This week's readings were not as celebratory of the new online world as the previous weeks. We learn not only of the downsides and dangerous assumptions of this interconnectivity but also of its implications in business and government. The overriding themes of the week's readings were choice, capitalism and collaboration. The readings were:
In the interest of transparency, I do not have any affection toward Cass Sunstein. This is not because of the current article (published in 2001) but because of an article he wrote in 2008. In the 2008 article, he proposed that government agents infiltrate organizations that "conspire" to undermine the government's good works. The agents would infiltrate "chat rooms, online social networks, etc. while touting the pro-government message. The goal would be to undermine the activists' works while restoring faith in the government (http://townhall.com/tipsheet/chrisfield/2012/09/05/dangerous_liberal_4_cass_sunstein). It is with this eye that I analyze the 2001 article.
The 2001 article rests on the foundational question: How will the internet, the new forms of television and the explosion of communications options alter the capacity of citizens to govern themselves? He rests his arguments on "the growing power of consumers to filter what they see." He presumes that audiences will continually and only seek those sources of information with which they agree and that audiences should be inadvertently exposed to materials they would not have chosen. First, there is a difference between exposure and availability. In a democracy, the information may be available. The citizens should have a choice if they want to be exposed to it. The governing powers of the democracy would ensure the citizens had a choice.
Sunstein states citizens should share common experiences which, in a heterogeneous society, common experiences lead to the solution of social problems. He assumes citizens have the same interpretation of the shared experiences. His viewpoint does not allow the individual to interpret an event through his/her personal experiences and viewpoint. There is a reason eyewitness testimony is considered unreliable.
The nostalgia he refers to as unproductive is the same nostalgia that generated the general intermediary/street corner/commons news sources. In the days of fewer media choices and outlets, there were general magazines that covered many subjects (e.g., National Geographic, Time, Newsweek). However, readers still had the choice to engage in those sources. Sunstein belies the days in which the environment he desires to create actually existed.
The underlying theme through Sunstein's article is the lack of choice. There is no choice to select desired news sources or in the interpretation of one's experiences. The individual will not willingly choose to research viewpoints outside his/her own beliefs and, later in the article, Sunstein states "it is because choices that seem perfectly reasonable in isolation may, when taken together, badly disserve democratic goals." In short, the individual should not have choices because it may be for the common good. I suspect Sustein will define the common good.
As a side note, Sunstein was appointed as President Obama's Regulatory Czar in 2008. The Regulatory Czar oversees the effectiveness of federal regulations.
At the base of McChesney’s article is that both celebrants and skeptics of the internet ignore capitalism as the driving force behind the actions of companies such as Google and Facebook. The internet operates under the guise of democratization; however, the true driver of the internet is profit while democracy/public policy secondary. In my opinion, the internet is the new playground for monopolies. The government often intervenes when companies appear to have a corner on the industry. For example, Southern Bell (telephone company) was order to split into separate entities in the 1980s. The resulting entities were Bell South, Southern Bell and AT&T among many others. This allowed entities such as MCI (long distance carrier) to enter the market. I presume the government understood, in essence, telephone technology and could foreseeably regulate it. However, since the spread of the internet, technology has developed rapidly and continues apace; it is difficult for the government to keep up. What has occurred is the government goes to entities such as Google, Facebook and Apple to learn how to coordinate their efforts. The government gets information while the large internet and technology agencies can maintain their respective monopolies veritably untouched by government regulators. It is in the government’s interests to “turn a blind eye” to the monopolistic activities of the major internet companies. As of now, the internet remains a playground for monopolies.
Another example of the government’s inability to keep up with technology is Uber. The logic behind Uber is a rider schedules a ride with a driver registered with the Uber company and application. The driver uses his/her own car and the rider gets to the destination. The payment is made via the Uber app. The cost for the Uber rider is less than that of a taxi. The taxi industry in Georgia has gone to the state legislature to request that Uber be regulated out of business. In this case, the taxi industry is asking the government to remove or severely hinder another’s activity in the marketplace.
The mass collaboration and collective knowledge celebrated in previous weeks are not as mass and collective as first thought. According to Van Dijck & Nieborg, “of those people who use the internet regularly, 52% are inactives, another 33% are ‘passive spectators’ and only 13% are actual creators.” The democratization of the internet is not as democratized as first believed. The tools are available but not widely used. Just as the television did not displace the radio, the internet will not displace the television. As Jenkins mentioned in his book Convergence Culture, previous communications technologies exist side-by-side with new technologies.
With the majority of internet users merely watching or inactive, this begs the question: Are companies receiving a true impression of their customers? If only 13% of the internet users are actual creators then the companies only hear from a fraction of their customer base. This fraction influences online market buys, brand messaging and brand perception in the online community. Collaboration is not truly everything if a small minority are the only collaborators.