Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why I Don't Worry About Information Cocoons

During Tyler Cowen's EconTalk on the personal narrative meme from his new book, I began to wonder how those concerned with information cocoons will respond to TC's view. Tyler sees us taking bits and pieces of information from a variety of sources, where we weave them together to create a story that is highly specific to what interests us.

I think this idea already existed, but with a much more critical outlook. For instance, Cass Sunstein brings up his concerns that the internet will create "information cocoons" in the form of a "Daily Me." In this view, part of my personal narrative may be to consume information that only fits my preconceptions of how the world should work, while isolating myself away from information that may undermine that worldview. In principle, Cowen and Sunstein are watching the same phenomenon, and Cowen is remarking on the cultural benefits of this change, whereas Sunstein is concerned about the consequences of our personal narrative on our ability to deliberate effectively.

I think the "information cocoon" concern is a reasonable one to entertain, but in practice its consequences are equally likely to create the opposite outcome. While it is perfectly reasonable for to expect that some people will cocoon themselves off from contrasting point of views, this does not seem to be the dominate model in the blogosphere. The most popular blogs seem to be the ones where the author's view may or may not be one-sided, but they package it in the form of contrasting their views with their opponents. Granted, the opposing opinion is only being brought up so that it may be ridiculed, but the issue at hand is exposing people to contrary points of view. This post by Megan McArdle is a nice example.

At the end of the day, the real question is whether or not people expose themselves to contrary points of view more often as a result of the information age. I think they do, but comments are open if you wish to demolish this cocoon of mine.

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