THE BLOG
11/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Lots of Content Is Good for Democracy

One of the 6,387 themes in Dan Brown's new best-seller, The Lost Symbol is that God is not an external force or being, but is within each of us. The same might be said of content.

In my last blog, titled "Content Is Not King," I made the point that the explosive growth of the Internet has led to such a proliferation of content out in the long tail that it is now virtually infinite. To say that "content is king" in today's world is like saying "a grain of sand is precious."

One of the reasons for the proliferation of content is that anyone on the Internet can self-publish -- blogs, YouTube, Facebook updates and comments, Twitter, Flickr, personal Websites, and on and on. Everyone can create content and publish their views, and the surfeit of opinion creates debate and argument, which is good for the democratic process.

In 1990 historian Chris Lasch wrote an essay titled "The Lost Art of Political Argument" suggesting that the decline in participation in the political process in the U.S. correlated with the rise of professional journalism, and put forth a convincing argument as to why.

Our search for reliable information is itself guided by the questions that arise during arguments about a given course of action. It is only by subjecting our preferences and projects to the test of debate that we come to understand what we know and what we still need to learn. Until we have to defend our opinions in public, they remain opinions in [Walter] Lippmann's pejorative sense--half-formed convictions based on random impressions and unexamined assumptions. It is the act of articulating and defending our views that lifts them out of the category of "opinions," gives them shape and definition, and makes it possible for others to recognize them as a description of their own experience as well. In short, we come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.

Thus, by bloggers, journalists, and pundits creating content on the Web and elsewhere, they not only hone their own opinions, but they also add to the diversity of the debate and allow others to shape their views -- a process that leads to the wisdom of crowds.

The First Amendment wasn't written to protect facts; it was written to protect debate, and the plethora of content, argument, and debate is a good thing.

The outmoded idea that "content is king" was based primarily on its scarcity. But on the Internet, content, like all the sand on all the world's beaches, is not scarce. And this plethora of content may make gems harder it find, but the search and the ensuing debate generated by searches is good for our democracy.