Twitter is useful – Highways England, Avon and Somerset Police and Devon and Somerset Fire Service are diligent in “tweeting” updates regarding traffic jams, road conditions and accidents. Having Twitter also means being able to follow real time progress by Yeovil Town Football Club and Somerset County Cricket Club. Having Twitter, it costs no effort to follow the tweets of various news outlets and political organisations, and a further indulgence is to subscribe to the Twitter feeds of favourite writers and columnists.
The problem is there is so much stuff. To read one fraction of what is posted, to click on the links shared, would absorb every spare moment, and that is only following a limited number of feeds on one social media platform. How do people find time to engage across a number of platforms? It must require a strictly disciplined selectivity. Even without the social media, to attempt to follow a tiny proportion of the sites on the World Wide Web would be an impossible enterprise.
Inevitably, the spreading of one’s attention across more and more sources inevitably means it is spread thinner and thinner, knowledge of subjects becomes shallower and shallower. Reading a Wikipedia entry seems deeper research than the level of understanding demonstrated in some online discussions, forceful reassertions of arbitrary statements passes as debate.
The paradox of the World Wide Web seems to be that rather than it exposing people to many and varied cross-pressures, that would test assumptions and challenge world views, it has facilitated the retreat of people into online cul-de-sacs. People will search for those things which affirm them in their views, they will interact with those who share similar opinions, and they will block those who would challenge their prejudices. The online world has become a place of anti-science. Instead of people forming arguments that are moderated and reformulated on the basis of empirical evidence, they reject suggestions that would question or raise doubts about what they believe.
Much of the Internet seems filled with material that would have found no reputable publisher in former times. It takes little effort to establish a website and to post stories that would otherwise not get a hearing.
The process is irreversible. Even if one could monitor all of the social media platforms and track all of the websites, refutation of what one posted would be dismissed as “fake news.” Information overload allows falsity to multiply. It is much safer just to follow Football and cricket scores.
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