Game Changers To What Degree

Trying to assess the impact of the Internet on journalism and government is a daunting task.  As Dave Winer noted, we are in the middle of a transformation.  It’s happening all around us, all the time.  Clay Shirky described what I think is the most interesting way to look at the current technological situation and its impact:  We are living in 1500.  No one focused on the transition period after the printing press began to play its role.  I think we are in a similar period with the Internet, but one happening so fast with so many factors its hard to figure out many established patterns of behavior and activity or where it will lead.  Further, those patterns are subject to change when the newest tech advancement gains traction.  The convergence of mediums on the Internet and other devices has led to a whole different dimension of user experience and possibility. The barriers to interacting and sharing, putting information out there from anyone about anything have been lowered.

It was much simpler when the institutions and hierarchy were set up in a such a way that we knew who was responsible for governance or bringing us news and more or less how they went about doing it.  You wanted to be a journalist you went to journalism school.  Sources for consumers were limited.  Now you can be a ‘citizen journalist’ and there is so much content out there that you can get any type of information you want. And, more complicated still, any type of opinion. Eric Alterman’s article has a quote that states it more bluntly: most user content is crap, even if it is all the rage.  The old journalism model we had has changed and will change more, but to what ultimately is anyone’s guess. People can tailor their Internet experience to get only the information they want from sources they want, be it Twitter, the BBC or Google.  I think news and journalism will adapt to the digital age even if it is transformed from its traditional style. I think Shirky and Murdoch and others are right and there will always be need for journalists, but the structures will have to adapt, and the definition of ‘journalism’ will be altered.  How it will be monetized and retain such hallowed aspects as investigative journalism and overseas bureaus is unclear right now. But I think the more troubling aspects lie in how the digital age defines what news will be, where it comes from, and ultimately how people will understand the world around them with so much information vying for their attention through so many channels. As Nick Carr states, more choices don’t mean better choices. The ‘filter bubble’ I think became a problem once you could get news on the Internet, and that was years ago.  The access to different information from different sources was there, but you have to know about them and actively seek them out.  It became easier to do this but not everyone does.  Education about how the news and information industry works is something many people don’t’ have and so don’t take advantage of what is available.  This is even more complex with personalization combined with content increasingly coming from so many areas and delivered by multiple devices and channels.  On balance, people may not be better informed any more than they were when there was nothing but 3 TV networks and the local newspaper.

Government could definitely reap the benefits of new technology, from diplomacy to governance.  But this is a different animal entirely and I think will take much longer to find best practices, not to mention change the institutions themselves.  Clear goals need to be established.  While the groundswell effect can help for things like fixing a road, the motivations for getting involved in government are different than something like Wikipedia, or publishing an article like Breslin did for free.  Satisfaction and sense of accomplishment are part of it but some kind of wiki model for lawmaking could just as easily be subject to partisan rancor as it is now.  The Internet is already helping to put some government services at people’s fingertips, enabling activism, and can help create a dialogue as we have seen in the readings.  But even the most savvy new media strategy, whether it is campaigning or running a government has to have a strong off line component.  This is the case whether in Brazil or here.  The Obama campaign was a great test case where you can look back and see how the whole thing worked.  For government, the changes will be incremental and experimental.   The real question I have is if it will make the government smaller and reduce its cost.  I think it will, but the transformation we are now experiencing will take time despite the speed of the digital age.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Digital, But Is It Diplomacy?

“Twitter didn’t start the protests in Iran, nor did it make them possible,” writes Lev Grossman in his article about Twitter in Iran.  He says it emboldened them, which may be the case.  But I think everyone, including myself, wants to know what role Twitter and other social media can have in acting as a catalyst, an inciter, a motivator.  Further, where does this fit into 21st century diplomacy?  Is using a medium that could be seen by nations as political in nature part of being a diplomat? 

I think it makes sense for the State Department to want to take advantage of new communications tools, and it’s a good thing that Alec Ross is addressing this at State.  In the conduct of diplomacy, reaching an audience whether it is one person or many with the right message via the right method is critical.  The field of Public Diplomacy focuses on doing this.  Communicating with people the way they communicate among themselves is a smart idea. 

