The internet has made it possible for people around the globe to easily pass information back and forth among one another. This is taken for granted these days, but it is truly a revolutionary event. Since the dawn of civilization information spread no faster than a man could run. In the 19th century the train made this process a tiny bit faster then cars and planes made it even faster in the 20th century, but the internet puts all of us, if we choose, together in real time.
While this feels like a miraculous development for the curious and productive, it may also be a curse we are struggling to understand. The internet puts the smart, curious, and productive people together, but it also puts crazy people together. That nutty woman in the suburbs who thinks she is a psychic can now join up with other women who also think they are psychics. They can form a “community” online where they encourage and reinforce their delusions.
The apparent rise in the number of pedophiles is made possible by the ease with which these people can now associate. In the analog days, these people could not easily collaborate with one another. Those cursed this maladaptation could not easily access this material and there was high risk in trying to obtain it. The internet made it easy for these people to work together to produce and disseminate this stuff. The curious now find this material after a few clicks of a mouse.
Recency bias is the tendency to overemphasize the importance of recent experiences or the latest information when trying to understand current events. The news seems to be full of pedophiles lately, so we think it is a growing problem. The Left coming out in favor of pedophilia now certainly adds to the sense that it is a growing issue, so we have to adjust for that possibility. On the other hand, the number of cases is growing at the same time the Left is celebrating it.
In other words, when it comes to child abuse, the internet is making it easier for the pedophiles to meet one another, thus increasing the phenomenon, but the internet is also making us more aware of it. This increased awareness is made possible by people aware of this trend easily communicating the particulars. The same forces that allow the pedophiles to collaborate in their activity allows normal people to become aware of it and organized to oppose it.
Counterintuitively, the internet is tribalizing society. In the analog days, the pedophiles were a small and manageable problem. These were individuals forced to work in isolation and therefore caused the minimum of harm. Normal people could trust that the odds and the police would protect them, so they saw no need to know much about this issue or work with others to guard against it. The internet brought these people together and they formed two warring camps.
Obviously, the pedophile issue is an extreme example, but relevant due to corporate America embracing the child molesters over their customers. The same tribalizing forces unleashed by the internet are most likely at play here. The beautiful people who make corporate policy now see the Dirt People everywhere. Whenever they go online, they are confronted by Trump voters, heterosexuals, white people and all the other demons their “community” says are evil.
A part of what makes internet tribalization work is that it allows people with a minority view to interact with others holding the same view. This reinforces the belief, but also gives them the sense they are a growing community and therefore their minority view will soon be the majority view. When disconfirmation appears, these people can trust that their online pals will find a way to cope with it and thus provide them a way to not only explain it but reinforce group solidarity.
A good example of this is the recent events in the Ukraine. As events have gone against Ukraine in the war, online communities create pleasing alternative realties where their side is on the march. This guy spends all day everyday explaining to the likeminded why bad news is actually good news. This guy spends his days creating an alternative reality for the likeminded. These online communities operate like the UFO cult at the center of this famous study in the 1950’s
T. S. Eliot famously wrote “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” To some degree all of us are susceptible to escapism. We want some result, and we look for information that suggests it is happening. Some people, of course, go the other way and fear some result and look for information showing their worst fears are happening. It is two sides of the same coin and all of us are prone to it. Some people are more prone than others as belief operates on a scale like all human traits.
In the analog age, the limits placed on the flow of information left the believer in isolation unless he could physically connect with others. Joining a cult took effort, which is why so few people joined them. In the digital age, the internet is full of cults catering to every conceivable belief. Not only can you connect with thousands who hold your same hopes and fears, you can get instant confirmation that you are the good guy, and the rest of the world is the bad guy.
Of course, the internet is making us more aware of this reality. In the analog days we would have no idea that the Jewish guy across the street had a seething hatred for white people, but in this age we just look at his Twitter profile. Not knowing he hates you made it possible to not hate him. Knowing that he wants you dead makes it impossible to not hate him back. The more we know the more aware we are of the dangers that are lurking around every corner.
Since the dawn of the computer age, people have worried that the machines would become aware and then set about killing off humanity. The truth is, that process has already begun, except the machines are not doing the killing. Instead, they are holding up a mirror to society and letting us see ourselves. We do not like what we see, so we will find others who agree with us that we must kill off those other guys. It is not Artificial Intelligence that will get us, but Artificial Familiarity.
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