Why are online debates so one-sided


Despite all the interactivity, we must not forget: The Internet is still mainly a reading medium - an incredibly demanding reading medium, often even a medium that wants to be read, but at the same time does everything to prevent being read in peace. And even if both media are letters against a background, print texts and online articles couldn't be more different in terms of reading experience.

One key difference is that you pay once for everything before reading a newspaper and then you are never asked to check out again. Neither your credit card details, your attentiveness, nor your behavioral data are requested when reading an analogue print product. It looks different online: At first it doesn't cost you anything - provided the article is not behind a payment gate - but you will usually subconsciously pay attention to it while reading it. Strategists in the field of online advertising regularly find new ways to interrupt the flow of your reading. While a classic print author can assume that his addressee has fully focused on the paper that transports the text, the author of digital writings knows that the reader's attention is bombarded from all sides with interaction impulses: Look at me on, click on me, think about me. This demands sacrifices in terms of the depth of information, but nothing is more painful for an author than a text that has not been read to the end.

Publishing in digital media has completely changed the dramaturgy of the texts. Basically: there used to be more time for text. When I read through eighteenth-century prose, I get the impression that the authors wrote for an audience that halfway through the day didn't know what to do with the rest of the time. A scenario that seems unthinkable to us today. In his novel "In Search of Lost Time" (published between 1913 and 1927) Marcel Proust was able to write for pages about a biscuit and the associated memory of times gone by, my editor today would comment on the same text: It is shorter, less substance , please condense. So much for the surface. Now accompany me into the depths of the adventurous experiences of the networked reader.

The transparent reader

In order to understand the difference between analog and digital reading, we must first define the "information carrier" of digital texts. In most cases, the medium is your computer or tablet, and strictly speaking your smartphone. It helps to understand your role in the networked world if you always think of all of your networked devices as sensors that precisely measure everything you do and report it to people you have never met in life. Before you ask what all of this has to do with the digital reading experience: a lot. Because you are usually "read" while you read.

Most Internet users still assume that they are unilaterally supplied with information as soon as they pick up a networked device. It's a trick. In reality, the Internet is not a reading medium in 2019, but a reading medium that reads the unsuspecting reader.

To illustrate the extent of this, just imagine if the Cold War had turned out differently and the ailing FRG had reunited with the prosperous GDR in 1990. Let us assume that around 2005 the State Security had rolled out the socialist Internet including a socialist social network called Facebook. A system would have been presented to the citizens through which everyone can conveniently register and turn their innermost inside out. The citizens would have fun with the new possibilities and would take off their hats to their state because almost everything (information, entertainment, communication) in this new system is free. The networked working class would be granted an unprecedented level of new freedom of expression, and many of those who railed against the party in the 1980s would admit that they were right after all. With this Perestroika 2.0, the party would even encourage its citizens to use the new system to express their free opinion as often and as passionately as possible. Because in this way data is created that all flow into the profile of each individual citizen. The old Stasi files would be quickly mothballed, because the information received on the new Stasi server every day enabled the party to know its citizens better than they did themselves.

Fortunately, history has taken a different turn - the system still exists. It's just spread across several shoulders of various companies whose goal is not to use the data collected to control rogue citizens, but to make money.

Even if you read an online article outside of a social network, it is very likely that different data will be collected about you: How long you read, where you click, how your scroll wheel behaves, which text passages you get stuck on, which page you are coming from which page you call up after reading it and various other things. In this way, online publishers want to optimize their reach and adapt the text, the content, the keywords, the page design and the choice of images so that the statistical probability that you will share the article is as high as possible. Because when you do that, its range multiplies. That means: More people visit the page that makes the article available and see the advertisements placed there. Usually we rarely share articles via email, but rather via a social network. That is, articles are optimized based on the interests of the respective social network. This is where the main difference between messages on paper and messages on a networked device is hidden. With a newspaper there is no way to share an article with a theoretically unlimited number of people at the same time. Nor can a newspaper article go viral because the circulation is limited. And so the needs of a social network do not play a role in the design of a print article. This supposedly small difference plays a dramatically large role in the greatest problems of our time.