Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Wonders of Modern Communications

Reading the samizdata blog yesterday, I came across a wonderful article by Brian Micklethwait, regarding the Internet and the fact that politics has now become an entirely global affair; the events in any particular country can now be relayed right across the globe, and it does not take a significant amount of effort to become knowledgeable fairly quickly on any given subject. One of the joys I have found is that I am capable of reading all sorts of articles regarding the American election - a huge advantage over the British coverage, which I find generally narrow-minded in scope and full of the typical misconceptions of Europeans regarding America.

Of course, the wonders of the Internet go far beyond this, as I was remarking with a friend tonight. The friend was on his year abroad in Germany; instant messenger services allow me to keep in a far more direct contact with him than would otherwise be possible. Yes, the art of the letter may be disappearing, and lamentably so, but the trade-off for this is a much richer base of knowledge and contact at our fingertips.

The article to which I was referring earlier suggests that this may be a bad thing - to paraphrase his argument, whilst all of us now can have some sort of global perspective, this can lead to the formation of self-contained communities. As I argued in my last post, the coalescence of groups bound by narrow perceptions is almost always dangerous. Views need to be challenged to make them valid; without challenge, small errors cannot be picked up, nor can ways of improvement. For this reason I usually find myself playing Devil's Advocate if consensus emerges - last night, for example, I decided to put up strongly anti-hunting arguments with pro-hunting friends of mine. Whilst I broadly sympathised with them (I have no time for hunting, but I do not think the government needs to waste its time legislating for it. The actions of pro-hunt protestors, however, are making me less and less convinced we should be wasting our time repealing the legislation too) it is all too easy to fall into the trap of listening only to people who agree with you, and ignoring arguments such as the fine disregard many hunters show for the rights of landowners. Or indeed the rights of the fox - rather than simply controlling fox numbers, I have heard from many reliable sources that they are beginning to trap the foxes and release them specifically for the hunt.

In any case, I digress. The thing is, the point being made by Micklethwait in his article is simultaneously a curse and a blessing. Yes, it allows people to move in narrow circles. Yet at the same time it opens up a vastly wide range of resources and forums for discussion; allowing the challenges I described earlier as necessary. Of course, I don't advocate living life solely through a computer, and challenging the ideas down at the pub or wherever is just as important. A local as well as a global perspective on events is needed. This is the benefit of the Internet - we can now be far more informed than ever before when we actually take these matters to a closer discussion.

I am convinced of the benefits of travel. I think the more that we meet other people, especially from different backgrounds, the more our own views are challenged, the more respectful of other cultures we become. And in many ways, the Internet is just a simplified form of travel. Not as interesting; nowhere near the same excitement. Just being in a different place, often even thinking about being in a different place, energises me in a strange and peculiar way. But if you cannot afford the expense of getting out and experiencing those cultures and meeting different people; the Internet is a brilliant, if impersonal substitute. As with all things, be aware of its limitations and its effects will mostly be for the good.

PS Sorry for the seeming vagueness of this post. One of the points of the blog is that it allows me to develop my own ideas - given comments and time, and this may well be re-written or I will visit the same topic again.