- Question: The Net Neutrality Case Study in Chapter 11 of Exploring Media and Culture talks about net neutrality and concerns regarding speed and access on the Internet. What are the implications of a potential decline of neutrality on the Internet? Would you personally be affected if neutrality on the Internet ceased to exist? If so, how? If not, why not?
The speed and access to the Internet are synonymous with the freedom associated with this medium; namely, these two components of the Internet ensure an accessibility to the content which web users wish to access. Net neutrality in this sense entails a concept whereby precisely such an accessibility to content is preserved; the conversing decline in such neutrality means the loss of accessibility, and is therefore a loss of the freedom which the Internet offers. In this regard, I would personally be affected by such a change, in so far as much of my time, for example, reading, watching videos, communicating with friends and acquaintances are entirely dependent upon the access to the Internet. According to such a change, I would be forced to not only alter how I gather information and ultimately, how I learn, but I would also be forced to alter how I communicate with those close to me. Accordingly, a decline in net neutrality would have a profound existential impact not only for me personally, but for the majority whose lives have been affected in a diverse number of ways by the Internet.
- Question: Do you think the Internet can make democracy work better? If so, how? If not, why not?
Perhaps the assessment of whether the Internet can make democracy work better is entirely dependent upon the extent to which the Internet itself becomes a model for democracy. That is to say that there are many news stories about a lack of access to the Internet by more authoritarian regimes: hence, the control of the democracy of the Internet becomes a symptom of how democratic a given regime is. Allowing citizens to freely communicate and organize means that the Internet itself is functioning as a democratic community, which then becomes an ideal example of how democracy itself should function. However, it is at the same time relevant to note that in a country such as the United States, despite the freedom of the Internet, democracy seems to be eroding, for example, in the current Snowden case. Here, the democracy of the Internet is being used against American citizens, in order to gather information from these same citizens. In this regard, the Internet can help make democracy work better by learning lessons from the democracy of the Internet and then transferring these lessons to the political sphere.
- Question: Do you think the concentration of media ownership limits the number of voices in the marketplace? Explain.
The concentration of media ownership clearly limits the number of voices in the marketplace, in so far as such a concentration essentially signifies an oligarchy or even a monopoly on who is allowed to communicate. Certainly, fringe voices exist on the Internet, for example; but they are precisely fringe voices. Media ownership being concentrated implies control, a form of hegemony in other words that means that the relevance of media is understood by those who hold power in the country, and they therefore realize that having control of the media and limiting the diversity of voices being heard helps perpetuate their own power. From this perspective, the very aim of concentration of media ownership intends to limit the number of voices in the marketplace: either to advertise a certain product at the expense of others or to foster a particular ideological or political viewpoint. By sheer overwhelming numbers, therefore, alternative perspectives are drowned out, and if democracy is defined by plurality, this plurality is threatened by such hegemony, which raises the important question: perhaps capitalism is not compatible with democracy, as the American ideology always dictates? It has taken the American public a very long time to reach this possible conclusion.
- Question: How do you know whether you can trust Wikipedia or another online resource?
The rise of Wikipedia can be considered to be a shock: individuals in their own free time work on encyclopedic articles, contributing and investing their times and talents not for pay, but for the reward of seeing their work on line. Certainly, this is a challenge to the ideologies of capitalism and profit. However, this openness and success of Wikipedia does not mean that all articles are of the same quality. In this regard, one has to be wary of exactly what kind of information is being communicated, since the encyclopedia has an open format. Nevertheless, Wikipedia’s format itself allows it to be fact-checked. For example, Wikipedia articles often require citations, that are then listed on the bottom of the page: information should thus be checked at a different sources. Furthermore, Wikipedia places a “star” icon on articles that are considered to be of very high quality by numerous users. This lets the reader know that an article has met certain standards. Hence, despite the openness of Wikipedia which makes it seem open to vandalism and propaganda, it nevertheless has built-in safety mechanisms which continue to make it such a valuable resource to the student, the academic, and the casual researcher.
- Question: The digital divide refers to people that have access to digital media versus those that do not. Are people who do not have a smartphone at a disadvantage (that is, are they on the wrong side of the digital divide)?
The digital divide can basically be split into two categories: firstly, those who do not have access to certain digital devices because of economic/political situations, whereby, for example, a lack of capital prevents one from purchasing a product, and, secondly, an autonomous choice not to use certain digital products. In the case of those who do not have a smartphone, therefore, the fact that they are at a disadvantage in terms of these two reasons would mean that not having a smartphone is merely a symptom of their greater socio-economic and political disadvantages in society. The lack of the smartphone itself, in other words, is not the problem, but rather the socio-economic paradigm which means that only certain individuals can afford to have such items. In this case, the digital divide itself is only symbolic of a greater social, political and economic divide, and is, therefore, symbolic of class tensions. For the individual who simply does not want a smartphone, this is merely an instance of choice: the devices offered by the smartphone seem to be available in other formats, such that having one is either a matter of inconvenience or being pulled into greater social propaganda about having to follow the latest technological trends. In this latter case, having a smartphone would itself be a disadvantage, because it means one that does not freely think about consumer choices, but merely follows the crowd.