A little over two years ago, I wrote a long piece on this, but it is worth revisiting in 1/10th the words. Let’s look at two things that have happened over the past 100 years.
One, the speed at which information is transferred has increased. First daily news, then radio, then TV, and now the internet. The speed of information transfer is now only constrained by our brain’s ability to produce or consume it (and the speed of light).
Second, the ability to create information has been democratized. This part is more recent. While the internet itself helped, it’s only been the past few years with the rise of social media that any voice can get out there and reach meaningful numbers of people.
Taken together though, democratization and speed cause an increase both in volume and in volatility. Volume is easy to understand. Volatility is meant in a mathematical sense – as you would calculate the volatility of a stock market. Put simply, there is a larger range of information than ever before. Today’s political polarization in the U.S. is a microcosm of this, where you basically have two sides seeing different facts, stories, et cetera.
This increase in volatility is pretty obviously a really bad thing if left unchecked. At best we’d end up with deep fractures in society, at worst, we’d have wars between or within countries.
We can fix this through one (or a combo) of three channels: innovation, cultural self-regulation, government regulation. In the two years since I wrote the piece, I do think we’re seeing crude attempts at all three: tech giants creating censorship algorithms, mobs silencing voices they disagree with, and governments (outside the U.S.) regulating speech.
If you are interested in thinking more about this, check out the original piece and let me know what you think!