One of the most contentious debates about the modern internet is its classification as a public sphere.  To claim the medium is a public sphere is to argue that it is an unregulated, democratic entity.  On the other hand, there are political and economic concerns that question the “public” aspect of the internet.   To be sure, the internet has emerged as a preeminent communication medium in today’s society.  Yet much remains to be decided over its qualifications as a true public forum.  (Lister, 178-180)

Compared to most other forms of media today, the internet is perceived as a non regulated medium that provides minimal obstacles to free expression.  It is used by millions in the United States for research, communication, or recreation.  As the internet has come to the forefront of American culture, so has the issue of net neutrality.  This is the debate over ownership of the internet.   The argument has been made that because the country’s biggest cable and internet providers own the hardware involved in creating an internet connection, they can reasonably affect usage practices.  This includes censoring sites or altering performance speeds as they see fit.  This has caused a revolution of sorts from many who thrive on the democratic nature of the medium.  They view the internet as serving the public good, and any regulatory interference would compromise its noteworthy achievements.   

The notion then of the internet’s purpose as public sphere poses several questions.  By definition, a public sphere should provide everyone in the society an opportunity to participate, but is that really the case in the United States?  Is the internet still a medium for the privileged, despite its widespread use today?  If so, is regulation needed to provide equal opportunity?  Does the medium have the long term prospects to maintain its democratic identity?       

In the end, the consequences of classification are paramount.  If the internet is truly a public sphere, then no company or organization can claim control.  The biggest crusader to ensure this remains the case is Save the Internet.  This grassroots organization is a culmination of some of the medium’s most prominent websites and organizations.  Their site is the central hub in the fight for net neutrality.  There, you can sign a petition, and learn of current congressional action regarding the neutrality of the internet:

http://www.savetheinternet.com/

Collective Intelligence

October 12, 2008

One important consequence of the advent and rise of the internet is that users are adapting to new means of acquiring and using information.  Collective intelligence is such a concept that has emerged to describe the approach many online communities use to acquire content.  It relies on the specific knowledge all community members possess, and the new information or content that is acquired after the knowledge is pooled together.  Due to the popularity of niche communities, these practices are becoming more pertinent in today’s online activities.  (Jenkins, 27) 

 

An effective example of collective intelligence was seen leading up to the release of JJ Abram’s film, Cloverfield, this past January.  The science fiction film about a monster attack in New York City was kept heavily under wraps from the press.  Only a mysterious trailer and a slew of viral marketing websites were available to the public.  Still, fans of Abrams and the genre were drawn to the project, and corresponded for months as to the true nature of the film.  What was the monster?  Why was it attacking New York?  Even the title of the film was a subject of speculation. The trailer was dissected, frame by frame, to help discover clues.  Transcripts from interviews and “insider information” were given careful consideration.  These may have just been spoilers to a sci-fi film, yet it held a special meaning to its many fans.  To check out the movement’s central hub, head over to CloverfieldClues:

 

http://cloverfieldclues.blogspot.com/

 

It is interesting to consider, as face to face communication declines and online communities thrive, the benefits and burdens of collective intelligence.  Is it simply a more innovative and convenient method of gaining information?  Or is the credibility of information jeopardized due to the natural deregulated nature of the internet?  And will this mean a complete end to traditional small group communication?

 

Collective intelligence suggests that a new relationship is forming between media producers and consumers.  Under old media, the producer and consumer held specific roles in society, and operated in a linear manner.  Producers would create content, and audiences would consume it.  With the internet though, these distinctions have been blurred.  While the producers continue to generate content, consumers now actively create and respond to producers through the collective interaction with other consumers.  This creates a symbiotic relationship between the producer and consumer, one that will likely define new media for years to come.