The question of how these tools become implemented is what needs to be addressed.  Evgeny Morozov questions State partnering with Silicon Valley corporations that produce technology that will not be seen as value neutral, thereby making the State Department lose credibility.  This is a valid concern I think, but it is hard to say if other regimes see these new instruments as being inherently political.  They may, if the US government is in favor of them, but in most cases they use the technology themselves.  Morozov would be the first to say that these regimes use the Internet as a tool for maintaining control. 

  I think Twitter and Facebook have more politicization attached to it than anything used years ago, but the curious thing is that even as Morozov points this out, he, Gladwell, and others downplay the effect that these tools have on everything from motivating and organizing to providing actual utility for a revolt.  If these tools are more easily used to oppress the users, or don’t have an organizing effect, oppressive countries should welcome them.  If the uprising wasn’t all because of Twitter in the end, what do they have to fear?  After all, politicization goes both ways.

During the Cold War, The State Department published the magazine Ameryka which showed life in the USA.  It was a hot commodity whenever it came out, and would be passed around endlessly.  The Soviets published their own magazine in the USA with its version of life in the USSR, and no one barely looked at it.  Is there any doubt that each magazine was hyper-political in nature?  Both sides agreed to the exchange, it was part of diplomacy and print a big medium, but clearly each was stocking it with content to try and sway opinion to the other’s way of life.  The Soviets ended up being upset that so many people wanted to see the American publication, and in the USA no one was really interested in the images of happy peasants working the land.  The message didn’t resonate even if it used the same medium.

 A print magazine isn’t inherently political, but naturally it can be used that way.  Helping GE get into Russia during the Cold War wasn’t intended to help overthrow the government there as Morozov points out, but part of the idea for diplomacy during that time was that if people saw the Western way of life this would help against communist ideology more than anything.  I think an American kitchen on display in Russia was a very politically savvy move, if subtle, because it was right in line with State Department goals.   The point is that this type of engagement with available tools is necessary and has been going on for years.  The tools are different now and diplomacy has been adapting, changing, and becoming redefined, and will continue to do so.  Some may recall how George HW Bush told Saddam Hussein and our allies that the first Gulf War would continue on CNN.  An act that usually would have been in a private meeting between high level officials was announced to everyone at the same time because CNN was the quickest and easiest method.   This didn’t replace critical functions of person to person diplomacy, but to ignore it would have been to ignore an important new instrument that can provide value to diplomatic and political goals in the right circumstances. 

As Keller pointed out in his Time article, the big effect of new media was allowing the world to see what was going on in Iran.  State has made it clear that they are using these technologies in a variety of ways for everything from development to dialogue, and they will continue to encourage the use in other countries.  I don’t think it makes sense for them to shy away from using these tools solely because people may fear it makes them too political, or they are too connected with Silicon Valley.  Diplomacy in the 21st Century will have to take advantage of these new technological developments.  But it needs to stay grounded in the same fundamentals that have always made up diplomacy and use social media and the Internet as a way to achieve those same goals.  The best way to do this is still unfolding.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Same Same But Different

In the last couple of weeks this class has had many interesting readings and speakers concerning politics and the Internet.  How to characterize this phenomenon of social media having an impact in the political world?  Clearly there is something happening and this new technology has had a large part.  People spoke of reaching out, raising money, connecting, advertising, creating dialogue, making videos, posting, tweeting, and all the other buzzwords used to sum up how these new tools are employed.  And to top it all off we had an article from Gladwell that seemed to cast doubt on much of that.  So, what gives?

