I had a fun debate last night with one of my daughter's friends. She's 17 years old and already a professed centrist/liberal. It's cool – I admire that she's passionate about politics already. When I asked her what shows she watched to hear what was going on in the world, she said that it was pretty much Oprah and Jon Stewart… with some Anderson Cooper mixed in. I asked if she watched Bill O'Reilly or Fox News and a look of utter disgust came across her face. She noted that she hated Fox and would never watch it.
My debate with her was simple… How was she being exposed to the other side of the argument if all she did was watch or hear one side? Simply put, she wasn't. I asked her a ton of questions about politics… whether we had more troops overseas or less, whether the rich got richer over the past few years, whether more or less people were in prison, whether more or less people were on welfare, whether home ownership was up or down, whether the Middle East now saw us as a friend or still an enemy… she was frustrated because she couldn't answer any of the questions.
I joked that she was simply a lemming (didn't go over too well). By not exposing herself to other people's ideology and opinions, she was robbing herself of the ability to make up her own mind. I don't expect her to watch Fox and believe everything they say… she should listen and verify the information and come to her own conclusion. It's absolutely okay to be a centrist or a liberal… but she should know that it's also okay to be a conservative or libertarian. We should all respect one another.
Disclosure: I watch Bill O'Reilly and Fox News. I also watch CNN and BBC. I read NYT, WSJ and The Daily (when it's working). I also like the Colbert Report and Jon Stewart once in a while. In all honesty, I gave up on MSNBC. I just don't view it as news anymore.
It's easy to have that debate when we talk about our choices and what we watch… but what about when we don't have choices? Google and Facebook are robbing us of this and dumbing down the search and social interactions we get on the web. There's not much I agree on with Eli Pariser of MoveOn… but this is one conversation that needs to happen (click through for the video). As my good friend the Blog Bloke states, Facebook is making us dumb.
When Facebook and Google own much of the information that is feeding our brains, should they be filtering it to a point where it actually could dumb us down? The popularity contest that drives search results and Facebook wall entries is just that… a popularity contest. Isn't that the lowest common denominator of providing information? Shouldn't we be developing algorithms that discover new and popular sites that provide us with insight rather than side with us?