Sunday, February 8, 2009


I admit that I was not familiar with Yochai Benkler of Harvard Law School until I began taking my digital communications course. While I am really quite impressed by his writing, taking special care to make it particularly dense, he does have some great stuff to say. Especially with respect to the subject of this blog. In his book The Wealth of Networks, Benkler says that, given the new media and outlets provided us by technology:

"Individuals become less passive, and thus more engaged observers of social spaces that could potentially become subjects for political conversation; they become more engaged particularly in the debates about their observations. The various formats of the networked public sphere provide anyone with an outlet to speak, to inquire, to investigate, without need to access the resources of a major media organization."

Certainly the 2008 Presidential election showed us what wise use of the internet, blogs, social networking and the like can accomplish. As these lessons become applied to other spheres, we may well see the rise of a new wave of social action. I am just unconvinced that this is going to happen. Being able to speak one's mind to a larger audience is terrific in concept, but there are a lot of obnoxious people out there. You know? Is it really that great that they can broadcast themselves now? And are people really going to become more involved in their communities just because it is available? You can lead a horse to water...


  1. But what about filtering mechanisms and community norms that either discourage or that outright ban trolling or other disruptive behavior, either through simply ignoring posts from the offending (and offensive) people, or blocking them from accessing a discussion group or wiki? Not to mention filtering mechanisms that allow users to pre-select what quality of posts they are getting (as rated by fellow users), so they won't see anything below a certain score, for example (such as with Indymedia or Slashdot). Wouldn't these kinds of mechanisms help produce content of better quality?

  2. I am sure they do, provided there is someone monitoring them. But I was speaking more about the ability of these people to set up their own blogs, websites, etc.

    I guess a good example would be Perez Hilton. Yes, celebrity gossip is a big industry and a lot of people enjoy it...hell I do sometimes. But I don't really think of it as aiding progress.

    Now, I don't think poorly of the people that follow it, and I think it is great that these tools are available for Perez and others like him. I am just not certain that people will use these new tools to actually improve things, or if they'll spend more time reading about Britney and her misadventures.

    Of course that is not to say that someone can't do both, but I am hesitant to say the new world of digicomm will really lead to improvements that otherwise would not have come to pass.