In the end I think that Gladwell’s article, the responses, and the writing about Obama’s use of the internet are talking about two related but different things.  Or, more accurately, the use of the same tools for related but ultimately different things. A couple of different issues stuck out for me in these readings.  First, no matter how much technology is used, the people are what matter.  That is the goal: to connect, alter the thinking of, and spur people to action. In reading Exley and Wallis, and in Graham Felson’s response piece to Gladwell, it was clear that new technology tools were instrumental in organizing.  But they were a piece of the puzzle, and tremendous effort was made for person-to-person contact that used an innovative grass roots model.  These new tools were used with a slow and patient approach, which may seem counter-intuitive to some since as Shirky explains, the barriers are reduced or eliminated to organizing with social media.  Obama’s campaign nailed its message and delivery systems, constantly refining how it was done to find and motivate people as efficiently as possible with every way it could.  As Gina Gantz told us, then as now, technology is a delivery system not a solution or strategy.  The use of technology was impressive but it cannot be stressed enough that it wouldn’t have worked on its own. Just as Jeff Jarvis mentioned that the recent Rutgers suicide was about tragedy and not technology, this has little to do with 21st century revolution or campaigning.  It is revolution and campaigning with the same goals and some new tools.

But this is where I think a distinction has to be made. The second issue that jumped out at me was that Gladwell wasn’t just talking about organizing or campaigning, he was talking about revolutionary activity.  As correct as the responses were to Gladwell regarding the potential for people to organize easier with this technology, this is an order of magnitude different.  Shirky said you needed the tool, promise and bargain with users.  The promise and bargain take on vastly different meaning when they could potentially get you killed or arrested as in the case of a revolution, or even civil rights demonstrations in the US.  Convincing people to vote in an open and free society is a different challenge than encouraging people to take to the streets in a closed one.   Just as its clear that technology alone won’t win you an election, it won’t spur on a revolution either.  Obama’s campaign may be a fantastic blueprint for how to incorporate new technology, but we don’t have one for the conditions necessary for it to aid in the overthrow of an oppressive regime vs. an uprising.  The potential is there, but the questions remain:  is the new technology used to oppress by oppressive regimes or can its citizens use it?  Does social media forge the motivations and connections strongly enough?  I would argue that you need to understand how a revolution happens in the first place, just as you understand the fundamentals of how a good campaign motivates voters, before you can conclusively decide when and how technology can have an impact.

There is a recent article in Foreign Affairs by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, titled the Digital Disruption, that talks about the inter-connectivity today that challenges authoritarian regimes but also poses dangers.  Interestingly, it has a section titled “The Revolution Will Be Podcast,” that explains how disruptive technology that empowers citizens for good or ill has been around for ages.  The article takes on a higher level view from the regime perspective of the Dictator’s Dilemma and how different governments handle the challenge of online activism, while explaining some of the ways that technology has impacted oppressive nations.  This is valuable, yet addressing the social unrest that goes along with it is necessary to have a firm understanding, just as understanding the mind of voters and the best way to reach them is critical.

I think the Internet and all the new technology has a role to play in any potential revolution, provided the conditions are right.  I’m not sure what those conditions are just yet, but I think its clear that the technology is not a 100% solution.  The personal connections have to be made, the motivations, promise, and bargains in synch, and the delivery systems available just as in a political campaign.  The success of the Internet in the Obama campaign yields valuable lessons for how this happens but I don’t see Gladwell or anyone else having the whole answer in the role technology can play.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wiki Assignment 1

For the first of our three-part assignment on Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jrahaghi) I’ve picked the entry on Public Diplomacy.  “PD” is an interest of mine and at The Fletcher School there is a center dedicated to the study of the discipline.  I think its conduct is crucial to a successful US foreign policy.  Further, I think that without a thorough understanding of what Public Diplomacy is and is not, it can be difficult to practice effectively and garner domestic support for improvement.  The Wikipedia article has a lot of information, but doesn’t flow cohesively to give a strong idea of Public Diplomacy and what it involves.

The Wiki article has several facts in it, but I don’t think is structured as well as it could be to paint a full picture of Public Diplomacy.  There is only one definition to start with, and a key part of this topic is explaining how nuanced the definition can be and how it continues to evolve. Later on in the ‘History’ section there is a link for more definitions, but this should be up front.  Right away in the first two lines it talks about propaganda which needs to be characterized and understood in the proper context so PD is not thought of in the same negative way.  There is controversy associated with PD to be sure, and this needs to get addressed. Again, later on in the article there is some discussion of propaganda that would distinguish it from Public Diplomacy, but it doesn’t belong down there.   Next, different types of PD would be good to illustrate how it is done, followed by examples.  Additionally, explaining the role of the U.S. Information Agency up to its absorption by the State Department would be very helpful in understanding the role of Public Diplomacy today as done by the US government.   I think re-structuring and fleshing out more would help in making this article much more readable and comprehensive.

