Jump to content

Polarized: No new information, no desire to understand


Recommended Posts

I read a post this morning via Brad DeLong then through an article shared by Andrew Sullivan that sent me to a post by Julian Sanchez that struck a chord with me. They are discussing the state of online interactions with people.

 

In short, it's not very frequently anymore that people seem to come into discussion threads or comments sections to bring any new information, nor do they seem too often to arrive with a desire to understand the position of the "other side" or explore whether or not it's worth changing their mind based on the information available.

 

Nowadays, folks are so busy (whether consciously or unconsciously) reinforcing their personal echo chamber that they begin to lose sight of the fact that there is another way to view the world... to lose sight of the fact that the person reading their post on the other end of that computer is a real human being with real feelings.

 

 

Here are some relevant bits from the Sanchez piece. This is how it begins:

 

There’s a widespread sense—of debatable historical accuracy, but widespread all the same—that we’re living in an era of especially pronounced political polarization, with a correspondingly poor ratio of tribal slogan slinging to meaningful democratic deliberation. One possible explanation for this is that the massive explosion of our media ecosystem makes it increasingly possible for us to construct ideologically congenial “filter bubbles” that provide us a rich enough stream of information to occupy all our available media consumption time. There are so many blogs, publications, podcasts, radio programs, Twitter feeds, and radio broadcasts that we can have a superficial impression of great variety, while only ever encountering information tailored to reinforce our preexisting worldview—conditions under which we know the median member of the group tends to adopt more extreme views over time. Our filter algorithms, as Eli Pariser argues at the link above, are increasingly doing this for us automatically, so that we may not even be aware of the echo chambers we’re constructing around ourselves.

 

 

Sanchez continues by sharing how the vitriol is magnified in some important ways, ways not previously seen by anyone other than the most famous or prominent public voices, and that the tone and tenor get especially vulgar if you happen to be female:

 

Any commenter on politics or public affairs whose audience reaches a certain size gets a level of feedback—via email, Twitter, blog posts and comments—that would have been unthinkable for any but the few most prominent public intellectuals a generation ago. Much of it is insightful and constructive. A whole lot spans the gamut from rude and ill-informed to semi-literate and vulgar. If the pundit is a woman, multiply that latter category by 10 and add a heaping spoonful of unsolicited sexual fantasies.

 

I think he's right. I've seen it myself in multiple arenas, whether it be more science based blogs, theistic or atheistic sites, or the usual politics or climate change discussions.

 

Sanchez concludes:

 

If the type and volume of criticism we find online were experienced in person, we’d probably think we were witnessing some kind of est/Maoist reeducation session designed to break down the psyche so it could be rebuilt from scratch. The only way not to find this overwhelming and demoralized over any protracted period of time is to adopt a reflexive attitude that these are not real people whose opinions matter in any way. Which, indeed, seems to be a pretty widespread attitude. Scan the comments at one of the more partisan political blogs and you get a clear sense that the “other side” consists not so much of people with different ideas, but an inscrutable alien species. I think it’s self-evident that this is an unhealthy development in a democracy, but it may be a coping strategy that our media ecosystem is forcing on us—at least until we find a better one.

 

In Brads words, "Most of the trolls who show up in my comments section aren't trying to bring information to the party or to understand what I am saying. They are engaged in a different task--a troop-rallying anti-discursive project. Most of time, if you want to (and have the time), you can shock them back into reality by asking the Hilzoy question: "I am a person. Why are you saying this to me?" But time is limited."

 

It just seems so sad and unnecessary. Tribalism writ large and us/them as the status quo.

 

 

What do you think? Are things worse than ever before?

Is this just another version of something that has always occurred?

Is this just the way things are going to be given the hyperconnected world where we exist and can self-select our sources of information?

 

Is there a way to make things better? Should we bother trying?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Things are polarized, but people have not made effort for understanding and making things better for a long time, just look at how Republicans use to view global warming. Then there was the whole Cold War where people in Russia thought everyone in the US was a bunch of greedy pigs and everyone in the US thought everyone in Russia was a bunch of mindless slaves to their dictator. Then there was of course religious wars and things like the Crusades.

If anything the internet helps against this because people can share their points of view more easily. There's also college too with their philosophy classes.

Edited by questionposter
Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually after doing some more research, I did find a good point which is that "people can pick and chose their personal resources", such as that conservatives may only visit Fox News, but I don't see what they would do differently without the internet. Without the internet, they would watch Fox news, and without TV they would listen to speeches by conservative or Republican candidates.

