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Is talking to strangers on the Internet making us crazy?

Adjacent Possible – Steven Johnson: “…The first is that the follow/fan dynamic is not the only kind of stranger interaction that the social media age has greatly amplified. There has also been a staggering increase in casual, drive-by encounters with random people online—and most importantly, with the ideas and opinions of other people. Every single day on Twitter I stumble across probably at least a dozen clever or funny or provocative things that total strangers have shared, many with links leading off to longer articles or podcasts or videos. These are not op-ed columnists or television anchors; they’re folks who I would have had no way of eavesdropping on thirty years ago. And now they just drift into my consciousness, day after day, a constant source of discovery and serendipity. But they’re not stars or celebrities in my world; they’re peers. And this is the key point: these people are strangers, but I don’t enter into anything resembling what Hayes calls a “Star and Fan” relationship with them. We pass each other in our shared virtual space, and some little gift of new information or perspective shuttles between us. What Hayes is talking about is the part of the Internet where everyone is the star of their own reality TV series. But the other part of the Internet—which was really what got me excited about it so many years ago—is more like the kind of stranger interaction that has always been celebrated in dense cities. (Contact between strangers has long been a key experience that urbanists cite as one of the virtues of cities as opposed to suburbs.) Except the Internet version is often better than the folkloric pedestrian interactions of urban life, because most of the time the only strangers whose opinions you hear when walking down an actual sidewalk are crazy people shouting “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?”

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