In this article, Cass Sunstein discusses the ways in which the Internet has caused a decline in public knowledge/a coherent public sphere due to the proliferation of self-selection. Online, people can choose to look at the news and sites that interest them, and they can completely ignore or fail to come into contact with pieces that oppose their ideals. Because of online news individualization, we’re seeing more political polarization and blind ignorance.
Sunstein explains that while emerging technologies like the Internet aren’t necessarily the enemy, individualization and the ways in which we currently use new technology pose a threat to democracy, because “a well-functioning democracy depends… on some kind of public sphere, in which a wide range of speakers have access to a diverse public– and also to particular institutions, and practices, against which they seek to launch objections.”
Sunstein suggests several ways in which journalists and media corporations may counteract this problem. All of Sunstein’s suggestions rest on the idea that media producers will willingly choose to band together to reverse the current problem… In my mind, these solutions seem a bit unfeasible. Because media producers compete for audience’s in a capitalist economy, their main priority is increasing audience size and making money. It’s not the most idealistic way of viewing the world, but it’s the reality behind most major news production. And for media producers, individualization is profitable. I find it hard to believe that news producers would band together to do something “for the greater good” without any direct economic incentive. My guess is that in order to inspire producers to create change, we as a national audience must first band together and complain about the problem/push for change. If their audiences are happy and there’s no economic incentive to change the ways in which they operate, media producers won’t have enough inspiration to band together, work cooperatively, and solve the individualization problem.
The real problem then becomes inspiring enough Americans to care about the individualization problem enough to demand change… which will be hard to do because a vast number of Americans enjoy the current atmosphere of individualization and media control.
I’m curious as to how your friend got the addresses of everyone he wanted to attend his launch event. Because part of the ease of the internet is that when we make connections, we’re more comfortable giving out our facebook names and emails BECAUSE they’re indirect. Now, giving out our addresses is not the same as when you use to because few people have any intention of mailing you a letter when you get their address. Do you feel like a personalized email would be more or less effective than say, something nice and well designed from Paperless Post?
I agree with you both. I think people are slower to act because of the overflow of social media activity regarding a cause. It feels overdone when the millionth person repost a popular supportive post, but awareness is the vital contribution. The Ice Bucket ALS social media campaign was a major success. It raised millions of dollars for medical research, but I think its lasting contribution is the awareness it brought to basically an unknown fatal disease. The campaign definitely made me pay closer attention and motivated me to find out the facts on my own.
I completely agree and have a similar opinion on how to combat the overuse of social media. We have discussed over and over how the human element is what is missing from virtual communication. I think this fact is really highlighted when you think about trying to gain support of a cause or a company. I have had many friends like you attempt to promote their product online. The online campaigns that I support are normally the ones I hear about offline because the authentic connection.
“Reflect on a time when you were part of an event (on the Internet) that was trying to establish social capital. Given our class discussion, how do you think that event could’ve been improved or gone better?”
Since I’ve been at Stanford, I’ve had countless friends create apps, launch startups, and attempt to publicize their kickstarter campaigns on the Internet. It seems as though everyone who catches the entreprenurial bug here uses to Internet (and Facebook events in particular) to advertise their big professional moves and try to gain support. However, I think that over time, I’ve grown more and more inattentive to these types of posts. When different friends are inviting me to like their pages for their new startup or inviting me to donate to their fundraising campaigns, it’s hard for me to get fired up about any single invitation. Because it’s so easy to create community online, there’s a danger in overusing the Internet to foster community, and this overuse dilutes the Internet’s effectiveness.
The Internet lacks a personal touch that I find highly compelling for interpersonal communication, especially when trying to gather support or share a passion with a friend. I’ve ignored most of the start-up-y plugs that most of my “friends” post of Facebook, but when a friend of a friend recently sent me a personalized, handwritten invitation to the launch party for his new app and included branded merchandise for the app, I felt much more compelled to attend the event and care about his new venture. I think that personalization and old fashioned communication and community formation will never go out of style, and in this day and age, taking the time to promote something or create a community offline goes a long long way.
I don’t mean to bash on using the Internet as a community builder or promotional tool. It’s obviously too easy and powerful a tool to ignore. But I think there is something to be said for balancing offline and online community and using Facebook and old fashioned communication to get the job done.
Wow, I really enjoyed your comment about the importance of developing social capital. I immediately thought of Tumblr, as my own Tumblr has recently deviated from posting about my personal life to simply reblogging content from other bloggers. With Tumblr, I’ve felt like it is simply more convenient for me to reblog others’ content than for me to curate my own, which has taken a toll in how I think my Tumblr profile truly describes me. Rather than speaking in my own words and style about what I find valuable in life, my personality is curated through others’ content. I wonder if this dependency has to do with the connectedness of the Internet.
Agree agree agree! I think a lot of people just assume that they’ve “done their share” by liking a video and sharing an article, and that just stops them from further contribution to that specific cause. However, I think about this a lot about just protests and demonstrations in general because I have a lot of friends who are into activism. Oftentimes I feel like even protests don’t do much either than just create buzz, but I think there should be respect given to the spread of awareness. I think a lot of policies change based on how much attention a cause is getting, and those examples range from labor rights to food security.
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I agree that much of our reputations are based on our online representations, but this adds so much pressure! One can afford a bad first impression or an awkward comment in the real world, because with time and distance, we can prove that we’re better than a poor first impression or that one comment wasn’t a true representation of our thoughts/feelings. People forget about the details and move on. Online though, things are a completely different story. Everything is permanent! We can’t afford to make any single mistakes, post a single bad photo, or get into one overly heated/harsh fight on Facebook. Everything we do is there for the world to see and relive whenever they want!
In this article, Peter Kollock discussed the ways in which the Internet has developed an economy of cooperation and mutual assistance. He walked through several examples of online public goods, including the collaborative development of Linux, and he discussed the ways in which the Internet changes the traditional costs and benefits of participation.
One thing that stuck out to me in particular in this article was Kollock’s claim that “online interaction can reduce the costs of contributing to the production of a public good in numerous ways. Consider, for example, collective protest designed to change the policy of an organization. Even if one believes in the goals of the protest, the temptation is to let others do the work and avoid even such small costs of composing and sending off a letter of protest. To the extent costs are lowered, the more likely it is that individuals will take part in the collective action.”
While I think online communication definitely lowers the barrier to entry for collective action, I think it makes it harder for passion to translate into action. It’s so easy to like a post or share a comment or spread awareness online, but it’s hard to get this action to translate into anything else– any real world commitment to change. For example, the Kony 2012 video spread like wildfire online, but the real world Kony 2012 protests weren’t well attended and very few of the people who shared the Kony 2012 video gave much thought to the cause 2 months later. It’s so easy to spread awareness about a cause online, but because information spreads so easily and there’s a wealth of information, it’s can be really hard to use the internet to promote real world action. Agree or disagree?