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Shock news. Internet not all bad.


David Brooks in the New York Times has news of a
contrarian finding about the internet:

Gentzkow and Shapiro found that the
Internet is actually more ideologically integrated than
old-fashioned forms of face-to-face association – like meeting
people at work, at church or through community groups. You’re more
likely to overlap with political opponents online than in your own

This study suggests that Internet users
are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing
down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking
for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean
they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how
you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It
could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go
off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean
they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

Till now, most people had assumed that the internet was helping
people reinforce their prejudices so we would all sink into
mutually hating tribes. Maybe that’s wrong, in which case, yet
another attempt to find a the cloud behind the silver lining of
instant access to almost all ideas bites the dust.

Yesterday I met the remarkable social entrepreneur Noam
Kostiucki, founder of Seeducation, and we had a good moan about how
everybody seems to think wikipedia’s destroying students’ capacity
to learn and how in the internet age university education is still
conducted as if it was the fifteenth century. Here’sNoam’s take:

Maybe some things have changed. This
whole internet thing is AMAZING: where was I when it all happened?!
It is completely UNBELIEVABLE what is happening to our
world! It is all so… different from what I was used to,
and yet, so exciting!

I am so amazed that we can communicate
for so cheap, and that we have access to so much
information. This whole Facebook, Twitter and YouTube thing:
fantastic! Keeping track of friends even after 20 years of not
seeing each other, or getting instantenous news everywhere, or even
sharing so many fun, interesting, inspiring and ridiculous videos.
I can only say: WOW!

So I have to admit that maybe the world
IS a bit different than when I grew up… and god knows what
it will look like in 5 years, let alone 10 or 20! Now I find
it funny that we really think that we can prepare our youth the way
we were taught. I laugh so much just thinking about it! Now,
seriously, we NEED to teach them SUCH different stuff. They have no
chance in the future if we don’t prepare them…

People were just as suspicious of the first railways, as Christian Wolmar reminds us today:

Many believed a clanking smoke-belching
train would frighten the cattle, stop their hens laying and ruin
their fox hunting, as well as spoiling the view from their front


By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist