Opinion

Fragmented

Are societies becoming hopelessly fragmented to the point that democracies are no longer functional as compromise solutions become impossible? Is technology tearing us apart? What are the consequences?

Big questions and probably deserving intense study and I find these questions on my mind a lot these days. Look, as much as it all seems like an old hat now the internet and social media is still new, but it has already dramatically changed the way we interact and process information and it may well be changing cultures in a big way and not necessarily for the better.

Think of all the kids today that don’t even know what a world without internet looks like. Heck I see 3 years olds glued to screens in cars, at fast food joints and every kid is running around with a smart phone. Their brains are perceiving reality quite differently than perhaps people just 20 years ago. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up being bombarded with constant content at such an early age. But we all are now.

Online, big time:

Who knows what the consequences are?

Being bombarded with content is what the entire ecosystem of consumer technology is based on. What’s $AAPL sell these days? Phones to stare at screens? That was the old business model. Now they’re selling screens to sell content to you. $GOOGL? Content (think Youtube) $NFLX? Streaming content.  $AMZN, $DIS all heading there too. $FB? $TWTR? Content, news, information and an opportunity for people to yell at each other.

After all this is what the market values: Digital content:

The internet is busy folks, very busy:

Can one even grasp the enormity of all this data that is being absorbed non stop? No wonder productivity gains remain elusive.

I suspect many of us are finding ourselves partaking in many of these sub categories. And while it looks like one cohesive pie it doesn’t reflect the echo chambers people are retreating into. Societies of old tended to gravitate toward cohesive cultures, our brave new world is fragmenting rapidly especially on the political side leading to complete paralysis of the political systems.

The US appears hopelessly divided. Every issue is subject to propaganda and misinformation. Reality and truth become lost in the noise. Facts are either dismissed or distorted and perception of reality is entirely dependent on one’s ideology or allegiance to political leanings.

Take climate change as an example:

How can one reach political consensus on action when one can’t even agree on what the problem is? The answer is you can’t and you won’t. Best hope there’s no problem to be solved.

But it’s not only the US. We see it everywhere. Democracies becoming fragmented into ever smaller factions with widely different views.

Just look at some examples of current political fragmentation in Europe:

Spain:

Finland:

Germany

Yes plurality is better than one party totalitarianism. But what are the consequences of dividing too far to the point that consensus can’t be reached? Permanent stalemates with no progress?

If you have followed Brexit over the past 2 years you can’t help but walk away with a sense of exacerbation. People can’t agree on anything it appears. If the Brexit horror show doesn’t make you shudder I don’t know what does.

The larger concern being: Democratic countries becoming incapable of addressing and solving any large complex structural issues. Perhaps this explains the now evident permanent reliance on central banks to kick all problems down the road.

With permanent dovish policies they give the political sphere license to not address issues and keep the illusion of growth and prosperity alive all the while realizing ever expanding wealth inequality and accumulating systemic debt setting the stage for the next financial crisis.

But don’t count on citizens rising up in discontent.

Everybody is distracted, glued to screens and attention spans are waning.

A recent study in Nature Communications supports this assertion:

“With news pushed to smart phones in real time and social media reactions spreading across the globe in seconds, the public discussion can appear accelerated and temporally fragmented. In longitudinal datasets across various domains, covering multiple decades, we find increasing gradients and shortened periods in the trajectories of how cultural items receive collective attention. Is this the inevitable conclusion of the way information is disseminated and consumed? Our findings support this hypothesis.

“In the interplay with competition for novelty, this causes growing turnover rates and individual topics receiving shorter intervals of collective attention”.

In other words we absorb less and less detail, our waning attention spans are victim of constant competing flows of surface content driven headlines.

And it’s happen in real time and is measurable as shown in the study above.

So how again is technology making us smarter and more informed? It’s not, it’s making us less informed on details as we are invited to jump from one controversy and outrage to the next. Permanent distraction through constant bombardment of content soundbites competing for our waning attention spans fragmenting society into separated and divided echo chambers.

Now let’s discuss complex policy solutions with informed voters. Ain’t going to happen. We have an election cycle to run. Best keep everybody engaged with fake outrages and controversies to distract from the real issues that are crying out for desperately needed attention.

Everybody is distracted. Everybody’s focused on the outrage of the day, in shorter and shorter increments. Details are lost or ignored. Subject matter expertise is becoming tweet deep. Everybody has expert opinions on issues they know little about. For a day or two. Soon for an hour or two?

So I ask again:

Are societies becoming hopelessly fragmented to the point that democracies are no longer functional as compromise solutions become impossible? Is technology tearing us apart? What are the consequences?

Love to hear your thoughts. If you managed to read through the end of this 😂.


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22 replies »

  1. Re. global warming, let me ask you this —

    If we can’t predict where the global economy will be in 2 yrs, what makes you think we can predict where the global climate will be in 20 yrs??

    The global climate, like the global economy, is an equation with far too many variables to be predicted or solved for.

    Plus, my understanding of the scientific method is that a hypothesis (global warming caused by humans) must be both testable and falsifiable – this hypothesis is neither.

    So go ahead, tell me — what will the average global temperature be in, say, 2025? and what will the S&P be trading at in 2025?? lol

    • If you consider global warming issue from a risk-management perspective, even small risks with terrible potential consequences must be taken seriously. If the risk is even less than 10% that the apocalypse will arrive, should it be ignored simply because it is not testable or falsifiable?

