Thursday, April 08, 2004

Howdy, folks. Ben here posting those weekly Qs...

First question I have is about the potential effect of the Internet for empowerment. Norris attributes to 'cyber-pessimists' the belief that the Internet will actually allow the existing media giants to consolidate and even extend their control over society. My question(s) to that is: If enabling people to construct their own media doesn't help them gain some control over social discourse, what on earth will? If allowing people to have a hand in media doesn't change the equation of social influence/control, should we conclude that media don't actually influence that equation? But don't we believe that the media oligopoly affects our civil society and politics? If we do, again, why won't empowering a broader spectrum of the population to contribute to the media affect our social discourse and in turn affect politics and society?

Next Q: We've seen a bunch of Internet-fostered successes (and/or partial successes) for progressives, populists, environmentalists, etc, including Seattle, Prague, the FCC getting overturned, Howard Dean going from nowhere to raising $50 million, the Zapatistas gaining international attention, etc. I tried to think of any comparable 'feathers in the cap' for the other side of the political spectrum, but what can we point to? The only thing I could think of was the FCC phenomenon, in which right-leaning groups played a part, but even there I didn't get the sense they were any kind of majority in the effort. What has the Internet done for the Right except give headaches to the financial and media elites? Norris writes, "Protest movements can try to utilize the Internet to network and mobilize public opinion, but multinational corporations and international agencies can fight back with all their financial and organizational muscle using the same communication channels." That sounds nice rhetorically, but how exactly are multinational corporations going to use those same channels to accomplish anything they couldn't already do? If they could do that, why did the next WTO meeting after Seattle take place in Qatar? What do elites stand to gain from a distributed network? Aren't they already connected with themselves?

3rd Q: Repeatedly "technological determinism" gets slammed as irrational, ungrounded, wishful thinking. At first when saw that I sort of nodded my head and thought, Yeah, can't get suckered too much by that stuff. But now I'm thinking, Wait a second, what is meant by technological determinism? Why is it so bad? Norris, for her part, seems to mostly reject the idea of a substantial level of 'technology driving politics.' Over the course of the Internet's 10 years that's hard to argue with, but in the long term? Think on these examples: Introduce large, durable, fast boats into human society, and international trade inevitably explodes, right? Is that technological determinism? Introduce the printing press into human society, and literacy explodes, right? And a high literacy rate seems to me like a prerequisite for a functioning democracy. Does that mean that "technology is driving politics"?

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