Fear Not the Internet

The Internet’s initial impacts on civilization are still unfolding and remain poorly understood. Yet its two most immediate impacts are indisputable. Namely, it has dramatically increased both the connectivity of people and the ability of people to create and share information. The increase in new information has meant that “the public sphere” has both grown larger and become more filled with erroneous ideas than it ever was before, such that people now encounter many more erroneous ideas per day than they ever have in history. And yet people’s enhanced connectivity has simultaneously enabled much more criticism and error correction of the information in the public sphere than was previously possible, which explains why knowledge continues to grow in our society despite the increased rate at which we are producing erroneous ideas. This dynamic’s long-term cultural effects are of course unpredictable because they involve the growth of knowledge, which itself cannot be predicted. Still, one can reasonably speculate that, because this dynamic’s internal logic resembles the logic of knowledge creation (i.e., it consists of iterative commission and correction of errors), the Internet, in the long run, will accelerate rather than impede the progress of civilization. Specifically, it may one day become clear, perhaps only with hindsight, that the Internet’s main political consequence has been a global liberalization. In other words, people may become so psychologically accustomed to having their ideas criticized and refuted, and to criticizing and refuting the ideas of others, that they consistently oppose, at the level of their intuitions, all forms of authoritarian power.

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