Monday, January 18, 2010

Internet and Privacy

Michael Gerson questions whether the internet has led us to become a nation of exhibitionists. Demands for greater privacy and revealing everything online are basically two sides of the same coin. Gerson states, "Transparency has become disconnected from intimacy." The internet is not going away any time soon, and we probably need to discover the balance for ourselves individually if not as a society.

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat suggests that the internet is ideologically neutral. The advantage that Democrats had in internet organizing last year is being matched by some Republicans in 2010. Unfortunately, the politicians have not learned that the internet produces support more fickle than usual. Making it easier to write your congressman or contribute to a campaign does not suggest a depth of engagement.

In a way, the rule of law and the institutions that we have provide us a balance against the vagaries of public opinion. The balance I suggest is not in terms of scale. Instead, the balance I mean is like a clock. The weights of a clock keep the clock running, but not too fast or too slow. It's like waiting till the next day to send that awful e-mail to your boss. Perhaps, you might think better of it in the morning.

Douthat also talks about the inevitable problem of buyers remorse. Sending a few sheckels to a candidate on a whim means that you may not realize his or her positions on a variety of issues. Douthat writes, "The internet breeds utopian hopes...this utopianism needs to be tempered by a realism that only hard experience can teach. Better if both right and left learn their lesson quickly — that technology changes, but politics remains the same."

That being said, the ability to collect support and money quickly is very helpful. Douthat reminds us that support for Haiti relief has benefited greatly from the internet's ability to organize.

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