It’s funny how sometimes a repeat of the same action can bring new insight into a subject that is only loosely related. I got a Twitter account today, you can follow me @kirksminutia. I’ve created a lot of accounts for a number of services over the years, it was not my first time. I even had to create one to write this blog, it’s a rather trivial action. The first thing I did was follow a couple of friends and some of the more prominent people I’d like to keep up to date with on the off chance they might link something interesting, as well as my favorite YouTuber. In other words, people I like.
The internet allows us to do that – find other people who share the same interests and connect to build what we define with the very suburban term “communities”. It is clean and attractive. Get online, share, make friends, engage, move the world we’re told. And it does work. If Egypt, Lybia and Tunisia taught us anything, it’s that it does work. The last century’s advances in communication and transportation technology are arguably the most important changes in the way we live our lives since the first city, or fire.
We cluster together in groups large or small and allow our ideas to brew and grow without interference. It’s so often a case of one figure preaching to the choir which in turn, knowingly and willingly or not, sends out missionaries to attract more followers and the thing grows like an amoeba. We call it the internet but it’s not a neat and organised fisherman’s net. It’s a mess of bird’s nests made of fishing line. You know, the kind that whales choke on. In fact the DNS system is built in exactly that way. Small networks with lots of internal connections use a much smaller number of connections to tie in to other networks.
Whether it’s gaming communities, some comedian’s Twitter feed or 4chan and Anonymous, this is the pervasive nature of the web. In fact if all of these were jihadists, the CIA would call them cells.
Why do I think they are the same? Well let’s take the “freedom of religion” vs “freedom from religion” argument that has come to the fore in the US in recent years. I have my own opinion that I may discuss (read “tell you about”) in a future post. Both crowds have been “sharing” and “engaging” and “moving the world” among themselves for decades writing books and posting inspirational jpegs on Facebook day after day. There is no real discussion (not that I think the contention even deserves one) and people like Rush Limbaugh and Richard Dawkins are always constantly preaching to the choir. One is a radio host and the other is an academic, you would think the distinction would be quite clear but they are both equally dismissive about the other group in their rhetoric. Book titles include things like “Evolution debunked” and “The God Delusion”, clearly not aimed at convincing the opponent of the error of his thought process but rather a collection of argumentative ammunition for the masses to use against each other. This behavior does not foster dialogue – it breeds intolerance.
It is the same kind of tribalism that pits Call of Duty players against Battlefield fans. Wowheads versus Eve capsuleers. Muslims versus… well everybody. Romanians versus Magyars and the list can go on. Neither group is willing to actively put themselves in the other’s place without the prejudice of a foregone conclusion and the flaming continues on bulletin boards, forums, twitter, facebook, you name it. All these labels do is make people forget they are individuals and the Internet turns slowly but surely from a place where ideas are put out in the open for everyone to see and consider to one where they are increasingly more radical and intolerant.
This is why my favorite website is Wikipedia. A place where knowledge comes first. Your university professor will chide you for listing it as a source. He’s right, you shouldn’t, any idiot can change an article there, but at the same time every article is peer reviewed and constantly revised. You should never blindly trust it. Instead check on it on more than one occasion, some things may have changed, look for statements that are referenced, check the source, is it trustworthy? That is a decision you will have to take for yourself, on your own, with your own judgement. Intellectual responsability is a part of being a mature human being, be one and quit trolling.