Playing Devil’s Advocate: You affect your world by what you browse

Words: ANTHONY FLEET
July 14, 2013

...But we live in a world of digital comfort, with sites becoming more personalised, increasingly narrowing our information intake by filtering out anything that you might disagree with. YouTube suggests videos similar to ones that you've watched before. StumbleUpon panders to the crap you’ve already stumbled upon...


I think we can all agree that the Internet is a near infinite web (yeah, pun!) of knowledge and a tool that can be used to source pretty much any information, at any time. But these days, do you ever find something that challenges your thoughts? Or are your painfully generic Internet haunts just feeding you the same thing again and again?

Anyone who muddled through an English GCSE will, at least at one point, have been faced with the task of playing devil’s advocate. That is, arguing a point that you don’t necessarily agree with. Seems pointless doesn’t it. How could you, a logical person, possibly give a convincing argument for something you disagree with? You can’t. You’re destined for failure – unless you can find some new, vital piece of information that transforms your point of view. Faced with this task, you run home, scour the net in the vain hope that you’ve overlooked something to flip your current stance on its head (nerd), or you run home and just switch on the PS3: either way, people be runnin’. The former way of tackling this dilemma provides us with a brilliant, highly skeptical way of gathering information and excellent life training, considering the endless reams of information available to us these days.

But we live in a world of digital comfort, with sites becoming more personalised, increasingly narrowing our information intake by filtering out anything that you might disagree with. YouTube suggests videos similar to ones that you’ve watched before. StumbleUpon panders to the crap you’ve already stumbled upon. Dating websites pair you with your opposing (or same) gender counterpart, and Reddit segregates thinking subcultures to the detriment of cross-pollination. There are so many more examples, pretty much any site requiring an account can be held responsible for narrowing your worldview, and corroding your brain’s faculty for critical analysis.

All of these things seem like good ideas, and of course have their virtues – besides being excellent money-spinners – but it comes at a cost to the way we digest information. The convenience of having ‘your’ Internet, so personalised to you, will cost you countless opportunities to become genuinely enlightened, develop a new interest or reconsider your opinions. Even worse, when one of these increasingly rare opportunities does come along, it’s all too easy to glaze over it, and get back onto your forum where vindication can be found for your every opinion, which must of course, make you right.

There are two Internets available, the Internet that is funnelled towards you, and the Internet that isn’t. Accepting ‘your’ Internet, without acknowledging and engaging with what is not yours, is an egotistical exercise. Written information has no value if it only supports one point of view (Socrates thought this, challenge him if you have the stones, and are a necromancer) and if you’re not mindful of this, that’s all you’re going to see.

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To misquote father of the Internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee to suit my needs – “You affect your [the] world by what you browse.” Your subjective view of the world is being constantly influenced by what you read, watch and download from the internet. In the gene pool of ideas, an incestuous culture can emerge through web personalisation. If no new ideas, concepts or points of view are allowed in; before you know it, you’re left with inbred, ill-formed opinions which would have you on the same intellectual level as the beer guzzlin’, gun slingin’ redneck fuckwits who protest that everyone should be allowed a gun, so there’s someone to shoot the ‘bad guys’.

I like to believe that people have the rationality to extend their curiosity and learn something new, different, and maybe even contrary to their current beliefs. The only question is will you deviate, or just sit comfortably inside your own little bubble where you’re always right, everyone agrees with you, and no one is allowed to be mean to you, ever.


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