  2. Your thesis is spot on. In the beginning of the internet we thought it would bring knowledge, education and facts to the world. Instead we have opinion, argument and misinformation. Subjectivity, not objectivity. In place of understanding we have division; in place of truth we have raised voices. The facts now rest on the number of “likes” an idea has, and the scientific and quantifiable proofs rest with those who are able to cram the most expletives into an incomplete thought. Reason to ponder.

  3. Technology has been used influence and control political thought since the printing press was invented. It took until the 1920’s for this to become a ‘science’ as laid down by Edward Bernays. Coincident with true mass communications with radio and film

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays

    With true mass communication, radio and film, the techniques became more successful. In the political sphere in a Western democracy the first great victory of Public Relations came to pass in Nazi Germany. Those techniques using messages of nationalism based upon mythical blood and soil appeals, and division, gained total victory there. Those same messages and techniques are going from victory to victory throughout the West today. Greatly aided by the ultimate technology of mass communication, the internet. It must be added that the business parties in Germany aligned with the Nazis for all sorts of reasons easily understood unless your a dimwit.

    I won’t go further because both side-ism makes that impossible. Well that and one side has declared it is entitled to its own facts.

  4. I read to the end and entirely agree with it. The only solution is direct democracy.

    You might argue how on earth will this solve anything? Very simple answer because direct democracy is a self centered approach to solving problems. You will think of yourself first. And you will not think along party lines.

    Let me illustrate.

    Imagine in a plurality of political parties you agree with one party, but only 65%. So you vote for that party. They don’t get a majority so they have to form a coalition. That coalition might result in a set of laws passed that only agree with 30% of your view points. This is simple mathematics because when two parties have to agree they have to agree to the lowest common denominator, which means half of those things agreed are actually not your view point.

    Simply put you get the worst of the worst. Or simply put you get the German government.

    The only way to get back control is to put in direct democracy because it pulls back the vote into a yes or no vote. It crosses party boundaries and says how the lay of the land will be.

    You might point out so how about that BREXIT? Yes indeed how about that BREXIT. Notice that it is the parliament that is buggering this up. Polls show that many Brits are content to just have a hard go. Yet parliament is not willing because they have their interests and their biases, which yet again goes against the will of the people. I would argue that there is a clear sign that there is no plurality against BREXIT. It is as it was before 50 50. Thus BREXIT must happen so that the next step can happen.

    Then for those that argue the people will vote in murderous barbarians who will kill and pillage. In fact please do show me that. I have yet to see that. Since we are going to pull out Godwins law, let me short circuit it, by stating that it was parliament that did not reflect the will of the people. They thought, “how bad could it get?” Apparently quite. For the people never gave that raving lunatic a majority popular vote.

    I am a Swiss and I am going to pound the chest of my society, as that is only logical, but I do wish to point out we have 4 languages, mountains, and very diverse opinions when it comes to society. We have guns to boot! Yet our country has been around (more or less) for 800 years and had direct democracy for ages. Sure sometimes we are a bit slow on the uptake, but we continue to function along as a progressive and stable society.

  5. Agree. Thx – I always read your pieces to the end – admittedly one of the few – as I find myself becoming less conscientious…conscious?

  6. “The larger concern being: Democratic countries becoming incapable of addressing and solving any large complex structural issues. Perhaps this explains the now evident permanent reliance on central banks to kick all problems down the road.

    With permanent dovish policies they give the political sphere license to not address issues and keep the illusion of growth and prosperity alive all the while realizing ever expanding wealth inequality and accumulating systemic debt setting the stage for the next financial crisis.

    But don’t count on citizens rising up in discontent.

    Everybody is distracted, glued to screens and attention spans are waning.”

    This opens windows of opportunity to the world’s “strongmen” autocrats to provide “answers” and “solutions” as they appear to be doing! God help us.

  7. I have no smartphone…and don’t want one. The smartphone is a step back for humanity…it has created a whole generation of narcissistic zombies. Truly sad. (Furthermore the smartphone has a tremendous negative impact on the environment due to all its toxic components that need to be mined which results in massive deforesttaion and soil pollution)

    • Same here Alexander, I stuck with just landline for ages, when I finally got a cell phone it was a “dumb” flip phone – smartest move I’ve made next to getting rid of TV. I almost died hearing a co-worker complain about his $400 cell bill, with 4 kids all having “smart” phones already and him and his wife, plus data costs with streaming content… Meanwhile I have the dirt-poor level voice only plan (We earn about the same), and they are always “broke” living paycheck to paycheck. Every time I’ve been over there everyone is staring into a phone… Like zombies.

  8. The Billionaires think they have a right to use their wealth to interfere in Our lives with their “social engineering programs”
    I believe We have the SAME right to interfere in their wealth.
    “Funny” how these BILLIONAIRE Leftwingers believe in Socialism and Sharing (YOUR) property……….
    but Their’s is THEIR’S ….. no WAY are they gonna share.
    Who is funding all these Socialist Groups that hate Our Freedoms and Our beliefs? Kochs, Buffett, Soros, Bezos, Gates, not happy with their riches they wish to OWN you.
    These SCUMionaires do not even GIVE to charity. They establish tax free “trusts & foundations” where THEY control the money and get paid to do so and you actually subsidize them because you pay higher taxes to replace what they avoid. “The more money communists earn, the more they preach morality to others”
    When they decide to step across the threshold/line with their wealth to interfere in OUR lives, it is the same as trespassing into Your house and we have the Right to TAKE their wealth.

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