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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Printed books might give people new ideas, says pope

Shock news. Internet not all bad.

 

David Brooks in the New York Times has news of a contrarian finding about the internet:

Gentzkow and Shapiro found that the Internet is actually more ideologically integrated than old-fashioned forms of face-to-face association - like meeting people at work, at church or through community groups. You're more likely to overlap with political opponents online than in your own neighborhood.

This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They're not burrowing down into comforting nests. They're cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

Till now, most people had assumed that the internet was helping people reinforce their prejudices so we would all sink into mutually hating tribes. Maybe that's wrong, in which case, yet another attempt to find a the cloud behind the silver lining of instant access to almost all ideas bites the dust.

Yesterday I met the remarkable social entrepreneur Noam Kostiucki, founder of Seeducation, and we had a good moan about how everybody seems to think wikipedia's destroying students' capacity to learn and how in the internet age university education is still conducted as if it was the fifteenth century. Here'sNoam's take:

Maybe some things have changed. This whole internet thing is AMAZING: where was I when it all happened?! It is completely UNBELIEVABLE what is happening to our world! It is all so... different from what I was used to, and yet, so exciting!

I am so amazed that we can communicate for so cheap, and that we have access to so much information. This whole Facebook, Twitter and YouTube thing: fantastic! Keeping track of friends even after 20 years of not seeing each other, or getting instantenous news everywhere, or even sharing so many fun, interesting, inspiring and ridiculous videos. I can only say: WOW!

So I have to admit that maybe the world IS a bit different than when I grew up... and god knows what it will look like in 5 years, let alone 10 or 20! Now I find it funny that we really think that we can prepare our youth the way we were taught. I laugh so much just thinking about it! Now, seriously, we NEED to teach them SUCH different stuff. They have no chance in the future if we don't prepare them...

People were just as suspicious of the first railways, as Christian Wolmar reminds us today:

Many believed a clanking smoke-belching train would frighten the cattle, stop their hens laying and ruin their fox hunting, as well as spoiling the view from their front windows.