Friday, February 25, 2005

Technology Breeding Diversity

Andrew Sullivan’s piece about the new iPod world touched a nerve in more than one way. First off, I have long felt that personal music devices have served to cut us off socially from each other. Of course, this is some of their appeal (and I admit that I have occasionally fallen into the trap as well), but most of the time my knee-jerk reaction to seeing someone on the bus who’s lost in their music is mild resentment masked as self-righteous moral superiority. “Oh those people with their Discmans plugged in their ears…too good to be bothered with the rest of us!” I never really understood people running with headphones on, either, but that really stems from my own background with an obsessive focus on running technique. At any rate, the iPod has only added to the “problem”, as those white headphones have essentially become ubiquitous symbols of hip-ness on high school and college campuses across the country. What really does get me is when a group of friends are walking together, each listening to their own iPod! Isn't part of the point of music sharing it with others? But really, why should anyone be forced to listen to the world around them? If having the whole collection of music you love at your fingertips is something you enjoy, then by all means, go for it. I’ll try and get over my shallow-minded biases. And hey, its probably helped with eavesdropping in public places.

The piece of his article that I actually take issue with is when he draws this as part in parcel of the larger problem of people cutting themselves off from the world:

"It wouldn't be so worrisome if it weren't part of something even bigger. Americans are beginning to narrowcast their own lives. You get your news from your favorite blogs, the ones that won't challenge your own view of the world. "

Personally, I think he’s off the mark on this one. Technology has, by almost any measure, NOT caused a narrowing of focus in the lives of most people. The opportunity to be exposed to different viewpoints has never been greater. In my own life, I was never really exposed to serious right-wing philosophies until I started exploring the web, a product of coming from a fairly liberal home (and going to grad school in resource and environmental management!). It's only because of the internet that I have really discovered libertarianism, which has proven to be extremely significant in life. And overall, the ease of access to information on the Internet only makes it easier to keep tabs on different ideas. Surfing often takes you places you didn’t expect to go – at least much more so then you’d do reading the newspaper or watch television. When all I did was talk about political issues with my friends, we all were pretty much coming from the same background, and had (within a range) similar views (and assumptions) on the major issues. But now, I can get news from the left and the right of the spectrum every day, and I don’t think (or at least I hope) that I’m the only one who makes an effort to try to broaden their horizons through using the technological tools available today. Maybe some people shut themselves in and only get their information from sources that won’t challenge their world view – but they are probably people that were doing that before blogs became a news source, and they are probably outnumbered by those who have gotten a bigger picture of the world, and the ideas in it, from the interconnected society.


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