We're making progress

Mike Sanders points to an editorial on CNET today, Where Internet promises remain unfulfilled, which laments a percieved lack of "alternative" viewpoints on the web. The author doesn't deny that non-mainstream information sources exists, but complains that they are still too hard to find and not obvious to the average Internet user: "Despite the convenience the Internet has brought us, if people want the whole story, they're still going to have to dig." I agree with that statement, but would interpret the same data much more optimistically. Pretty much by definition, those who want the non-mainstream anything will have to work a little harder for it. But people who are intelligent enough to appreciate these things will work harder them. And, on the bright side, the "digging" is far easier than ever before and the results are unfathomably larger.

I grew up on a farm, outside a very tiny town, in the middle of the United States. I was not what you'd call a "mainstream" resident of the community. I didn't really jive with the folks there and was always looking outside for my ideas, interests, and influences. But getting influences from outside that weren't from mainstream media was not an easy task. My sources were limited. I often think how drastically different my life would have been had I grown up with the web. The average middle-American who has Internet access now has easier access to more viewpoints and alternative information sources than they ever dreamed existed. But they'll never see them because they'll never venture out of the AOL Time-Warner box. Fine. They'll also go to McDonalds when visiting a different country. But the non-average person will find these alternative sources and whole worlds and viewpoints will be opened up to them that wouldn't have just a few years ago.

And while the percentage of people who do this is small, these people are also likely to be the thinkers, influencers, and leaders. Different ideas will trickle into their conversations and some of them will even do things like start publishing a weblog that's read by their friends, family, and peers—people who wouldn't necessarily seek out alternative viewpoints themselves but will read what their friend/family member writes. And that will make a difference. I would venture that it already is.

In my estimation, that's not a bad start. After all, we're still at the very beginning of this thing.