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Facts and cats. For State of the net 2016

Facts are those little nasty things that divide the way people are and the way people would like to be. At least in times of crisis, facts are unpopular.

In fact, at present, we tend to complain much about facts:
1. Because they are too many (filter failures, information overload)
2. Because it is difficult to tell which facts are true or not true
3. Because they are less and less useful in a society in which people don’t see facts the same way, diminishing the value of facts.

Brexit and post-truth policy in America – as elsewhere – are about the end of facts as commons. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan is said to have said: «Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts». The quote is an usure fact (see discussion). But it makes easy to understand why reality should be the place in which everybody live while opinions can differ. If opinions divide society in such a deep sense that there is no more a common reality, but only a number of different views of reality, then any public decision is going to be weaker.

There has always been a tendency to divide social relations and communications in eco-chambers where similar people live. Social networks online seem to help this tendency spread. This is not a problem, it is a mess: if it was a problem there would be a solution, if it is a mess there is no solution, just a map of the trouble we are in.

Technology is not the cause of the crisis of facts. Misinformation is a complex system:
– Understanding facts means understanding the relations between them in the context.
– Understanding the relations between facts means understanding media.
– Understanding media means understanding society. And viceversa.

Building a medium is creating a new eco-cultural niche in which people can thrive, by adapting to it. Until somebody builds new media. The media help people see the context of facts. Society develops in eco-cultural niches augmented and defined with the media. While some people adapt, other people build new niches. And that’s cultural dynamics. It all happens in a complex, non linear, system. Which is similar to an ecosystem.

A commons of fact should be maintained as this could help everybody live at least a bit of his life in a world in which facts are the same for everybody else, in order to improve the decision making. A media ecological approach should be developed to reach this kind of consciousness. It has been done for the environment, it can also be done for the media environment.

ps1. In the title, cats are used to synthesize the whole set of information that happen to be super shared online while dubiously or subjectively important.

ps2. In the photo, State of the net 2016 venue, in Trieste. The hotel name has been removed for subjective reasons of taste.


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Luca De Biase

Knowledge and happiness economy Media and information ecology


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