Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Groupthink in the Internet Age

"No matter how hard people tried to interact only with like thinkers, no matter how hard they worked to keep their children free from diverse views, neighbors nearly always ruined this Utopian scheme." -Oliver DeMille

One would think that in the age of the internet, where avenues for connection and communication are increasing almost daily, that the rough edges of human nature would be quickly spun smooth by deeper understanding among the populace. If there is anything one desires to know, it is written down somewhere on the internet. There are millions of blogs which cover anything a person might be interested in, and numerous mainstream social networking sites through which to find the perfect match.

Unfortunately, the ability to access limitless information does not guarantee that limitless information will be accessed. So, in fact, the opposite of what one might suppose to be true in theory, is actually true in reality. The problem is fear of change, resulting in an aversion to contrary information, stemming from an unwillingness to change oneself. When nothing changes, the illusions of stability and security is easier to believe. It is comforting to be in equilibrium, so we naturally desire to remain blissfully ignorant of information contrary to our perceived balance.

Therefore, given a library of limitless information, most people will automatically seek out information that is in accordance with what they already believe, and reject or avoid information that is contrary to their beliefs. The internet also makes this process very convenient. In the interest of speeding information to the individual on the "information superhighway" numerous strategies for previewing or filtering possible information exist. The result is that instead of a blending effect on public awareness, deep divisions are created as groups master the ability to draw new readers, viewers, players, etc.

Without real interaction, virtual interaction gives a person a "safe" way to avoid all deeper understanding. It is impossible to confront someone online. Prior to this virtual world, people physically lived together in communities. Simple fact, I know. Consider the implications of this, though. The actions or decisions we made in our lives had to take in to account our neighbors. If some charlatan tried to pass off a scam on the community, it was likely that someone who's proven himself more trustworthy would call him out. In the virtual world, however, the charlatan can effectively exclude those "naysayers" from the group altogether.

So without self-mastery or self-leadership, the individual tends to get sucked into groupthink. A charismatic leader who knows his beliefs well, can easily lead a herd to the slaughter. With self-mastery, however, the discovery of new information requires a decision to accept or reject based upon the level of truth contained therein—rather than on a momentary feeling. In order to avoid being "swept away", someone seeking self-mastery would proactively seek out challenging new information in order to make a rational decision before it is presented with emotional fervor.

Like many things worth doing, people still need a self-interested reason to do them. No one becomes passionate about challenging information overnight. The question is: what is on the other side of confusion for you? What would your life be like if you were enlightened?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! This is an awesome article and clipping it for my research.