#3: Lead the Horse to Water…

We have a right, as an online community, to express ourselves in any way that we want, even if that means preferring to be left alone. People have the ability to connect online, view and respond to what they want, and then log off, without being bothered by anything that they would prefer not to communicate with. However, even though the convenience and privacy allowed in internet communications is expected of those who use it, some may block out too much information and only go strictly with what they want to use the internet for. Cass Sunstein talks about this issue in, Democracy and Filtering, saying that, “people are increasingly engaged in the process of personalization, limiting their exposure to topics and points of view of their own choosing” (58). This kind of mixing of privacy vs. communication can be both helpful and excommunicative, depending on what a person’s usage of the internet may be.

A familiar example of users blocking out unwanted information comes from one of the greatest annoyances on the internet: advertisements. Some users will block ads, while others will leave them visible. The people who block the ads will get to keep their privacy and be able to browse the net with ease and without disturbance. However, they may be missing out on something that could be of interest to them, and they may never know that the information existed because of this choice to privacy. They would only have themselves to blame if they miss out, but does that mean they will change their behavior of privacy and filtering just for the chance to find something they can enjoy or be enlightened by?

Sunstein writes that this control is a “danger to democracy,” because people can block off opinions of others to favor their own opinions strengthened by what they want to see online (59). However, is there possibly anything that can be done to change this danger? If the freedom to block out unwanted content were to be stripped away from those who use the internet, would people pay attention to views and opinions of those who think differently from them?  More likely than not, people would just adapt to the change and find their own ways of mentally filtering what they see in front of them. This is not a case of the internet being too open for people to block out information. People are acting the way they want to be, and many people just don’t want to bother with information that is not of importance to them, plain and simple.

Some people are open to new ideas and opposing views, especially if it strengthens their ideas further. However, we should not forget that there are, and always will be, people who will have a belief and not acknowledge the opposing view. This isn’t because of the internet’s freedom, but because of the human’s freedom to express one’s self. Those who want to expand their minds with information have the freedom to do so within their own privacy, and others (to put it bluntly) who wish to remain stubborn have the freedom to remain so.

 

References:

Sunstein, C. (2004). Democracy and filtering. Communications of the ACM, 47 (12), 57-59.

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~ by Cliff Huizenga on September 19, 2006.

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