For as long as people have been criticizing technology, they’ve been complaining that emerging tools make us lazy, stupid, unable to concentrate, and so on. It is easy to imagine that a certain technological advance, whether it is the printing press or the television, imposes some undesired quality upon humanity by its very nature. But the fact is that, while technology is by no means neutral, neither does it create characteristics in people that didn’t already exist. Rather, any technology has inherent qualities that can amplify or diminish pre-existing human tendencies.
So rather than asking “Is the internet good for democracy?” we ought to explore whether the human characteristics that tend to be amplified or diminished by the internet support a functioning democratic system.
One universal human trait is to seek out and connect with other people who have shared perspectives or experiences. The internet, because it inherently collapses geography, greatly amplifies people’s ability to make those connections regardless of physical location. People who have experiences or views that are not well represented in their local communities can form rich online relationships with others who do share their perspectives. This effect can have obvious benefits in that it allows people to connect, to feel less isolated, and to have a louder collective voice.