The downside of easy information access?

Back in the pre-internet Dark Ages, a person could get a passing acquaintance with a large number of topics only by reading anything and everything within arm's reach. The range would be restricted to the things covered in pamphlets, magazines, books, and newspapers, and maybe the encyclopedia. It took a special kind of personality to delve into so many things. Nowadays, with the internet, any clown can acquire at least a conversational knowledge of any flower, battle, recipe, or architectural landmark within a few minutes. I bet I spend an hour a day on Wikipedia, for instance, going from Bulgaria to Japanese naming conventions to anti-radiation missiles effortlessly. I am expert about exactly none of these subjects, but if someone wants to bring them up at the bar I can shoot the breeze for a few minutes.

The cultural implications of this are huge, and overwhelmingly positive as far as I can tell, but I wonder if this phenomenon has had any kind of noticeable effect on governance. It used to be that people who wanted to learn about some specific topic had to be dedicated and read up on it, such that there would have been a larger gap between those who knew and those who didn't. Now anybody who wants to can pull up Daily Kos or Free Republic and have a completely half-assed acquaintance with a subject--and feel that they know enough to evangelize and vote one way or the other about it. We've only been in this period for a few short years, so it may be too early to tell.

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