Plan for the Day
- Database Culture (just the first part of the page if we need to go back)
- Brief history of this course
- Misunderstanding the Internet, Parts 1, 2, and 3
- Our Public Sphere…next week
- Leading Class Discussion Assignment change to participation
Throughout the book, the authors make a point to demonstrate that the internet—a technology—is a product of the culture from which it comes and where it’s used. The internet didn’t cause capitalist or racist values; it’s used in accordance with those values. We need to start with a coupe definitions:
- Technological determinism
- Social construction of technology
- Dialectic of technology?
Questions to Start
Chapter 1: “The Internet of Dreams”
- Briefly discuss why we (pundits and users) assumed the internet “would generate wealth and prosperity for all” in the beginning of the world wide web (p. 2)”?
- What are some businesses and/or industries that appear to be changing—quite rapidly—because of the internet’s communication ability?
- The authors* point out “the underlying logic of the capitalist system: the natural processes of competition tend to diminish competition” (p. 6). How has competition diminished because of the internet since the early 1990s?
- The authors suggest that “nationalist cultures are strongly embedded in most societies, and this constrains the internationalism of the web despite its global reach” (p. 10). What’s the difference between patriotism and nationalism?
- How have “comments” sections at the end of online articles led to the idea of the “prosumer” as opposed to the old “consumer”?
- What is the main point of the authors’ argument about how the internet facilitates activism (pp. 33-34)?
*Yes, James Curran is credited as the author of this chapter, but I’ll identify all the editors as authors in class discussions. In your own work—for instance, an essay—you should cite the chapter author appropriately.
Chapter 2: “The Internet of History”
- In what ways was the US military instrumental in creating the internet we have today?
- The authors point out, “the American state underwrote a major part of the internet’s initial research and development costs. This was not something the private sector was willing to do” (p. 50). In light of that comment, reflect on the internet as an infrastructure project like sewers, roads, train tracks, etc.
- In the early 1990s, the internet is said to have attracted users interested in hiding their identities (p. 53). Why might that have been valued by these users?
- How is “[d]igital capitalism…not very different from other forms of large-scale corporate capitalism” (p. 57)? Consider where these digital companies reside and do business.
- Explain the ramifications of “Ofcom  reports that the average adult in the UK now spends more time using media and communications than sleeping” (as cited in Curran, Fenton, & Freedman p. 63))?
- Why do you think “online entertainment tend[s] to side-line political discourse” (p. 64)?
- Consider the internet (and the related technologies to access it: smartphones, tablets, Twitter, facebook, etc.) as an extension of a user/activist in regards to the Arab Spring uprisings (pp. 66-70)?
- The authors leave out two movements that we need to address:
- Black Lives Matter
- Why do we consider the internet an individualistic technology?
Maybe this is a better question for Wednesday, but I’ll ask it here: How does the internet help maintain the status quo?
Ch. 3 “The Internet of Capital”
Let’s see where the conversation goes…
- p. 86: The promise of “collapsing barriers between producers and consumers…”
- What’s a prosumer?
- What’s our word for “professional consumer”?
- Think influence…
- p. 92: “the new media economy” is a “sharing economy.”
- Let’s talk Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, etc.
- p. 93: “There is a common assumption that the internet provides the most fantastic opportunities for the renewal and intensification of private enterprise….The internet challenges firms to adapt to this new environment or lose out to their competitors.”
- p. 97: “the participatory possibilities of the web…are nevertheless based on a series of unsubstantiated claims, profound misunderstandings and puzzling absences that render them incapable of providing a rigorous account of the dynamics of the digital environment. In general, they are so steeped in either a market fundamentalist or a technological determinist mode of address.”
- The authors on Marx (p. 98):
- “This means that capitalists will do everything they can to extract more value from the production process.”
- “there will be a tendency towards crises of overproduction that will wipe out weaker capitals. These processes of exploitation, alienation, commodification, and concentration are, according to Marx, the terrible price to be paid by the majority of people for the wonderful technological advances experienced under capitalism.”
- What other systems do some benefit from and others don’t?
