In this video, Stephanie Jesper looks at how the growth of the internet expanded our horizons and our opportunities.
Our horizons have been broadened. Whereas once the limits of our social world were largely set by how far we could realistically travel in a day – to the nearest city and home in time for tea – we now carry access to a whole planet full of people in our pocket.
Take the very page you’re on now. You’re reading this alongside hundreds of other MOOC students from across the globe, and below the line there’s the chance to discuss what you’ve read with them, share a breadth of perspectives, and learn from that engagement.
This newfound breadth of community inevitably has implications for our wider world. File-sharing communities like Napster
gave us instant access to so many records that they, and their legal successors such as Spotify
, have pretty much destroyed record collecting as we once knew it, undoubtedly taking some of the fun with it. Having access to so much stuff is what we always dreamed of (and let’s face it, we’d be lost without it these last few months), but it’s not as rewarding as spending years trying to find something and eventually tracking a copy down. Perhaps all this stuff is too much of a good thing? Or perhaps we just need to find new outlets for old passions. Later this week, we’ll explore how engagement with culture has changed due to digital technologies.
As a librarian at heart, I’m bound to consider it a good thing that our access to information and opportunity has increased: information has all-too-often been a commodity insufficiently shared in the past (knowledge is power and all that); opportunity has been the preserve of the rich. You now no-longer have to be the only person you know who feels the way you do, or is interested in the things you are. Somewhere out there someone else feels the same way.
But just as I might find fellow Doctor Who
fans online, so it is that someone with less innocent interests might also find validation: communities of crime, of violence, or of hate. There’s strength in numbers but that strength can be abused.
There’s also the echo chamber
to consider: a supportive community is hugely valuable, but it’s all too easy to exist within a social media monoculture: a distorting bubble, un-pricked by other perspectives. If all that you see online is Doctor Who, then it’s easy to assume that everyone loves (or hates, or at least has a strong opinion about) Doctor Who. Extended to political terms, this can be a recipe for disaster: “nobody would vote for x
”; “everybody can see that y
Just as we can be liberated by our reflective communities, we can also be besieged by echoing paranoia. Indeed, each can feed the other. One of our greatest challenges in this world, virtual or physical, is differentiating the real from the imagined. The opportunities of our virtual world for exploring the limits of our identity have done nothing to ease this distinction – they may even have exacerbated the problem – but that doesn’t mean we should deny those opportunities; rather we must remember that with great power comes great responsibility!