The New Social Media and Communication in the 21st Century: Is Dialogue Possible?
The advent of the internet has been hailed as the beginning of an era of virtually unlimited communication where the human potential can be more fully explored. However, in view of the literally worldwide political ramifications, a reality check seems appropriate, especially as regards the impact of the new interactive tools on the perception of social reality. The instrumental nature of Web 2.0, and with it the ambiguity of its use, often appears to be overlooked. In actual fact, typical characteristics of crowd behaviour such as suggestibility, impulsiveness, or irritability, tend to be magnified in the framework of the digital crowd. Those phenomena, diagnosed by Gustave Le Bon more than a century ago, may also be an unintended consequence of automated communication and news distribution. The features of the new technology tend to encourage advocacy or propaganda, rallying around a common cause on the basis of an emotional mindset of us versus the others, and to a much lesser extent a balanced or neutral attitude. If we want to assess the new medias potential for dialogue, which is the essence of communication, we will first have to evaluate their consequences, unintended or not, in terms of mass psychology. Internet literacy has to be complemented by an awareness of the nets social impact and a new ethics of communication.
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