closedistances (closedistances) wrote in cmanthropology,

Democratic Potential of the Internet?

Meikle (2002) notes a change in the nature of the Internet overall, labeling one ‘Version 1.0’ and the other ‘Version 2.0.’ He contrasts the former from the latter by saying that the Internet is moving from an open system to being a closed system (p. 10-11). “A close system Internet is the e-commerce holy grail, and for a time it seemed that every search engine and service provider was trying to turn itself into a portal, or one-stop Net shop, closing the system as much as it could” (p. 10). He elaborates:

In the sense in which I used the terms, Version 1.0 offers change; Version 2.0 offers more of the same. Version 1.0 demands openness, possibility, debate; Version 2.0 offers one-way information flows and a single option presented as ‘choice’. Version 1.0 would try to bring the new space of virtual possibility into the world as we know it; Version 2.0 would take the world as we know it – politics-as-usual, the media-as-before, ever more shopping – and impose it upon cyberspace. Version 1.0 would open things up. Version 2.0 would nail them down. [Meikle 2002: 12-13]

In other words, Meikle claims that corporate attempts to corral the public decrease the potential of the Internet to be utilized effectively by social movements. Chomsky also notes this trend:
…The huge mergers that are going on in the media megacorporations carry the threat which is not at all remote that they’ll be able to effectively direct access to favored sites, meaning turning the Internet system even more than it is now into a home shopping service rather than information and interaction.
[…]
The megamergers like AOL and Time Warner offer technical possibilities to ensure that getting on the Internet will draw you into what they want you to see, not what you want to see. That’s very dangerous. The Internet is a tremendous tool for information, understanding, organizing, and communication. There is no doubt at all that the business world, which has been given this public gift, intends to turn it into something else. If they’re able to do it, that will be a very serious blow to freedom and democracy. [Chomsky & Barsamian 2001: 137]

On the other hand, a report by Pew Internet found that "While all people like to see arguments that support their beliefs, internet users are not limiting their information exposure to views that buttress their opinions. Instead, wired Americans are more aware than non-internet users of all kinds of arguments, even those that challenge their preferred candidates and issue positions" (Pew Internet 2004: ii). This suggests that people are at least being exposed to differing points of view, but does not necessarily mean that the venue of their exposure allows for interaction. A data memo released last month suggests that many people are using interactive forums, however: "27% of internet users say they read blogs, a 58% jump from the 17% who told us they were blog readers in February. This means that by the end of 2004 32 million Americans were blog readers. Much of the attention to blogs focused on those that covered the recent political campaign and the media" (Pew Internet 2005: 1).

Do you think that that opporunities for being exposed to different points of view and discussion of them (as well as the potential for political participation as a result of them) are being threatened by the business world?


References Cited

Chomsky, Noam and Davd Barsamian
2001 Propaganda and the Public Mind: Conversations with Noam Chomsky. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Meikle, Graham
2002 Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet. New York: Routledge.

Pew Internet
2004 The internet and democratic debate. October 27. Electronic document: http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Political_Info_Report.pdf, accessed February 12, 2005.
2005 Re: The state of blogging. Electronic document: http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_blogging_data.pdf, accessed February 12, 2005.
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