If information technology follows the same pattern of development as did previous technologies (and we have no reason to assume otherwise), we are headed toward a very dark place. As noted above, the basic promise of technology lies in its ability to shape reality in order to better suit our desires. But what happens when this promise is made about information? If our technology allows us to filter and control the information that gets to us so that it always conforms to our own desires, what hope have we of sharing a common experience of reality, which is surely a prerequisite of republican government? How do we reconcile the basic project of modernity — the replacement of nature with technology — with liberty? Ellul thought it impossible: “The idea of effecting decentralization while maintaining technical progress is purely utopian.”
The salient feature of the pre-technological world was its indiscriminateness. With our limited ability to shape the world to our individual desires, we were forced to confront the world’s indifference to meet shared needs, such as the need for food and shelter. The ethic of the pre-modern world was defined by conforming oneself to a pre-existent reality. Technology turns this ethic upside down, and information technology reinforces this inversion. A kaleidoscope of viewpoints on any and every conceivable topic is available on the Internet. Having left us collectively estranged from intractable reality, technology has conditioned each of us to select the information that best suits our desires. And so we follow the logic of technology through to its conclusion. Tech-immersed partisans are increasingly reluctant to confront the features of political reality that are resistant to their own desires. As a consequence, reality is less and less likely to penetrate the layers of self-serving, reality-curating technology with which they wrap themselves.