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While modernization fosters global awareness and technological progress, it also exacerbates issues like information bias and societal divisions, challenging the ideals of cosmopolitanism.

Throughout history, cosmopolitanism has presented a fascinating challenge for both academics and practitioners. This concept, which has its roots in Western ideas, represents the recognition by social agents of broader political and cultural entities extending beyond their homeland and encompassing all of humanity.

In ancient Greece, it was an idea that promoted acceptance of differentiation, a desire for broad allegiances, unconditional solidarity, and globally equal peaceful communities. However, the march of modernization, accompanied by advancements in transportation, information, and communication, has led to the emergence of several pressing issues, such as immigration, racism, xenophobia, and the rise of hyper-nationalist factions. These phenomena exacerbate the challenges for cosmopolitan dreams, emphasizing the urgency of further discussion.

Exponential growth is a defining characteristic of human technological advancements. Over the past two decades, we have experienced more significant developments in technology than in the preceding two centuries. Ray Kurzweil, an American computer scientist and writer, refers to this phenomenon as the “law of accelerating returns,” where technological advancements generate further technological progress, creating a positive feedback loop.

The development of computers exemplifies this principle. Initially, improvements were so gradual and small that even minor innovations, such as the shift from vacuum tubes to transistors, required considerable engineering breakthroughs. As time went on, the development gained momentum with the introduction of faster processors, which facilitated the creation of more complex software, enhancing the capabilities of computers.

I'd like to buy the world a Coke

Rapid advancements in computers eventually led to the creation of the Internet, which is undoubtedly one of the most significant inventions in human history. The advent of the Internet has profoundly disrupted nearly every aspect of human life. Information democratization, facilitated by convenient and universal access to databases, transforms the socio-political structures of many countries. These changes challenge traditional sources of authority and legitimacy, creating a space where people can interact more freely in real-time.

One of the most noticeable impacts is the rise in global awareness of humanitarian issues. Problems related to hunger, poverty, and humanitarian crises now flow across social media, capturing the attention of millions. For example, the Israel-Palestine conflict has given rise to “click activism,” where people demonstrate deep sympathy for the plight of Palestinians. Individuals from all over the world, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, race, or religion, are increasingly expressing their concerns and advocating for immediate action.

This change is not limited to the virtual realm; it has also prompted shifts in government attitudes. Several European countries, which previously tended to be passive, are now starting to wake up and voice their concerns for Palestinians. Following the attack on October 7th, Israel’s escalating casualties and devastation have led to condemnation, including from European countries, with Ireland and Spain leading the way. In April, the prime ministers of both nations even arranged a meeting to deliberate on a joint strategy for recognizing the statehood of Palestine.

Some European countries, such as Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Malta, and Belgium, also share the same sentiment. Currently, only eight out of the 27 member countries of the EU acknowledge Palestine as a sovereign state, including Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Sweden, and Cyprus. The inclusion of Ireland, Spain, Slovenia, and Malta would augment the count to a cumulative total of 12, which undoubtedly will exert additional pressure on Israel, impeding its ability to get support from Western nations.

This phenomenon unequivocally demonstrates how technological advancements can lead to significant disruptions in our spheres of interaction. The rise of global awareness has sparked optimism for the emergence of unity and harmony, where we can respect universal human values to the fullest extent possible. However, the question that emerges is whether this achievement comes without any cost. Unquestionably, the answer is no!

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo
Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. (Fahrul Azmi)

Multiple studies have examined the impact of modernization on the phenomena commonly referred to as “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles,” terms often used interchangeably to describe the dissemination of biased information in public spaces. The notion of echo chambers is primarily associated with explicit customizing methods, while the filter bubble indicates implicit personalization strategies.

In the echo chamber scenario, the user makes a deliberate choice to align themselves with a community that has strongly predisposed perspectives, whether they lean towards the extreme left or extreme right. Because the users predominantly possess power, they can leave whenever they want. On the other hand, bubble filters are designed to be discreet, and users generally have a more passive attitude. The search engine algorithm will adjust search results and content according to user data, leading to the exclusion of specific information from individuals, thereby rendering them victims.