- p. 100: “What is being sold here is our profile, our consumption habits, our search history – our entire data history – in precisely the way that Garnham argued that the main commodity in the cultural industries is the audience as it is sold, over and over again, to advertisers.”
- p. 107: “far from signalling a democratisation* of media production and distribution, ‘prosumption’ is all too often incorporated within a system of commodity exchange controlled by existing elites who either call for user-generated material or cull material from already existing sites.
- A prosumer is someone who thinks they’re special and giving the world their work while someone else profits.
*The authors use British English spellings, so, when I quote them, I use their spellings.
Ch. 4 “The Internet of Rules”
Let’s see what you want to address…
- p. 118: “a consensus that government intervention would only stifle the creativity and innovation that was a hallmark of cyberspace.”
- Did you know that cars were thought to be a way of reducing pollution in cities?
- pp. 119-120: “the internet is implicated in a fundamental neoliberal transformation of the power relations inside the regulatory process, and poses the question: who are the regulators now?”
- p. 120: “if we are to secure and extend the internet’s public good characteristics, we need to challenge the current direction of travel and, instead, to devise regulatory systems that are independent from both commercial and governmental interests.”
- p. 124: “despite globalisation processes, national governments and legal authorities continue to play key roles in shaping, populating and enforcing the various agencies and mechanisms involved in the regulation of online networks.”
- p. 127: the false dichotomy between either government or private sector.
- Can we envision an alternative way to regulate the public utility that is the internet?
- Rhetorically, what does labeling it a “public utility” convey?
- p. 129: “libertarianism – the belief that individual freedom is best guaranteed by a lack of state intrusion into private matters – poses little threat in contrast to government or market failure.”
- Are regulations good or bad?
- p. 131: “Victor Pickard has called ‘corporate libertarianism’, a perspective that ‘conflates corporate privilege with First Amendment freedoms’”
- p. 136: “‘a small number of speakers, often with substantial economic resources behind them, will consistently command a mass audience…'”
- Don’t get me started on Citizens United…
- p. 132: Net neutrality…
- pp. 137-138: “The objective for government is to find the right regulatory balance between stimulating economically desirable activities and protecting individual rights to privacy and safety (in the knowledge, of course, that intelligence agencies will still hold the keys to masses of data).”
Chapter 5: “The Internet of Me (and My Friends)”
- Earlier in the chapter, the authors claim facebook visitors logon “for an average of 19.37 minutes per day” (the source is actually here and cited on p. 145). Does that seem like a lot of time, a little time, an appropriate amount of time?
- Consider examples of the hegemonic groups that best reflect the authors claim that “The more powerful and influential you are, the better placed you are to get your message across” (p. 47).
- The authors note that the internet has the potential for “increased sociality…to bring new understandings, as we are increasingly subjected to a wider range of viewpoints and encouraged to deliberate freely within a variety of networks” (p. 149). Are users really getting new ideas? Also, is it possible for users to reflect upon all the new ideas they may come across?
- Consider the nuanced argument about autonomy that the authors cite from Castoriadis (p. 152).
- Also, Castoriadis claims autonomous societies recognize their institutions are self-made; whereas, heteronomous societies consider their values come from external authorities:
- “among the gods, in God, among the ancestors, in the laws of Nature, in the laws of Reason, in the laws of History.”
- p. 152: “we are excessively and ever more deeply commodified as so much more of our daily habits and rituals take an IT form…..It certainly does not confer autonomy from capital but, rather, the profound and subcybernetic commodification of online human creativity.”
- The authors cite Curran’s (who’s an editor of the book) observation that “‘leading websites around the world reproduce the same kind of news as legacy media. These websites favour the voices of authority and expertise over those of campaigning organizations and the ordinary citizen’” (p. 157).
- Do consumers really want to or know how to find alternative sources?
- Consider the book’s discussion (and your own understanding) of echo chambers.
- If, as the authors point out, “it is always more likely that social media will replicate and entrench social inequalities rather than liberate them” (p. 163), what we need to happen before social media could be a tool for liberation?
