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/

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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. 

 

    Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics shows that the artistic and celebrated world of comics has gotten lost amongst the interactive glitz of today’s new technology.  Once a preeminent media in American culture, comics have largely been relegated to niche fan bases of superheroes and political cartoons.  Still, the importance of comics should not be overlooked, especially considering the genre’s development of the “icon.”  Icons are comic images that represent a broader message to the reader.  These messages vary based off its storyline and publication date.  Regardless, icons allow comic books to carry a deep, important meaning throughout society despite assumptions that they are simply recreational. (McCloud, 27)

    Although the physical medium of comics may be less popular than before, the medium’s effects continue to be felt in today’s television and film industry.  Over the past decade, nearly all of Hollywood’s highest grossing films are adapted from comic book superheroes.  Spiderman, Batman, and Iron Man are three of numerous blockbusters that have captivated audiences and spawned franchises.  Put simply, comic book heroes are commercially valuable in today’s culture.  This is likely due to the iconic nature of many characters. They stand for timeless American values like patriotism, justice, and strength.  These principles will continue to thrive in America, and so will the content that promotes it.

    Given the success of comic book films in Hollywood, one wonders about its future prospects.  Could the paper based comic book serials that were a cultural norm decades ago ever flourish again?  How has new media, and the progression from paper to digital content, affected the prosperity of comic books?  One obvious consequence now is that many artists and writers are producing for the internet, hoping to capitalize on digital comics.  But can one achieve the same enjoyment reading comics online instead of getting monthly issues in the mail?  Or is magic lost in the conversion? 

    For those entertained by today’s crop of comic book films, consider reading their source material.  The Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse websites (three of the biggest comic producers today) have a wealth of titles that truly conveys the magnitude of the medium.  Don’t worry about becoming a geek.  If anything, you may help renew a once popular trend:   

 

 

Marvel Comics

 

DC Comics

 

Dark Horse Comics

The advent of the internet and convergence of new media has led to the development of infinite possibilities to produce and consume media.  As such, it has given rise to narroly defined subcultures known as niche cultures.  Amazingly, these niches have changed the way media is produced and marketed.  Before, media was offered on a mass scale for the largest, broadest audience possible.  This was because sources of media were few and consumers sought the widest range of information available.  Today’s internet and existing new mediums though have given consumers a wealth of subcultures to be apart of.  So instead of once producing general media for a broad appeal, narrowcasting is emerging as a primary approach to successful media distribution.  (Jenkins, 2-5)

 

As mentioned before, the rise of the internet and new media has required producers to rethink how to the sell to the masses by focusing on narrow subject matter.  One shining example is that movie studios are bypassing traditional mass print and television ad campaigns in favor or online viral marketing that’s targeted to niche fan bases.  The goal is to generate hype with a film’s base fans and have their word of mouth spread to the rest of the public.  One need not look further than Warner Brothers’ and The Dark Knight to see the effectiveness of such an approach.  The year long marketing campaign was narrowly catered to the film’s die hard fans which created tremendous publicity leading to its release.  The film is currently the second highest grossing picture ever.  Expect plenty of other movies to follow suit.   

 

As Nicolas Negroponte pointed out in 1990, narrowcasting has ascended while traditional mass media is in decline.  To what extent though will this continue?  How much of one’s life today is associated with niche media as opposed to mass media?  What are the benefits of one or the other?  And will society reach a point where typical mass media is entirely replaced with one’s personal narrowcast of subject matter?

 

The concept of niche culture has gradually gained attention as it has become a prominent aspect of media.  Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine, has become an icon for identifying and expounding on the shift into narrowcasting.  His book The Long Tail, effectively highlights the development of niche culture and how producers should cater to it.  Here is also a link to a conference he spoke at discussing the changes in today’s media:

 

www.thelongtail.com

 

YouTube-The Long Tail

Emerging from the Industrial Revolution and throughout the twentieth century, the modernist view of technology has been adopted to address society’s influx of new media.  This approach to defining new mediums argues that the convenience, variety, and innovation offered by developing technology dramatically improves culture.  While there remain dissenters to its use, new media has been largely a welcomed addition to American and global culture. (Lister, 11)   

Over just the past few years, American society has seen an addition of gadgets and media that have been touted as improvements to society.  Smart phones, GPS devices, and iPods are a few of a slew of “all in one” media tools that allows one to communicate, travel, and entertain like never before.  In addition, websites like YouTube and Facebook have demonstrated the ease at which one can correspond with others through interactive video or social networking.  In fact, such mediums have become so popular, one observes that face to face and traditional forms of communication have gotten lost in the shuffle.  

Considering this, one must assess the consequences of these trends and determine if the recent changes in media have in fact made improvements to society.  Has the rate and convenience at which American culture now communicates affected the purity and importance of the communication?  Has it jeopardized the quality of face to face communication?  If so, what does that say about society’s emphasis of communication, and does it really mean an improvement in our culture as the modernist seems to hold? 

Author Michael Bugeja’s Interpersonal Divide delves into the consequences today’s new media has upon society’s relationships and the quality of communication.  He contends that today’s culture is relying increasingly upon virtual means of communication, to the point where the quality of relationships are suffering.  Here is a link to more information on the book:   

http://www.interpersonal-divide.org/