Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nerd Herds and the Splinternet

Some thoughts on the reading "The Stakes of Information Law and Policy" by Benkler:
In part 8 and 9 of this chapter, Benkler starts discussing democratic discourse and participation in a "network information economy," that allows "loosely affiliated individuals across the network to fill some of the basic and central functions of the mass media. We are seeing the rise of non-market, distributed, and collaborative investigative journalism, critical commentary, and platforms for political mobilization and organization." As I read the section I started thinking about legal scholar Cass Sunstein and his assertion that the cornucopia of resources from which an individual can receive their news, information, and critical commentary can actually encourage extremism, rather than democratic collaboration. Because there are so many options, a person will gravitate toward the media resources (mass media or peer produced) that most aligns with their own opinions, thus the extremism. I think this was called "cyberbalkanization" or the "splinternet." When I think about my own Internet usage, there are whole "neighborhoods" of the Internet that I don't see or get exposed to, and by extension the opinions and critical commentary of the individuals who populate those "neighborhoods." What do other people think?
Also had some thoughts about part 10 of that same chapter. Here Benkler argues that the network information environment allows people to critique culture in a much more powerful and informed way than before.  Rather than simply sitting back and consuming mass media, he argues, network information environments like the Internet allow for more diverse creative enterprises from individuals. Individuals can basically "talk back" to mass media, comment, create and collaborate. I agree that things like the Internet have permitted an explosion of "talking back," but I would disagree that individuals did not "engage in personal and collective expression through existing cultural forms" before the Internet. Even before the Internet, people have been both consuming mass media and culture and in turn engaging in a process of remix, personal mythmaking, collaboration and creative regurgitation. I'm thinking specifically of fandom participation and communities. Anyway...see you in class!

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