In the early days of social media, idealists dreamed of a digital market place for ideas, the kind that might help rejuvenate a democracy too often given over to distractions. If communication were nearly effortless, the reasoning went, people would have much less to lose by listening to those of different ideological stripes. Today, however, sociologists have concluded that social media often entrench people’s ideological positions and even make those positions more extreme. Witness the age of a bitterly divided America.
Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein has studied this phenomenon at length, finding that deliberation among a group of likeminded people moves the group toward a more extreme point of view.
“The mere discussion of, or deliberation over, a certain matter or opinion in a group may shift the position of the entire group in a more radical direction. The point of view of each group member may even shift to a more extreme version of the viewpoint they entertained before deliberating.”
Thus individuals, companies, and other organization looking to understand the world in new ways must develop tools to deliberately include opinions that they do not agree with. The problem of general agreement to the exclusion of new ideas is particularly a problem in our universities, explains Harvard english professor Louis Menand in his Big Think interview: