I used to think that the Internet will serve as a major facilitator for the advancement of free thought and civil liberties. I thought that being able to connect to other people and access to information from across the globe will provide an opportunity to learn about new and progressive ideas, raise awareness of different cultures, and develop an appreciation of how different yet so alike we are as human beings. How naive, how wrong I was!
In my defense, human history presents a constant progress. There are of course some discontinuities in this progress. Up until now, I never felt like my time on this planet was overlapping with one. With all that has happened lately in my home country and given the latest events in the US, I am now convinced that we are witnessing a global regression in human progress. I feel unlucky to be witnessing this. It is quite distressing, especially given how short our lifetimes really are. This is how people must have felt during other tragic times, such as the rise of fascism in Europe before WWII.
This regression is hard to accept, as I tend to think that the new is always better. However, in order for the new generations to reach their full potential, we must leave them a world better than the one we inherited. I'm saddened to see that this may not be at all possible in our case. I hope I am wrong. Perhaps you are thinking that this assessment is highly exaggerated. Yet, the things that are happening in my home country are out of the pages of George Orwell's 1984. You may wake up tomorrow and read on the news that the sky is not blue but red, and whoever claims it is blue would be jailed. Of course what's happening here cannot be used to draw such a bleak picture for the world. Nevertheless, if the US, considered to be the leader of the free world, can elect a racist con artist who has no respect for science and reason as their president, then what else?
I am starting to think that the Internet and the social media have caused all this. The average person suffers from confirmation bias. They use the social media to find more ideas like theirs and connect to people who think like themselves. This will further strengthen their often incorrect convictions. Intellectual people will of course use the Internet for broadening their perspectives. These intellectuals, such as scientists, artists, thought leaders, etc., are people who were already connected even before the Internet era. They always had communities enabling them to keep connected. The conservative masses, on the other hand, did not know about each other. With the advent of the Internet and the social media, now these masses are getting connected and becoming even more conservative. I believe that the Internet has become a bigger booster for conservatism, than for liberal thought.
If the Internet is not going to promote a culture of tolerance, free thought, and personal freedom, then what will? I believe the answer is mobility. Visiting foreign places, meeting people from other cultures, and sharing experiences with them. Obviously this is not easy. I live in a country where a large portion of the population is anti-Semitic, yet never had a single Jew friend; homophobic yet never had a gay or lesbian friend; and even xenophobic yet never even met a foreigner.