Writing for the New York Times, Robert B. Reich posits that “…[w]e increasingly live in hermetically sealed ideological zones that are almost immune to compromise or nuance. Internet algorithms and the proliferation of media have let us surround ourselves with opinions that confirm our biases.“ This trend, according to Reich, fosters inequality and threatens social cohesion. Even as we surround ourselves with like-minded people through social media, we close our minds to those with different views, bolstered as we are by our neighbors who not only share our views, but magnify them.
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project draws different conclusions. Recent research findings suggest that “…there is little validity to concerns that people who use SNS [social networking sites] experience smaller social networks, less closeness, or are exposed to less diversity. [...] Americans have more close social ties than they did two years ago. And they are less socially isolated. We found that the frequent use of Facebook is associated with having more overall close ties.
Facebook users are more trusting than similar Americans. MySpace users have a greater propensity to take multiple viewpoints. Facebook users have more social support, and they are much more politically engaged compared with Americans of a similar age and education. The likelihood of an American experiencing a deficit in social support, having less exposure to diverse others, not being able to consider opposing points of view, being untrusting, or otherwise being disengaged from their community and American society generally is unlikely to be a result of how they use technology…“
I agree in part with both views. I have witnessed the benefits accrued through social media sharing and access to seemingly unlimited information via the Internet. I’ve also noted how immersing oneself in a tsunami of categorized information can overwhelm and confuse, can isolate the individual from others, “confirming our biases”.
Throughout history, technology has changed the way humans interact with the world. We now live in a world where mobile digital technology is everywhere, providing more access to information than ever before. It remains to be seen whether access to seemingly unlimited information is actually helping us learn and solve complex problems, or ultimately creating more difficulty and confusion for individuals and societies by offering content overload that is not always meaningful, but may serve to isolate us from others.