Cults, Village Idiots and the Blogosphere

August 1, 2006

I was settling into my office/study in the Institute this morning when my next door neighbour Tom popped in to say hello and we ended up talking for an hour or two. He used to be in the RCMP and we were talking about how pedophiles have managed to exploit the blogosphere, a Washington Post article about aliens mining humans for monatomic gold (of which more tomorrow), decision support, knowledge management and other subjects. Its really nice to be in once place with colleagues for an extended period of time – the first time in five years.

The way he explained it (I am dealing with the pedophiles here), is that we used to live in villages, and each village had an idiot but everyone knew who they were and kept an eye on them. Now the village idiots are all connected over the web and no one knows who they are. He also told me the depressing news that when arrested it is now common for a pedophile to claim that they are a persecuted minority, which despite my liberal upbringing and revolutionary past is going too far.

However as we talked I realised that one of the negative sides of blogs is that they allow like to cluster with like, and in effect create cults in which views are legitimised because they are never challenged. Also status is achieved by being more rather than less extreme. I’ve seen this in some blogs, and also in list serves. The environment clusters like minded people from around the world and unless they actively encourage dissent, someone coming into the space and saying something different is subject to a white blood cell attack to repel the invader.

It could be an irony of the connected age, that we increase social fragmentation rather than decrease it. Of course it doesn’t have to be like that but it takes effort. On the positive side I was chatting on Skype with Euan who thinks he has learnt more about me from under a week of blogs than in the years we have met and talked at various conferences, Starbucks and cafes.

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