Difference between revisions of "Chapter 1, section 2"
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Chapter 1 Introduction: A Moment of Opportunity and Challenge, section 2:
The Emergence of the Networked Information Economy
Networked Information Economy and Liberal, Democratic Societies
How we make information, how we get it, how we speak to others, and how others speak to us are core components of the shape of freedom in any society. Part II of this book provides a detailed look at how the changes in the technological, economic, and social affordances of the networked information environment affect a series of core commitments of a wide range of liberal democracies. The basic claim is that the diversity of ways of organizing information production and use opens a range of possibilities for pursuing the core political values of liberal societies - individual freedom, a more genuinely participatory political system, a critical culture, and social justice. These values provide the vectors of political morality along which the shape and dimensions of any liberal society can be plotted. Because their practical policy implications are often contradictory, rather than complementary, the pursuit of each places certain limits on how we pursue the others, leading different liberal societies to respect them in different patterns. How much a society constrains the democratic decision-making powers of the majority in favor of individual freedom, or to what extent it pursues social justice, have always been attributes that define the political contours and nature of that society. But the economics of industrial production, and our pursuit of productivity and growth, have imposed a limit on how we can pursue any mix of arrangements to implement our commitments to freedom and justice. Singapore is commonly trotted out as an extreme example of the trade-off of freedom for welfare, but all democracies with advanced capitalist economies have made some such trade-off. Predictions of how well we will be able to feed ourselves are always an important consideration in thinking about whether, for example, to democratize wheat production or make it more egalitarian. Efforts to push workplace democracy have also often foundered on the shoals - real or imagined - of these limits, as have many plans for redistribution in the name of social justice. Market-based, proprietary production has often seemed simply too productive to tinker with. The emergence of the networked information economy promises to expand the horizons of the feasible in political imagination. Different liberal polities can pursue different mixtures of respect for different liberal commitments. However, the overarching constraint represented by the seeming necessity of the industrial model of information and cultural production has significantly shifted as an effective constraint on the pursuit of liberal commitments.
The networked information economy improves the practical capacities of individuals along three dimensions: (1) it improves their capacity to do more for and by themselves; (2) it enhances their capacity to do more in loose commonality with others, without being constrained to organize their relationship through a price system or in traditional hierarchical models of social and economic organization; and (3) it improves the capacity of individuals to do more in formal organizations that operate outside the market sphere. This enhanced autonomy is at the core of all the other improvements I describe. Individuals are using their newly expanded practical freedom to act and cooperate with others in ways that improve the practiced experience of democracy, justice and development, a critical culture, and community.
Democracy: The Networked Public Sphere
The second major implication of the networked information economy is the shift it enables from the mass-mediated public sphere to a networked public sphere. This shift is also based on the increasing freedom individuals enjoy to participate in creating information and knowledge, and the possibilities it presents for a new public sphere to emerge alongside the commercial, mass-media markets. The idea that the Internet democratizes is hardly new. It has been a staple of writing about the Internet since the early 1990s. The relatively simple first-generation claims about the liberating effects of the Internet, summarized in the U.S. Supreme Court's celebration of its potential to make everyone a pamphleteer, came under a variety of criticisms and attacks over the course of the past half decade or so. Here, I offer a detailed analysis of how the emergence of a networked information economy in particular, as an alternative to mass media, improves the political public sphere. The first-generation critique of the democratizing effect of the Internet was based on various implications of the problem of information overload, or the Babel objection. According to the Babel objection, when everyone can speak, no one can be heard, and we devolve either to a cacophony or to the reemergence of money as the distinguishing factor between statements that are heard and those that wallow in obscurity. The second-generation critique was that the Internet is not as decentralized as we thought in the 1990s. The emerging patterns of Internet use show that very few sites capture an exceedingly large amount of attention, and millions of sites go unnoticed. In this world, the Babel objection is perhaps avoided, but only at the expense of the very promise of the Internet as a democratic medium.
Justice and Human Development
Information, knowledge, and information-rich goods and tools play a significant role in economic opportunity and human development. While the networked information economy cannot solve global hunger and disease, its emergence does open reasonably well-defined new avenues for addressing and constructing some of the basic requirements of justice and human development. Because the outputs of the networked information economy are usually nonproprietary, it provides free access to a set of the basic instrumentalities of economic opportunity and the basic outputs of the information economy. From a liberal perspective concerned with justice, at a minimum, these outputs become more readily available as "finished goods" to those who are least well off. More importantly, the availability of free information resources makes participating in the economy less dependent on surmounting access barriers to financing and social-transactional networks that made working out of poverty difficult in industrial economies. These resources and tools thus improve equality of opportunity.
A Critical Culture and Networked Social Relations
The networked information economy also allows for the emergence of a more critical and self-reflective culture. In the past decade, a number of legal scholars - Niva Elkin Koren, Terry Fisher, Larry Lessig, and Jack Balkin - have begun to examine how the Internet democratizes culture. Following this work and rooted in the deliberative strand of democratic theory, I suggest that the networked information environment offers us a more attractive cultural production system in two distinct ways: (1) it makes culture more transparent, and (2) it makes culture more malleable. Together, these mean that we are seeing the emergence of a new folk culture - a practice that has been largely suppressed in the industrial era of cultural production - where many more of us participate actively in making cultural moves and finding meaning in the world around us. These practices make their practitioners better "readers" of their own culture and more self-reflective and critical of the culture they occupy, thereby enabling them to become more self-reflective participants in conversations within that culture. This also allows individuals much greater freedom to participate in tugging and pulling at the cultural creations of others, "glomming on" to them, as Balkin puts it, and making the culture they occupy more their own than was possible with mass-media culture. In these senses, we can say that culture is becoming more democratic: self-reflective and participatory.
Four Methodological Comments
The Stakes of It All: The Battle Over the Institutional Ecology of the Digital Environment