In fact, before the invention of all these communication devices, people didn't even know what the person they were voting for looked like, JFK even won because he appeared on TV instead of only on the radio, where many radio-listeners said Nixon won the debates and that JFK sounded like a weasle, but people on TV could see than Nixon looked nervous and that JFK looked confident and said JFK won the debates.

http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=kennedy-nixon

Link to post
Share on other sites

High-speed electronic communication makes information dissemination easier, but is also insulating. There's the audience self-filtering as described, but also since it's not face-to-face you write or say things that you would never do in a one-on-one conversation, or if you were among a general crowd. It's safe to do, however, when you are sheltered from backlash. The heat gets turned up because the feedback that might regulate it has been attenuated.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have to agree that the ease of communication with people you have never met and for whom you don't sense responsibility has been, for me, a novelty and something of a cultural shock.

On a forum such as this which is largely asking questions and seeking answers then probably it is too easy to be dogmatic and arrogant.

I have, quite rightly, been "hauled over the coals" for this very thing. It made me think!

Link to post
Share on other sites

At least in the Netherlands, people have always had means to block alternative sources of information. Historically, people belonged to a so-called pillar of a certain ideology. We had a Protestant, Catholic, socialist and liberal pillar. They all had their own newspapers, their own tv-channels, radiostations. Since people often lived geograpically separated, either in different parts of the country, or at least different neighborhoods, they did not share ideas much.

 

Similarly, historically in the UK, the political parties also had their own highly subjective newspapers. The papers were mostly either Whig or Tory (Labour didn't even exist yet).

 

So, I conclude that it hasn't changed so much.

 

The major change is perhaps that problems have become global... and this means that the problems are very complicated, and therefore most people (including myself) do not understand all the aspects, and cannot see a good solution. So, this in turn means that the solution to a problem is subjective, not objective. And that means people will just troll about it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

What do you think? Are things worse than ever before?

Is this just another version of something that has always occurred?

Is this just the way things are going to be given the hyperconnected world where we exist and can self-select our sources of information?

 

Is there a way to make things better? Should we bother trying?

 

I'd like to leave an interesting TED talk video here for your enjoyment on what might be a leading contributor to this polarization. Online "filter bubbles", just as your first quote touches on, really are separating the masses into camps autonomously.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang/en//id/1091

 

I think things are a bit worse than they were before. Going back to when people read newspapers regularly, they would read the articles that resonated with them and skip those that didn't. The difference I think, is that they would at least see the opinions of others that disagreed with them on those same pages. Even if you didn't fully comprehend or even respect the opinions of those with whom you didn't agree, you at least had a higher level of exposure to them. It's much harder to feel absolute in your opinion when you see a plethora of dissenting opinions to the contrary. When the internet browsing public hunkers down in their RSS feed holes, they only get what they signed up for. Granted, some people go out of their way to seek moderate, or even opposite opinions, but this seems far and away to be the minority.

 

I'm not sure how easy it could be to "fix" this sort of problem. Perhaps some form of voluntary ratings system that catalogs what articles/videos you've read and calculates your "information bias" rating. You could have a community rating system that categorizes content based on political leaning, as well as the extreme nature of the source.

 

As a hypothetical example: If you find a user that has a moderate conservative rating and his sources are generally mixed on the conservative scale, but only extreme on the liberal side, you might be able to better understand that this user probably isn't getting a balanced understanding of the liberal opinions out there. The users themselves can also look at this rating and realize that maybe they should change their reading habits as a way of bolstering their credibility. As shallow as that sounds, this is precisely the behavior that one would hope to achieve from such a system.

 

What do you think?

 

 

Been a while, so go a little easy on me ;)

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd like to leave an interesting TED talk video here for your enjoyment on what might be a leading contributor to this polarization. Online "filter bubbles", just as your first quote touches on, really are separating the masses into camps autonomously.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang/en//id/1091

First, it's nice seeing you. I hope things are well on your end, and I was glad to see you posting in this thread.

Second, what a fantastic video! I hadn't even considered how algorithms play a role in this. My thinking was limited to self-selection and choice, but that effect is only magnified by technology.

 

 

I think things are a bit worse than they were before.

I tend to agree, but then when I read biographies and histories for times before the civil war I realize it was intensely bad then, and todays divisions may pale in comparison. I just don't know. I know I'd like things to be better, though, and I'd like to hear thoughts from others and what they think.

 

I'm not sure how easy it could be to "fix" this sort of problem. Perhaps some form of voluntary ratings system that catalogs what articles/videos you've read and calculates your "information bias" rating.

I like this idea. It could be a bit like the spicyness rating at Mexican restaurants... This dish is 2 chilies, and this other dish is 5 chilies, while this third dish is vegan... That sort of thing.