Information bias is highly dangerous, as once it spreads and integrates into the public discourse, it becomes difficult to discern true information. The ongoing broadcast of misinformation not only hinders individuals from receiving the truth but also poses challenges for media outlets to correct. When misinformation is allowed to circulate, everyone will construct their own narrative based on preexisting beliefs. The situation is worsening because attempts to present factual information will be worthless if they do not align with the public’s presumptions.

The tendency to accept certain facts can create divisions among people, eventually leading to societal fragmentation. It can also merge prejudices against certain groups, thereby strengthening nationalism and spreading xenophobia. COVID-19 serves as a prime example of when misinformation circulates on the Internet, falsely attributing the pandemic’s responsibility to Asian communities. Wild narratives spread, even encouraging racism and violence against Asians. Despite the widespread recognition of Wuhan as the origin of the outbreak, accepting information that assigns responsibility to all Asians seems unwise.

Commercial real estate
(Fahrul Azmi)

Bias information also frequently arises during general elections, as there is a tendency for partisans to be more motivated to share information that aligns with their preexisting beliefs. Technology then allows Internet users to easily seek validation and support for their personal beliefs, as well as share their perspectives with a wider audience. What is even more alarming is that the intelligence of social media algorithms, which read users’ preferred content and then provide information based on their preferences, creates a vicious cycle that exacerbates bias. Instead of strengthening unity, modernization, in fact, has the potential to increase division, where valid data do not necessarily support each party.

Now we understand that modernity presents both opportunities and challenges, implying that there is still a gap between technological advancement and the human ability to use it wisely. Therefore, it is important to implement a critical attitude that allows humans to move forward alongside modernization, thereby materializing the idea of unity.

The first step is to acknowledge the presence of “information bias,” which requires us to accept that information is not always reliable or accurate. Hence, it is necessary to take some verification measures, such as scrutinizing the background of the data source, closely analyzing the nuances in their language, identifying the motives and objectives of the information provider, and ensuring that there is no evidence of any deliberate omissions of fact. Although these steps may appear simple, the challenge lies in an attempt to diminish one’s ego and avoid being influenced by preexisting beliefs.

Given the importance of the issues, it may be prudent to incorporate educational programs in our schools that focus on teaching students how to filter information. A Pew Research study from 2022, reveals that nearly all teenagers in the U.S. have Internet connectivity and use social media, indicating their early exposure to a significant amount of information. It’s alarming that this is happening not only in the U.S. but almost everywhere in the world. Therefore, it is imperative to initiate counseling and education at the earliest possible age.

Meanwhile, outside the schools, we need to initiate a campaign to raise awareness regarding the importance of media literacy. This campaign should encompass a range of activities aimed at equipping individuals with a comprehensive understanding of information. Various stakeholders, including the government, community organizations, and individuals, must share the responsibility of creating an environment free of misinformation.

Eliminating information bias is indeed challenging due to the diversity of opinions and values shared by individuals. Nevertheless, we can mitigate the adverse consequences by providing impartial data from other viewpoints rather than biased information. This implies that we should use technology as a tool for promoting diversity rather than merely spreading and justifying our own beliefs.

Finally, modernization has provided us with means to connect and bridge differences in values, culture, and identity in order to foster intercultural understanding and exchange. Utilizing this medium, we may overcome the barriers posed by language disparities to learning about one another. By creating a welcoming environment for all individuals and enabling them to freely express their beliefs without fear of criticism, we could potentially progress towards a cosmopolitan world – a global village – where everyone receives equal treatment and respect.

Yusril Ihza Mahendra is a Master's student of International Relations at Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia. He is also involved in the Globalization and Sustainable Development program at Norges Teknisk-Naturvitenskapelige Universitet, Norway. His research interests encompass non-traditional security, regional politics, environmental politics, and political discourse in international relations.