The Sea of Information

Did the internet deliver exactly what was promised?

We have had the internet for decades, and everyone thought it would usher in a new era of knowledge sharing and democracy. Few predicted that it would so effectively facilitate the death of quality journalism and the rise of populism and fake news. [i won’t cite the person since this was a throwaway line and I don’t want risk a dogpile]

As far as I can tell the internet delivered exactly what everyone agreed it would back in the 90s, everyone has a voice now and a direct means of publishing their thoughts (even if their facebook friends have learned not to read it). Vastly more info is at our fingertips and we can factcheck stories in an instant for lies, but also omissions and burying of the lead, and affective manipulation.

And as a result we’ve realized the “intellectuals” and “adults in the room” have been lying to us and manipulating us the whole time.

. . .

I don’t know, I can barely remember not having the internet, maybe the 90s did expect some glorious conscienceness raising that never occurred... but from my perspective looking at Cyberpunk and 90s “break the story no one wants to hear” sci-fi....well the Internet is one of the few sci-fi predictions that totally delivered.

What do you think? am I missing something?

Our efforts to master the internet are comparable to colonial efforts to master the sea. This level of human-to-human connection across great distances was previously unprecedented and there will be new power dynamics resulting from emergent systems we couldn't have imagined existing.

We are basically information mercantilists in a world moving towards a free market of information. We want to maximize good information and minimize bad information. We have a simplistic understanding of information flow, because for most of our history, "good" information started at the top and was passed down by each level according to how beneficial its propagation would be to information authorities. The internet turned that on its head, and even though we retain as a society the feeling that "good" information comes from trusted experts, it's no longer as obvious who those experts are or what credentials even make one an expert. If we only focus on results, we bias toward the loud, spurious, and lucky, but if we focus only on alignment with understood principles then we calcify our blindspots.

A free market of information means we no longer have the bouillon of "objective" established truths to use as a lodestar, as information has different value to different people. I don't know what that means for our society long-term. My instincts are that a bit of information being true or false will become less relevant than the contextual metadata surrounding the information. "This was published in a book" used to be all you needed to know that the information conformed to certain standards and endured some level of third-party scrutiny. To be fair, we've had alternatives sources of information like magazines, newsletters, mailing lists, etc. for a while but not to the degree we have now with Twitter, the chans et al.

We're scaling up to take in all sorts information from hundreds or thousands of channels instead of just picking a few that we consider "right" and accepting everything they say. The sources of our information are important, but meta-trends between channels become much more significant that any individual exemplar.