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November 3, 2012

The new face of politics


Lanier argues that people want to believe in computers and that their designs accurately reflect human thought and logic. So, when a given program design fails to work in concert with how people do think and behave, the human users defer to the all-wise technology and change their own thinking to align with that of the software, as if it really could think.

And so, perhaps people are thinking and expressing themselves in rigid, binary ways — with rigidity and extreme ideas — that are a corollary to the ways websites such as Facebook are designed. When one takes into account our two-party system and the ideological divide between them at this time, a reasonable explanation emerges as to why angry political arguments on Facebook take place with disheartening regularity.

When people communicate in person, there are hundreds of signals and messages that are sent and received, not only through spoken words, but through subtle facial expressions, body movements and postures, and non-word vocalizations such as “uh” and “ahem” that serve to enhance and fill in gaps in the information being shared. Even a telephone conversation can be more informative, with tone of voice, sighs and silences, which all make a message more meaningful. 

None of this is available on Facebook. This, incidentally, is the sort of thing that Lanier decries about Web 2.0 social networking.

Being aware of Facebook’s limitations may be the start of using it in a more civil and friendly way.

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