Further, the sourcing leaves much to be desired as there is a whole section that does not have anything referenced.  The article doesn’t actively appear to be promoting bias, but naming a section ‘Public Diplomacy as Beyond Propaganda’, and not having any sources does not help.  Additionally, the last paragraph about the GW report appears taken out of context, as the link shows an article indicting the activities of a specific office and not the discipline as a whole.  There is a lot of material to work with here that needs better referencing.

I would add sources such as:

Tuch, Hans N., Communicating with the World: U.S. Public Diplomacy Overseas, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990, chapter 1, pp.3-11

Callahan, Robert J. “Neither Madison Avenue Nor Hollywood.”, Foreign Service Journal, 83

Definitions:  http://fletcher.tufts.edu/murrow/pd/definitions.html

Cull, Nicholas J., “Public Diplomacy: Taxonomies and Histories”, in Cowan, Geoffrey and Nicholas Cull, Eds., Public Diplomacy in a Changing World, in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, March 2008

Brown, John, “Public Diplomacy and Propaganda: Their Differences”, Knol, 2008

http://knol.google.com/k/john-brown/public-diplomacy-and-propaganda-their/1xhips574mqk3/2#

Sreebny, Dan, “Public Diplomacy: The Field Perspective”, in Kiehl, William P.,, Ed.,  America’s Dialogue with the World, Washington DC: The Public Diplomacy Council, 2006

A summary of what I would add:

Definitions: Public Diplomacy has no one definition and it has changed over time.  It is broadly the communication with foreign publics to establish a dialogue to inform and influence.  Additional definitions are…

Differences with Propaganda, Public Affairs, Public Relations, and Marketing.

Public Diplomacy seeks to be truthful and transparent in its conduct.  Propaganda is multi-faceted but is generally meant to deceive in some way.  Public Affairs is communication with the US public, not foreign publics.  Public Relations is product based and usually commercial.  Marketing is profit based and doesn’t involve a dialogue.  There are elements of these that may be involved in practicing Public Diplomacy, but they are not the same. 

History

The first modern use of  the term Public Diplomacy was by Edmund Gullion in 1965.  While found as a term before then, this was the first time with its modern meaning. The United States Information Agency was dedicated to the practice of communicating with foreign publics in a variety of forms: its mission :

  • To explain and advocate U.S. policies in terms that are credible and meaningful in foreign cultures;
  • To provide information about the official policies of the United States, and about the people, values and institutions which influence those policies;
  • To bring the benefits of international engagement to American citizens and institutions by helping them build strong long-term relationships with their counterparts overseas;
  • To advise the President and U.S. government policy-makers on the ways in which foreign attitudes will have a direct bearing on the effectiveness of U.S. policies

The USIA was folded into the State Department and is part of the Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy and is now a Foreign Service Officer ‘cone’.

Methods. 

Dialogue is key to successful Public Diplomacy as is engagement through a variety of mediums.  Television/radio (VOA/Radio Free Europe), films, speakers, cultural exchanges, and increasingly today new media such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and SMS.  Successful PD seeks to understand the audience and the issues, then figure out the best instrument to address them in a credible way. 

Examples.

Revealing US spy photos of Russian missiles at the UN was a great example of communicating to not only the governments of the world but the people as well.  The use of SMS messaging for President Obama’s June 2009 visit to Cairo to allow people to read his speech and respond was an innovative use of new media to reach out to foreign publics who wouldn’t otherwise have heard him.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sounds like they were right, so now what?

Web 2.0 and The Cathedral and The Bazaar are relevant essays years after they were written.  I think they will be years from now as well.  Regardless of whether things do not continue to evolve as the essays suggest, it is clear many things are happening.   The Web 2.0 idea is that the web has moved from a one way, receive only network of goods and information to a more open, service oriented, and collaborative environment with its users.  Key changes are such things as user improved data management that helps target the long tail, services focus instead of software, and users as co-developers.  The users and their experiences are instrumental to creating and improving what is available. The Cathedral and the Bazaar touches similar chords in a more technical way as it addresses top down and bottom up design of software and programming, with the catchy line that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow,” to explain how open collaboration can quickly and greatly improve software instead of it being created by a small number of people.

