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Tag Archives: democratization

As media became truly massive in the middle of the 20th century, many theorists discussed the degree to which individuals are powerless -e.g., McLuhan’s famous “the medium is the message.” In the last decades, the pendulum of dystopian versus utopian thinking about technology has swung far into the other direction. Now, we hear much about the power of the individual, how “information wants to be free” and, opposed to powerful media structures, how the world has become “flat.” The story is that the top-down Internet was “1.0” and now we have a user-generated “Web 2.0”. The numbering suggests the linear march of increasing democratization and decreasing corporate control.

The pendulum has swung too far.

I have tried to argue elsewhere (here and here and here) that Web 1.0 and 2.0 both exist today, sometimes in conflict, other times facilitating each other. On this blog, I have noted that sometimes “information wants to be expensive” and how the iPad marks a return to the top-down as opposed to the bottom up. Zeynep Tufekci and I have a paper under (single blind) review that discusses the iPad as the return of old media and consumer society by way of Apple’s Disney-like closed system.

Steven Johnson recently wrote a powerful op-ed in the New York Times titled “Rethinking the Gospel of the Web” that makes a similar argument. He portrays Apple’s closed system as incredibly innovative, stating that “sometimes, if you get the conditions right, a walled garden can turn into a rain forest.”

Opposed to the current orgy of writing about the powerful agent/consumer, Free, democratization, revolutionary potential, flat worlds and so on, let’s remember how structures and top-down corporate control remain important.

  • access is still unequal
  • how people use the web is unequal, something I’ve discussed as the post-structural digital divide
  • the “revolutions” of Wikipedia or open source are basically knowledge or software being produced by a few white men to now being produced by a few more white men (revolutionary this is not)

This world is not flat, and if the success of Apple is any indication, it is not getting any flatter. ~nathan

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by nathan jurgenson

myspaceThere has been recent news coverage on the relationship between social status and social networking site usage. CNN asked “Does your social class determine your online social network?

“Is there a class divide online? Research suggests yes. A recent study by market research firm Nielsen Claritas found that people in more affluent demographics are 25 percent more likely to be found friending on Facebook, while the less affluent are 37 percent more likely to connect on MySpace.”

And NPR reports that “Facebook, MySpace Divide Along Social Lines.

“Social media researcher danah boyd [has] spoken to teens all over the country about their use of social media. She thinks the online social world is dividing up — just like the real world — into neighborhoods.”

I choose these quotes purposely to illustrate that CNN decided to report on this issue when a market research firm found what was already known to social scientists, such as danah boyd or Eszter Hargittai. NPR correctly focuses on boyd’s research, however, their story comes after CNN’s, and well after social scientists identified the trend.

fbBeyond this point, an argument that I previously made on this blog is that we are seeing a more post-structural, new-media, digital divide. In addition to the problematic of access to the internet, there is the issue of how different groups learn to use the web. Boyd states in the NPR story,

“Young people — and for the most part adults as well — don’t really interact online with strangers. They talk to people they already know. You have environments in which people are divided by race, divided by class, divided by lifestyle. When they go online they are going to interact in the same way.”

Thus, the wealthy are more likely to network with others of higher status, creating a situation where digital socialization mirrors, perpetuates and solidifies old status hierarchies. Following sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, it might be the case that those of high status are learning to network with each other, making themselves distinct in the way they use new media. Does this serve as a counter-argument to those that proclaim the democratizing potential of the internet? ~nathan

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