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With the radical changes in information production that the Internet has introduced, we stand at an important moment of transition, says Yochai Benkler in this thought-provoking book. The phenomenon he describes as social production is reshaping markets, while at the same time offering new opportunities to enhance individual freedom, cultural diversity, political discourse, and justice. But these results are by no means inevitable: a systematic campaign to protect the entrenched industrial information economy of the last century threatens the promise of today’s emerging networked information environment.
In this comprehensive social theory of the Internet and the networked information economy, Benkler describes how patterns of information, knowledge, and cultural production are changing—and shows that the way information and knowledge are made available can either limit or enlarge the ways people can create and express themselves. He describes the range of legal and policy choices that confront us and maintains that there is much to be gained—or lost—by the decisions we make today.
Posted April 3, 2006
***First things first: While I am posting this as a type of customer ¿review,¿ it is in response to an assignment in an Internet, Law, and Politics course at Harvard Law School. We were asked to compare/contrast the conception of the citizen in the new media world, as expressed by Yochai Benkler in chapters 6-7 of The Wealth of Networks, and Dan Gillmor in chapters 1-2, and 7 of We the Media. Within this posting, you will notice hints and outright statements of my personal opinion concerning the theories of both authors. Admittedly, the short discussion here does not do justice to the well-researched depth of either theory. I welcome responses and discussion from the authors and other readers (dare I say ¿citizens¿).*** THE COMMON GROUND Early in Gillmor¿s book, he admits that he and Benkler have had several long conversations concerning this topic. These conversations, no doubt, are responsible for the many similarities between Benkler¿s and Gillmor¿s conception of the ¿new media¿ citizen (NMC). Both speak of the important role of the Net in allowing NMCs to bypass mass media when the citizen finds news coverage lacking. Benkler and Gillmor each spend time stressing the importance of local political development and coverage through interest ¿clusters¿ or groups. In addition, both agree that the NMC is capable of performing mass media¿s traditional watchdog function. Gillmor even mentions that in a world with NMCs, nothing remains ¿off-the-record.¿ DIFFERENTIATING DISTINCTIONS While the author¿s citizens¿ share numerous commonalities, significant distinctions make me slightly favor Gillmor¿s citizen over Benkler¿s. Benkler¿s definition of the NMC is like a call to arms that requires, yea, demands action and activism by anyone who wants to carry the name of citizen. Maybe it is because I am nearing the end of my law school career and have intense senioritis, but I prefer Gillmor¿s definition of the NMC. Gillmor allows me to bear that name without ardent activism. He allows me to have more choices in my consumption and only act if something moves me so much that I am compelled to post or investigate. While he hopes that I will become a ¿grassroots¿ journalist, he is content that I change my consumption. The brief discussion below supports my preference, but acknowledges that there is much power in either NMC. DIFFERENCES IN DEFINITIONS Benkler¿s citizen seems inherently politically active. He views mass media¿s need to attract large audiences through lowest common denominator programming as detracting from ¿real¿ political debate. Therefore, the new media should be founded on a non-advertising based peer-production model responsible for intake, relevance filtering, and accreditation. This conception sets the price of citizenship in the new media at participation beyond mere consumption, with one caveat. If your consumption is based on a preference for ¿real¿ politics, then that may be enough to qualify you as a citizen. The challenge is that this preference must be expressed to determine whether or not it is ¿real.¿ To prove your preferences it seems like you must be actively involved in the accreditation through linking or some other ¿see for yourself¿ activity. Hence, Benkler goes on in these chapters to laud the work of NMCs in the Sinclair boycott and Diebold expose. He lifts up these participants as the ¿ideal¿ NMCs and, beyond a few sentences, leaves the dormant consumer as a footnote in his conception. By his own admission, his public sphere is narrow and his conception NMC matches this view. Gillmor¿s conception of the NMC focuses more on the role of the actual technology in transforming a lay observer into a discriminating consumer and possible activists. He seems much more concerned with the quality of journalism as measured by: fairness, accuracy and thoroughness. This journalistic coverage does not necessarilyWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.