I did a talk at Manchester Business School today and was surprised by the students' focus on the negative potential of the web in their questions. I am unashamedly optimistic in my workshops and focus on the good things that the web does so maybe it was just a reaction to this. There was also interesting contrasts between those who wanted the authorities to protect them from others and those who were worried about the authorities knowing too much about them. However my main concern is that they were expecting someone else to sort things out rather than assuming that they could have influence and take control themselves.
As to the concern about the scary things in the world this is far from being the preserve of the web. I am sitting watching TV with my wife as I write this and almost every drama on every channel seems focussed not only on violence but sick, twisted violence. Where did the idea that is was what we want from our entertainment come from? Why do we think it is OK to pump this stuff into people's homes?
I am not prudish at all, despite the impression my last post may have given, and want freedom of speech that allows people to watch and consume pretty much whatever they like with very few controls. However this is different from the passive consumption of insidious stuff that erodes our shared sense of what is normal in ways that I believe are ultimately damaging for society.
In the same way as the web let me decide whether or not to watch the execution of Saddam Hussein, whereas TV didn't because I couldn't get to the remote in time, it also lets me decide what violent or sick images to allow into my consciousness in a way that television doesn't. Yes I know I can change channels or turn it off but the feedback from my decisions is much less immediate than on the web. The biggest difference is that it takes an active decision not to watch stuff on TV whereas on the web takes an active decision to watch stuff.
Going back to the students in Manchester we ended up having a really interesting discussion about how to make the web better, how to increase the chances of it being used for good rather than evil and how our current institutions may, or may not, be suited for this purpose.