Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Does all of this stuff improve the way we deliberate?

Mmm. The Moral Highground. Come on up - the air is clear and fresh.

But, while it's easy to get all hoity-toity about the blogosphere behaving no better than the tabloid press, there is a bigger question lurking: Does the way things are discussed online make the world a better place?

I'd be interested to know if anyone ever published a study of the dynamics of on-line discussion? One that examines devices such as 'meanwhiling', Fisking, or Godwin's Law. One that weighs up the relative qualities of online scrutiny, debate and resolution (compared to pre-internet forms of debate).

Are people generally motivated to be more civil, or to stick to the point more? Are online discussions more efficient, or does the line-by-line rebuttal often serve to obscure the point?

Does the sheer diversity of perspectives on offer serve to create a relativist's paradise? Or does the internet make it easier for people who used to regard themselves as 'lone voices' to locate like-minded people who will ride the same hobby-horses that they do?

Does on-line discussion elevate people with different personal characteristics? Are they more deserving of our attention than the various castes that have dominated public life in the past?

If such a study exists, I'd like to see it.

A quick perusal of Harry's comment boxes, for instance, demonstrates online discussion to be a dialogue of the deaf in a lot of cases. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of good blogs that attract sensible commentators who collectively address issues not covered in the mainstream media.

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