Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Internet and the Perils of Democracy

Reflections on SOPA and PIPA

It took me a while to get into facebook, but since becoming only partially employed I have time to read various articles friends have posted. A lot of them are written by professional journalists. Many of them are just blogs written by who knows whom. The amazing thing is, the blog posts feel just as authoritative as anything published by a news corporation.

The internet has demonstrated that the power of the written word is not actually in the supposed authority of the institution publishing it (New York Times, Chicago Sun, etc.), but in the author's ability to persuade. The internet is helping us face the shocking, frightening fact that the people in charge (the ones who write congressional bills and newspaper editorials and economics text books) are oftentimes not any smarter or more knowledgeable or better equipped to make decisions than many of the smart people you know in person.

A blog post by an intelligent "nobody" who's done the research may, in fact, carry more weight (be more persuasive) than an article on the NPR website. This makes the internet an incredible tool for democracy because it encourages the free flow of ideas and opinions regardless of what the-powers-that-be would like to disseminate as the prevailing "knowledge." And this is why SOPA and PIPA are such a horrifying possibility.

But I also feel like pointing out here: democracy doesn't work very well. Because most people are not very good at vetting their sources of information. They just find someone who's saying what they want to hear and don't bother to think critically about their opinions or do any real research.

The internet really is an amazing gift, but it's one that is often squandered. I feel that as a populace, we Americans have proven that we don't deserve the gift of democracy. We, the people, don't deserve to be the ruling class. The thing is, our elected officials have proven the same thing. We've elected people who are truly representative of us: not fit to rule.

So often I try to think about politics and eventually break down and say "AUUGH, it's all a big huge mess and there is no way to fix it" ... which is true. But I would be disappointed in myself if that was how I ended this post.

There is no way of fixing things ... people are lazy and stubborn and the internet will always be wasted on those who just use it to puff themselves up with hot air. But I can be part of the countering tide, those who use the internet to become better citizens.

And I can be numbered among those who appreciated the gift of the internet enough to call my congressperson and my senators and fight the misguided, idiotic, unconstitutional legislation that is threatening the freedom of the press.

(I can also enjoy the 50 Brilliant Fan-Made Re-Mixes, Mash-ups, and Supercuts That Will Be Strictly Prohibited under SOPA while they are still available.)

1 comment:

rnewhouse said...

Brilliant post Virgie. It reminds me of the famous quote:

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." -Sir Winston Churchill

You are right, people are not good at vetting their sources; they tend to listen to the loudest voice rather than the one that makes the most sense. Still controlling the flow of knowledge on the internet can only make it worse.