Al Gore's Digital Utopia

Al Gore was apparently the hot ticket at SXSW (South by Southwest) over the weekend, attendees “turned away in hordes” for his discussion with AllThingsD editor Walter Mossberg, according to TechHive.

The website’s report on the colloquy concludes with a portentous statement from the former veep, which is getting a fair amount of play: “We need to move everything to the Internet as quickly as we possibly can. If we do that, the future will belong to a well-informed citizenry.”

Let’s leave aside for a moment all our preconceptions about Gore and examine this Internet millennialism.  Of all people, as co-founder of PJ Media and a relatively early adopter blogger (2003), I should applaud this optimistic view of our digital future.

And yet I have qualms.  To begin with, the sentence about moving “everything to the Internet as quickly as we possibly can” seems bizarre.  Isn’t just about everything already there?  Or have I missed something? Within months, it seems, we’re all going to be walking around with the Internet in our eyeglasses.  There will be no escape.

But whatever the case, the nub of Gore’s argument is in his second sentence: “If we do that, the future will belong to a well-informed citizenry.”

This is something I fervently believed in the early part of this century.  Now I am not so sure.

Indeed it’s true that the access to information is exponentially greater, but the selectivity and bias with which we inform ourselves, at least on political matters, which I suspect is what Gore had in mind, has probably increased. A strong argument could be made that the Internet is further dividing an already divided country.  We have been digitally Balkanized. Or, more precisely, we digitally Balkanize ourselves.

I’m certainly guilty of it. I will sneak a peek at the other side, but I won’t stay long.  (I might get a headache.)  While there are exceptions, my Twitter feed is made up mainly of libertarians and conservatives (and a few sports stars I enjoy following).  The same is true of my Facebook friend list.