Pariser mentioned in passing that the Internet’s “founding mythology” promised a world of people who were more connected to one another, but he complained that this hasn’t actually happened. It hasn’t happened because that’s only what people publicly say they want. What they privately, or subconsciously, desire is what these companies are giving them: new ways to separate themselves from others and form competing identity groups. Marketing people are better psychologists than psychologists.
Like Patrick Bateman, people say they care about “ending hunger” and genocide and so forth, but they don’t really care about people dying in Africa. Not in any personal, emotionally connected way. The concern they express is a social affectation. If Robin Dunbar is to be believed, we can’t care about people in Africa. Not really. It’s been found that, even on Facebook, most of us can only maintain a meaningful friendship with 150 or so people. Everyone else is a virtual friend—or a virtual stranger. Our brains are wired for small communities, not “one world tribe.”
We seek out ways to create in-groups and out-groups. Sometimes we do this playfully, as with sporting rivalries, though it is not unusual for sports fans to become violent or angry on behalf of their teams. Often we do it politically, ideologically, socially, racially, nationally. We form philosophical cliques and movements. East coast vs. West coast, South side vs. North side, Greeks vs.Trojans, boys against the girls, Democrats vs. Republicans, MoveOn vs. The Tea Party, Christians vs. Muslims vs. Jews, hip-hop vs. punk rock vs. emo, dog lovers vs. cat lovers, Ford vs. Chevy, and Mac vs. PC.
Online social networks have also created a pathway for otherwise average people to separate themselves from the social norms of their geographical location.
The hope for world order
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