40 pm (#)

    save to my Bookmarks )

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