Though this article has nothing, nothing at all, to say about
Linux, and mentions "open source" only in the context of the
technical foundations of the Internet, it should be of interest to
any media consumer and it contains observations that could prove
useful to readers here.
Drawing from the observations of Cass Sunstein, a professor of
law at the University of Chicago, the article defines "group
polarization" as the process wherein "like-minded people in an
isolated group reinforce one another's views, which then harden
into more extreme positions."
"To Mr. Sunstein, such polarization is just one of the
negative political effects of the Internet, which allows people to
filter out unwanted information, tailor their own news and
congregate at specialized Web sites that closely reflect their own
views. A "shared culture," which results partly from exposure to a
wide range of opinion, is important for a functioning democracy, he
argues. But as the role of newspapers and television news
diminishes, he wrote, "and the customization of our communications
universe increases, society is in danger of fragmenting, shared
communities in danger of dissolving."
This article centers primarily on the effects of this polarization
on American political life, but there are applications to any
sector with a diversity of views.
The easy response to Mr. Sunstein's views is to mutter "luddite"
and move on, which we see often enough when anyone raises questions
about potential abuses of (and on) the Internet. We aren't linking
to the article to provoke that response though. The more
interesting question here is how we, as a community of Linux
enthusiasts, formulate our responses and go about reacting to
negative "outside" news. It's easy to bash the "clueless mainstream
press" when they get a detail wrong, or to pull out the long knives
every time a Microsoft executive decides it's a good day to spread
a little FUD. It's also easy to embrace a position of permanent
resistance and dismiss how the rest of the world perceives things
as cluelessness or simple stupidity. It's harder to take the time
to figure out why people outside the circle of Linux enthusiasts
believe the way they do and act effectively when addressing these
After nearly a month of assorted "hot issues" coming and going:
Craig Mundie's comments and the assorted reactions to them, the
desktop debate, and now Steve Ballmer's latest provocations, it
seems worthwhile to take a little time to consider the big picture
this article offers.
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