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- 7 03 2002 - 01:08 - katatonik

Internet and Democracy

“Robert Metcalfe, who invented the networking standard called Ethernet, predicted in 1995 that as more and more people tried to connect, the Internet would “go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” (Metcalfe later had the grace to literally eat his words, pureeing a copy of the column containing his prediction and choking it down before an amused audience.)”

OK, this is not the most significant, but the most amusing quote from James Fallows’ essay “He’s Got Mail”, which is an extensive review of Cass Sunstein’s book “republic.com” and the ensuing discussion in the Boston Review about the Internet and democracy (scroll down to “Is the Internet Good for Democracy?”). Sunstein argued that the Internet is dangerous for democracy, as the possibility that people filter content according to their own interests reduces their exposure to new ideas and diverse opinions. Unplanned encounters, so Sunstein, are crucial to democracy, and the Internet reduces them through filtering technology.
I probably don’t have to emphasize to my esteemed visitors that this argument is flawed, but it’s nice to read Fallow’s summary of why, and how, most others who responded to Sunstein also thought so.
Here’s the second most amusing quote from Fallow’s essay, an argument stated by Henry Jenkins:
“Some years ago, a local bank announced plans to discontinue its “Time and Temperature” service, prompting me to whimsical speculation about how this decision could lead to total anarchy. Without a means of synchronization, our clocks would gain or lose time until we drifted out of sync with each other. Workers would arrive late or leave early; teachers wouldn’t know when to end classes; participants in social and professional gatherings would stomp off impatiently when the expected party failed to arrive. Some groups of friends might create their own time zones and ignore everyone else. “


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