A recent article in The Atlantic asserts that Internet technology has unleashed a glut of thought contagions that are pushing behavior. The author cites as examples the riots in the U.K., Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring. Can these contagions drive people to take such extreme positions that rational solutions become impossible? 

Unlike biological contagion, where a "carrier" of a disease may become sick and healthy people will avoid them, thought contagions can actually enhance the positions of those who start them, enabling these igniters to profit from the trend or win elections. 

While panics and collective ideas that drive behavior are not new (think tulip mania of the 1600s), the use of technology can kick the spread and adoption of new ideas into high gear. What was initially an idea of a small group can spread virally through the Internet and digital media, resulting in rapid adoption by larger and larger groups of people. 

People who would once consider themselves rational and open-minded may find themselves adhering to a more tenacious view and excluding other concepts and ideas. Once open to compromise, they now adopt a more rigid position and refuse to consider another point of view. 

The results can not only be social, they can have political and economic consequences. Current political polarization in Washington has limited any type of compromise and has seriously affected the performance of our government. Is it possible that the Internet, once hailed as a great unifier, may in fact be driving us apart?