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23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691095899
ISBN-10: 0691095892
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Editorial Reviews Review

The center does not hold. The rise of customizable media has mainstream thinkers, used to a near-monopoly on attention, running scared. Legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein makes the case for a more robust information diet from a slightly left of center point of view in Building on the ideas of the Technorealist movement, Sunstein focuses on the increasing volume of extremist voices as people choose to read or listen to only those points of view they already share. Though it seems that he occasionally overstates his case--it seems unlikely that we'll ever really be able to filter every unwanted or unexpected opinion--he does score some solid blows against the current, more or less laissez faire system. His prose is clear and accessible--exactly the kind of reasoned discourse he values and wants to preserve. His proposed program of government-sponsored and mandated public media spaces probably won't rouse many readers to wholehearted endorsement, but the suggestion that we have problems brewing ought to be enough to spur further thought. Since everyone from the American Nazi Party to the Zapatistas has found a stronger voice via the Internet, it's little wonder that we're starting to hear concerned prophets warning of a new Babel. Whether we can--or should--do anything beforehand is an open question; makes a strong and pointed case against the status quo. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The counterintuitive claim that the Internet causes us to become more extremist and close-minded, rather than exposing us to a haphazardly unbiased array of unexpected viewpoints, is the cornerstone of this challenging and dense book. University of Chicago legal scholar Sunstein (Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech) contends that we are witnessing a decline in the influence of "general interest intermediaries" and an increase in highly specialized forums for information Web sites that allow us to "personalize" the news, customized cable TV channels devoted only to fashion, music, sports or other specialized subjects. In such a culture, he argues, we have the seductive ability to see only what already interests us and to filter out any exposure to the different concerns and political opinions of fellow citizens, inadvertently robbing ourselves of a truly democratic conversation. Sunstein posits that the solution to this self-imposed intellectual isolation lies in the seemingly unpalatable but potentially workable realm of government regulation creating cyberspace "town halls," requiring political Web sites to provide links to groups with opposing views. Sunstein's critics will counter that most mainstream media outlets, owned by an increasingly small number of corporate conglomerates, don't provide their audience with a diverse range of programming in the first place. But this will not stop them from finding Sunstein's arguments complex and thoughtful. (Mar.) Forecast: This slim, sleek volume perfectly designed to appeal to Internet-era attention spans will attract browsers, while Sunstein's controversial claims and a national tour will likely garner him some media attention.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691095892
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691095899
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,257,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Oldani on March 21, 2005
Format: Paperback identifies a problem with the new popularity of the internet. With all of the filtering we are able to do through the use of modern software, we may only ever see the type of content that reaffirms our own biases. According to Sunstein, this will result in people having less and less exposure to opposing viewpoints, and the end result will be the fragmentation of the Internet into splinter groups of like-minded individuals. He then goes on to identify a series of ways that this problem can be fixed, all of which involve increased regulation on the content of the web.

The ideas behind this book were poorly thought out from the start, and indicate that the author doesn't have a firm grip on the reality of the Internet, or even of what social interaction involves. He states that we seek out like-minded people and that we can limit our exposure to information that is disseminated only by these people. While this may be true, no two people are ever entirely like-minded. A discussion group on music will have people from all different political backgrounds, a discussion on politics will have people from nearly any religion, and in a religious discussion every possible genre of music fan will usually be represented. People never discuss strictly one subject in an Internet discussion group, in fact this often poses a problem for moderators who want to keep the discussions on topic. Any internet discussion group will have so many different viewpoints that argument is inevitable.

At this point the author might point out that people will be able to filter this content to display only the information that they agree with, but this argument doesn't take human nature into account. People enjoy arguing and convincing others of the truth of their arguments.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Valjean on July 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At face value, this book tackles a subject to which I've been drawn due to its lack of opposition: due to our increasing ability to filter what we see, read, and hear through communication media (especially the Internet, but not exclusively), we'll be able to somehow manage our world of ever-increasing media more effectively-and that this is a wonderful thing. I found myself agreeing with the author's skepticism of this brave new filter-friendly world, but found that his assumptions and proposed solutions largely miss the point.
Mr. Sunstein begins his book well, assuming a solid distinction between our consumer and citizen-oriented behaviors; the former favoring individual choice and the latter being more civic-minded. This dichotomy falls apart when presented as a false choice: you're either one or the other (I suspect most of the populace blurs the two), and the perilous consequences of unfettered personal choice make clear which the author favors-and which should be regulated. He further cheapens his consumer choice argument by drawing on dubious critics of consumption culture-among them one Robert H. Frank, author of such vitriol as 'Luxury Fever' and 'The Winner-take-All Society,' whose arguments seem to boil down to "consumer goods can't make you happy" and "we want goods because our neighbors have them," forever damning us to a "consumption treadmill." With this decked stacked against the consumer, Sunstein plows forward, arguing the need for government to step in and help the dumbfounded citizenry. They simply can't be left alone against the dreadful free market-characterized as having "potentially destructive effects" and "producing serious problems" when it comes to cultivating democracy.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the third Sunstein book I've read, and definitely the worst. He's evolved into just another authoritarian who's upset that not everyone shares his views, so, by golly, it's time for Big Brother to "regulate" what other people say and write "in the public interest." So what else is new? Another writer could have set out the arguments in a more honest manner, but not Sunstein. Every time he seems to consider an objection, it turns out to be a caricature. His extreme legal positivism is presented as merely common sense, when it is a highly disputed approach in law. I regret having wasted my time on the book.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Steven Salkin on March 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I realize, of course, that my subject line is harsh for someone of the author's credentials. But let us be serious here. If you think about anything much at all, it's very difficult to find a source of information with which you agree on any two disparate subjects, much less on everything. The supposed dangers of the "daily me" really only apply to people for whom the "daily me" is the same as hundreds of thousands of other people's "me's", because they aren't thinking for themselves and generating the highly individuated, almost fractal set of relationships that compose an evolving, examined perspective.
But information, packaged as news or "info-tainment" that confirms and reinforces the prejudices of large ideological demographic segments already has been with us for quite some time. Sunstein attributes to the internet a capability for more tightly encapsulating and restricting an audience ideologically, in a way that requires government-manadated content control to solve. This when the decades of three television channels, all alike are only just behind us, without the appearance of even a trend towards a national uniformity of view. But there is no room here for the consideration of data that contradicts the author's didacticism.
I'd write more, but much has been covered here. His own views are associated with common sense and escorted in the door, while opposition appears only in cariciatured, straw-man forms. If he had had the courage and honesty to really attack and dissect his own arguments, it would have been more palatable for him suggest these types of radical alterations in our culture of free speech.
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