Cass Sunstein, in places like Republic.com (and Republic 2.0), has argued that healthy democracy requires healthy deliberation. The fractionalization of media outlets has made it easier (and cheaper) to acquire information from a wide array of viewpoints, and increased the amount of information potentially available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. But media fractionalization has a downside. It can encourage echo chambers and group polarization that ultimately harm a deliberative process.
How to foster deliberation is a huge question with many answers, but one place to start is by thinking narrowly about fostering deliberation electronically. How would online media consumption patterns change if desktops and laptops came pre-loaded with a range of blogs and traditional media sites? Currently, if you buy a computer from, say Dell with Windows Vista, Dell sets its web site as the homepage and provides a special favorites folder with links to all of Dell and Window’s technical sites. In another favorites folder, it would be easy enough to pre-load a set of links to liberal and conservative news sites and blogs (Daily Kos, Townhall.com, National Review, the Nation) as well as traditional mainstream media publications (Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal), as a kind of deliberative public forum. Certainly all of these sites are easy to find online, but would a new set of bookmarks organized coherent in a separately labeled folder tempt people take a peek? Or since they could be deleted with a single click, would they be discarded or simply ignored?
Beyond deliberation, a computer manufacturer could partner with a few charitable non-profits and set the home page each new computer built that month to the charity’s site. Over a year, there could be one charity for each month, perhaps. The computer company could set the computers to reset to their homepage at the end of 30 days.