Pressing Issues

There are lots of ways of looking at personality. We have more models, tests, frameworks, and metaphors than we know what to do with, all designed to tell us what makes us tick and how we work. No matter how you measure it, though, I always seem to come up as a big-picture information addict. One of my biggest personal side projects for the past several years has been creating a plausible ‘history’ of the next thirty years. Projecting current trends, technologies, and social structures into the future for fun. I’ve learned a lot and spent a lot of time pondering the ways our cultures and structures work together. I’m certainly not the first person to spot most issues, but I do spend a heck of a lot of time thinking about them once I do spot ‘em.

One issue that’s been nagging me lately is the problem of information filtering. At a technical/convenience level, the net is awesome for news junkies. Whether you want raw news from the wire, commentary from political sites, investigavite reporting from established newspapers, fact-checking from independent bloggers, news aggregation from portal sites, or discussions with friends about important issues, you can find it and find it fast.

What I do with this access, though, is important. I can consciously choose to expose myself to new and differrent ideas, opposing perspectives, and information that will force me to grow and question my own assumptions. Alternately, I can easily surround myself with a tailored cloud of news and opinions that fits my interests and my worldview. Even if my ideas are bizarrely isolated from the mainstream, dangerously flawed, and transparently untrue, the net allows me to nestle comfortably into an artificial world where ‘Everyone’ agrees with me.

Token dissenters may invade my mix of message boards, blogs, discussion lists, newspapers, and so on. But that just convinces me that I’m open minded while I sit in my philosophical echo-chamber. As my like-minded friends and I sit in our circle and talk, favorable rumors are elevated to Fact, and troublesome facts are dismissed as ugly rumors.

This isn’t a right/left issue, a christian/atheist issue, an indie/pop issue… It’s a human issue. In the past, the number o finformation sources was small enough, and our ability to transparently pick, choose, and filter was limited enough that we had to see others’ views. If we ignored them, it was conscious rather than transparent.

This year’s presidential campaign hints at the phenomenon. Polling data suggests that fewer voters than ever are undecided – people either strongly support Bush or strongly oppose him, with a sliver-thin middle ground. An increasing number of issues in our culture are looking that way, and I believe the ability to compartmentalize our exposure to other worldviews is making it more and more of a problem every day.

What do we do?

I don’t know the answer – all of the tools that bring people together these days can be part of the problem, too. In the long term, I think it could be one of the biggest problems facing our society.

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