Chapter 6: “The Internet of Radical Politics and Social Change”
This chapter is the one that’s supposed to show us the future! The interconnected themes of radical transnational political activism are below:
- speed and space–Rapid response across borders with minimal resources
- connectivity and participation–Offers social empowerment, tool for social change; raises awareness
- diversity and horizontality–Converging interests and decentralization
- Horizontality: happens at a much more flat level than it used to; organization can be spread out, no hierarchy
- Examples: Arab Spring and Women’s March
- Black Lives Matter was known before this book’s 2nd edition. I’m surprised there wasn’t some reference or even brief description of Black Twitter‘s response to police brutality in Ferguson, MO.
- p. 175: “It is the ability to form networks and build alliances at the click of a mouse that is felt to be conducive to the building of oppositional political movements that can spread…”
- More able to facilitate “alternative forms of political activism that work at the margins of the dominant sphere.”
- p. 178: “technological ease of communication leads to abundance of information that will automatically result in political gain.”
- That puts “a heavy onus on the power of networked communication to meet political demand”
- “we side-step a deep broad interrogation of the conditions required for people power to overtake corporate and state power.”
- What do we miss when we think technology changes society? Does enhancement of access via technology help change social norms or power structures?
- p. 180: Because problems are produced globally (even if a few hegemons pull the strings), citizens can be resentful of their governments, leading to a rise of populism.
- p. 183: It takes some cash to be an effective digital activist…
- p. 184: “Politics and political organisation emerge from histories that do not evaporate in the face of technology.”
- p. 188: “connectivity and participation online have also been fiercely criticised as weakening radical politics and offering pseudo-participation that is illusory rather than actual (Dean 2010).”
- compulsive hashtag “solidarity”
- p. 191: Is the speed with which social media operates (instant gratification) conducive to democracy?
What an “egalitarian” technology the internet is! Citizens United v. FEC also reflects American as opposed to democratic values. In theory, a democracy is equal voices, but, when corporations can purchase advertisements and have larger mouthpieces, it’s hard to say “free speech” is equal. An absolute libertarian might object, and I’d be happy to have that conversation…
- Consider these quotations all from p. 204:
- “The internet market, on closer scrutiny, turns out to have many of the problems associated with unregulated capitalism.”
- “Social media are more often about individual than collective emancipation, about presenting self (frequently in consumerist or individualising terms) rather than changing society, about entertainment and leisure rather than political communication (still dominated by old media) and about social agendas shaped by elites and corporate power rather than a radical alternative.
- “Social media, in other words, are shaped by the wider environment in which they are situated rather than functioning as an autonomous force transforming society.”
- If we consider the internet, originating from taxpayer funding, a social good, how might we want to regulate it?
- p. 206: “regulation of vital public resources is both possible and desirable to promote ‘socially useful’ outcomes and to check the power of unaccountable forces, whether they are market or government based.”
- p. 207: “Our belief is that it is possible to establish publicly funded bodies (with membership drawn from different parts of society) and systems of oversight (which are accountable to those publics) that have an arm’s-length relationship to the state.”
- p. 208: “we are calling for measures – for public control of a key utility – that have been applied to other key sections of the economy and society (parts of the automobile industry in the US; banks in the UK; airlines in Argentina; mortgage providers in the US).”
Of course, as we know, regulations might need to be beyond party politics. Just as we allow the destruction of the environment through de-regulating based on which party is in control, political parties have agendas regarding communications.
We’re going to delve into high-level discussions of the public sphere next week. Of course, the readings are older and don’t consider social media, but their theories are still relevant in post/modernity. Instead of the “Leading Class Discussion Assignment,” I’m going to have weekly questions to ponder. Here’s next week’s:
- What are your news habits? How do you consume news? How authoritative are your sources?
- When did you first learn media literacy?
Don’t forget that you have your Critical Analysis of Culture Essay due in three weeks on March 9th.
Works Cited (not from Curran, Fenton, and Freedman)
Castoriadis, Cornelius. “The Nature and Value of Equality.” Translated by David A. Curtis. Philosophy & Social Criticism 11, no. 4 (1986): 373–390. https://doi.org/10.1177/019145378601100404.