 

My concern, TBH though, is that it might make the situation worse. "I'm not reading this blog, he's a 8 on the conservative scale," or "I refuse to go to her party, she's a 12 on the liberal spectrum." It's one of those situations where the intent of the rating is good, but the way it is likely to be used in practice could be self-defeating. Maybe I'm too pessimistic, though.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I always enjoy hearing well-formed arguments that run counter to the way I perceive things. The best of them stop me in my tracks and at least make me refine my own perspective, if not incorporate them as part of my understanding of the big picture.

 

Most of the time, I can empathize with the sentiments that come from dissenting perspectives. They aren't always that far off from my own perspective, they just attack from a direction that seems counter-intuitive to me. Like the perspective that public welfare is bad because it's exploited by those who really don't need it, while few would actually withhold public welfare from those who truly do.

 

I think what bothers me most these days is the criticism that attempts to widen the brushstrokes I normally try so very hard to keep covering just the points I wish to make. I get frustrated having to reiterate that complaints about a specific area aren't condemnations of the system as a whole. If I criticize big corporations for taking unfair advantage of political clout while hiding behind the mantle of economic independence and free-market policies, I get accused of being against capitalism as a whole. It's frustrating when you say what you mean and then have to correct someone else's interpretation based on what they want to think you mean.

 

I'd like to leave an interesting TED talk video here for your enjoyment on what might be a leading contributor to this polarization. Online "filter bubbles", just as your first quote touches on, really are separating the masses into camps autonomously.

http://www.ted.com/t...ang/en//id/1091

Thanks for this. Convenience and personalization are things I'm becoming more and more leery about. It's a Pandora's Box with pretty wrapping paper that just begs to be opened, often at too big a price. +1

 

I'm not sure how easy it could be to "fix" this sort of problem. Perhaps some form of voluntary ratings system that catalogs what articles/videos you've read and calculates your "information bias" rating. You could have a community rating system that categorizes content based on political leaning, as well as the extreme nature of the source.

 

As a hypothetical example: If you find a user that has a moderate conservative rating and his sources are generally mixed on the conservative scale, but only extreme on the liberal side, you might be able to better understand that this user probably isn't getting a balanced understanding of the liberal opinions out there. The users themselves can also look at this rating and realize that maybe they should change their reading habits as a way of bolstering their credibility. As shallow as that sounds, this is precisely the behavior that one would hope to achieve from such a system.

I think even bringing the problem into the light is a step in the right direction. I seriously wonder how many people would look at a rating system like this and suddenly realize there really is a problem with the way they've been viewing the opinions of others. But you're right, many might change their habits or at least be exposed to dissenting opinion and I don't think that's ever going to be a bad thing.

Link to post
Share on other sites
No new information, no desire to understand
Is this really about the desire to understand or is it more the desire to accept? In most conversations that I'm in that have a high number of people that oppose my view points, I don't feel that there is a need for my understanding, but rather a need for my acceptance of their view points. And while I know that I'm as guilty as anyone, about that in particular, I don't feel that it's necessary to call it something other than what it is. When people are exposed to alternate points of view, it doesn't necessarily mean that peoples view points will change. Some might, depending on their willingness for change, but that is a whole other subject. Generally when people dismiss a conversation for the reason that, "someone is not open to their point of view", I tend to think the real reason is because that person wasn't open to accepting their point of view as being right, rather than any attention being placed on information.

 

 

Also:

Our filter algorithms, as Eli Pariser argues at the link above, are increasingly doing this for us automatically, so that we may not even be aware of the echo chambers we’re constructing around ourselves.
this reminds me of the thread about reality, "What's real, how does anybody know, etc...?" One of those could be's, but isn't provable.

 

Everyone automatically listens to more of the information that supports their world view. And why shouldn't they? The greatest leaders in history have built upon their view of what the world should be. And did they get that view strictly from themselves or those that think like they did? They had to have heard other views that contradicted their own because most were highly educated. I guess what I'm thinking of here is that I see nothing wrong with someone having a firm world view, getting information from those who support that view, and not changing that view because someone else has a different one. It seems this Sanchez fella thinks that political polarization would be different depending on the type of media the masses are exposed to, but as iNow touched on with the polarization during the civil war, I think it is more about what the issue is and the view points of those involved. Although I can see where the information available might sway someone according to their pre-world-view, I don't think it is a deciding factor in subscribing to one view or another.

 

Kinda like this example from Saryctos:

As a hypothetical example: If you find a user that has a moderate conservative rating and his sources are generally mixed on the conservative scale, but only extreme on the liberal side, you might be able to better understand that this user probably isn't getting a balanced understanding of the liberal opinions out there.
Does anyone think that someone with an extreme liberal view is not getting the right balance of conservative understanding? Or visa versa? Do extreme animal lovers not go hunting enough? I mean, the idea is plausible to some degree, but I still can't see how it is a determining factor on the levels of ones extremism. Does that make any sense?
Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.