The true test of the democratic value of the internet is not how many more people can sound-off, but how many more people can contemplate and engage in thoughtful debate.
The democratization of media through the internet is a good theory, however, the overall anecdotal results suggest more people are simply talking to more like-minded people. Few, if any citizen posts on the internet are for thoughtful debate and in fact, the nature of the medium itself has produced a lot of partisan yelling, sarcasm, and abuse.
Thus, the hope and optimism for the internet to continue to raise awareness of worthy causes is only a partial understanding of its influence, because it is also contributing to a deeper segregation in our society.
The limitations for traditional media are well documented, and the live or die struggles we are experiencing now are proof only the strongest survive. There is evidence too that this is a time for a wider recognition of the limitations of the internet as a medium. Its most striking limitation is also its greatest strength -- and that is the low, to no barrier for entry. On one hand, anyone can speak their mind, on the other hand, this freedom begets a degree of mindlessness.
The most integral parts of communication with one another have been built on objectivity, empathy, and reasoning. The democratization claims for the internet are incompatible, and at best naive without consideration of the deep divides the internet creates.
As a book publisher, I am saddened to see a greater number of non-fiction books conceding objectivity and honesty to partisan rankling. Some of this is due to the pitfalls of a media market driven toward targeting niche audiences: sell knitting books to knitters, conservative books to conservatives, liberal books to liberals.
Objectivity, once the crown jewel of most respected media companies, continues to erode and all of us, providers and consumers of media, are responsible for it. A shift toward mindful professional standards in the media with requires acknowledging and competing with the avalanche of under-sourced and under-resourced democratized citizens of the internet.
This single differentiation on self-controlled objectivity is central to books and other traditional media marketing themselves back to their vital place as purveyors dedicated to revealing truth.
It is fine that self-aggrandizing internet communications exists, just recognize it as such. Recognize that much of it is no more a democratization of free speech than screaming "fire" in a crowded theater is.
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