This article by Ben Hamamoto makes the case that how we see and judge authority is changing, and that the Internet could be responsible:
[…] with science and health, we do value a certain cold detachment. Public health organizations in the U.S. have traditionally been very careful to appear serious, probably because appearing too casual would undermine their authority/credibility and, therefore, ability to be persuasive.
There are examples, though, of this changing. […] What I think this reflects is that, in many fields people’s perception that seriousness/sternness is the only indicator of credibility is changing. […]
To really find out what’s driving this trend of “humanizing” authority, we’d need to do research, including real interviews with everyday people. However, the democratizing power of the Internet is a likely suspect.
Aspects of the web question the wisdom of authority — the largely anonymously crowd-sourced Wikipedia is more comprehensive and accurate than anything compiled by experts and published traditionally. And the abundance of information flowing through various Internet and media channels means there is much more competition for any given person’s attention, (but also more niche channels do it).
I find his suspicion likely. The Internet is a democratizing force; it’s hard to believe that any group is so much better than you when you can watch them screw up on FaceBook and Twitter just as often as — if not more often than — the people around you. Just to pick one example, who now thinks that politicians we elect have any kind of claim to wisdom and morality, after the Internet shenanigans of the past several years?
It’s fascinating to see how society has adapted, and is still adapting, to an ever-more-connected world.
“the largely anonymously crowd-sourced Wikipedia is more comprehensive and accurate than anything compiled by experts and published traditionally”
I wonder about the accuracy of this statement. For example, is the Wikipedia article on ancient Greek pottery really more comprehensive and accurate than a collection of academic papers written on the subject by expert historians and sociologists? I personally doubt it.
I took the “anything” in that sentence to mean any encyclopedia, not anything at all. And by that criteria, it’s definitely true: Wikipedia has exhaustive entries for practically every niche that has more than a dozen Internet-using enthusiasts in the English-speaking world; no paper encyclopedia could carry even a fraction of one percent of the programming stuff that Wikipedia does, just as an example.