Last year Cass Sunstein produced a revised version of his book Republic.com, titled — with crushing inevitability — Republic.com 2.0. In it, he critiqued the impact of the net on democratic discourse and public spaces. His dystopia is one where we all subscribe to the Daily Me, a filter that presents us only with the worldview of people we agree with. What we gain in (temporary) contentedness we lose in critical appraisal and debate — with potentially dire political and social consequences.
I think there are three sets of reasons why Sunstein’s dystopia will not come about:
- Filtering and recommender systems will always be imperfect; they’ll never be as good as their evangelists would have you believe.
- Even if perfect filtering did work, people wouldn’t like it; they’d quickly get ‘perfect’ fatigue.
- If people did liked perfect filtering, we wouldn’t need the blogs that Sunstein argues are the medium of ‘echo chamber’ opinion: if all you ever have to say is ‘me too’ in chorus with your like-minded peers, the whole point of blogging (self-casting) disappears.