Thursday, April 23, 2009

Survey: Public Discourse and the Internet

PubIn olden days, people hashed out their differences at the pub or the inn. Granted, the availability of alcohol might have led to some fist-fights, and women were frequently absent from the process, but people had their debates and came to relatively civil conclusions.

Faneuil Hall, BostonA while later, the idea of civil society emerged: small groups (think Kiwanis, Rotary, or your local Small Business Association) with common goals would join forces to discuss matters of public importance. Assisting this end was the formation of public halls, like Faneuil Hall in Boston. Such places were formal outlets for public discourse, and allowed debate in a structured environment.

Hardball with Chris MatthewsFast-forward to the industrial era, and debate happened on TV and the Radio. As people retreated into their living rooms, the media were bestowed with the responsibility of bringing important matters to the attention of the public, whether through Fireside Chats, Hardball interviews, or scathing exposés on the nightly news.

Today, the Internet has changed much of that. While many of those other media for public discourse still exist today, most people connect with each other and keep up with the issues they care most about via the Internet. Whether news aggregators, RSS feeds, or online forums, people turn online now for their public discourse.

My question is this: Does the internet allow for healthy public discourse, or does it encourage segregation by allowing people to connect solely with those with whom they already agree?

Once you've answered the poll, please comment with your thoughts! Thanks!




brd said...

I think the previous election proved that the internet has changed American politics. It may not have proven whether it changed it systemically for the better, but it has changed.

Your observation that people can find others of their own mind (however, obscure) and huddle together with them, is valid, I think. We (humans) do that, don't we. But the variety of ideas are available--usually within a click or two, and that, I think is good.

The availability of high quality educational material, for free, on the internet, is one of the most amazing things that I have observed to happen in, perhaps, my life time. Think about this. If I want to, I can from my computer sit in on courses from the premiere educational institutions of the U.S. I can attend an MIT physics course or a Berkeley biology class.The internet can communicate some bad things, but I overwhelmed by the good.

cadh 8 said...

This one made me think. I do not feel like I have "discourse" with the internet other than my blogging, which is really engaged in with a fairly limited scope of people. But I do get information from the internet and from people with all types of view points. Try looking up global warming, as I did last night. You get cooks and crazies as well as scientists on both sides who all have very legit looking websites. It is awesome to get all that, but I don't feel there is a way for me to dscourse with those people to change their mind or to have my mind changed. It is merely information gathering.
On the sites where info sharing is possible, it is hard to tell who is real and who is not and what is just a scam, at times.
But overall I think the internet broadens minds, gives good info, and give us interesting things to talk about at the water cooler, like the dog that saved the other dog who had been hit by a car from traffic, or the hawks nest that has a web cam at the Franklin Institute. All cool stuff for discussion. (we know better than to discuss politics or the economy too loudly at my work! )

brd said...

How about Wikipedia? That is public discourse on a very high educational level. And all of the information comes from us!! Sure, our info gets the boot when it is incorrect. That's the beauty of it. I know a guy who put bogus info up. It was gone in a flash. Incredibly good. I've tracked other stuff, little errors. Fixed within hours. Yet the basic information available comes from contributors like you and me.

So it is more than just getting information. It is being about to provide information too.