This line encapsulates the idea that problems can be fixed and things can be improved with enough people working on it.  I think what is really interesting about the Web 2.0 and Cathedral essays is: Where does it lead us?  They appear to be correct in many of the ideas they put forth.  In this class I was part of a discussion about how the groundswell phenomenon could replace many institutions entirely and completely decentralize governance.  As it affects the US, you might look at it like 50 bazaars vs one giant cathedral. “Given enough eyeballs…” can be applied to many different things.  Can people organize, govern, conduct commerce, settle disputes, etc. through communications technologies well enough that they don’t need a large and intrusive apparatus?  It’s a very interesting idea, and one that pushes these refined layers of interaction and improvements in technology to its limits.  At least the limits we can see thus far. 

As Clay Shirky might say, the technology releases the power of collaboration enabled by the elimination or reduction of transaction cost.  This concept of layers of interaction and feedback among people across a myriad of arenas and topics from business to casually chatting has permeated technology today.    The focus on openness to create and improve software or such things as Wikipedia reminds me of a quote from Colin Powell.  “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.”  I think this really describes a lot of what has happened with the Internet and its move to open collaboration.  The essays and books don’t mention it like that explicitly, but it appears to me to be a critical aspect to how we’ve managed to come this far.  This doesn’t mean business isn’t important or that people won’t want accolades, intellectual property rights or anything like that.  It does mean that this new technology has begun to create a different kind of culture as Shirky has explained.  Old motivations are still there, but have shifted in fundamental areas.  How else to explain why Wikipedia doesn’t always get vandalized or why people would spend their time improving software that they won’t make money from? 

At the same time this is happening, old, fundamental questions remain to be answered.  Jeff Jarvis addresses this when discussing the Rutgers case of a student who killed himself after compromising video appeared of him on the Internet.  He concedes the Internet adds speed, reach, and permanence (reduction of transaction cost to pushing out information) but argues that the technology isn’t the story here.  It’s about the golden rules of morals and ethics.  The user has increasingly become the focus of technology, whether for creating it, improving it, or finding different ways for them to interact.  Whether a web 3.0, or a myriad of bazaars continues to cause a change in culture remains to be seen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Latest Disruption

Ken Auletta’s book “Googled” helped jog my memory. It was with a strange sense of déjà vu, and a thought of ‘I can’t believe I was somehow part of that’, when I read how Google aimed to spread its search engine through word of mouth and search quality based off of what other people had clicked on. This is exactly how I was turned onto Google in 1999 after hearing about its superiority from a co-worker.  It seemed very innovative, and at the time gave no indication of how disruptive Google could be.

The book covers many areas besides the rise and rise of their successful search engine. It paints a portrait of a company founded by two brilliant engineering geeks who are dedicated to user experience, efficiency, innovation, and the motto of ‘Don’t be evil.’ Included are the ways in which the personality of the founders and their goals have both been an enormous resource and challenge to the people around them for building a successful business. I had not read something in-depth about Google’s founding, so this was very interesting. More interesting still are the ideas about how Google fits into the new media and technology landscape. More questions are raised than answers, but after reading this book it became crystal clear how the evolving nature of the digital world will have an impact on everyone in critical areas of business, technology, governance and privacy.

I think much of what Clay Shirky described from ‘Here Comes Everybody’ is tapped into by Google. They initially became very successful as a search engine because they had a promise and bargain with users to give them fast, efficient results not influenced by advertising. They built it on the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ to make searches more relevant, and people felt it worked. Their innovative AdWords and AdSense models allowed them to still have pertinent advertising but not let it color the actual results of their search that was built off data from the users. Shirky described the web as a place where transaction costs for collaboration and communication have been lowered. The transaction costs for a user to tell a search engine their preferences become lower every time they click on a link, whether they realize it or not. ‘The collaborative, open, connected environment that is the web is Google,’ is one way the company is described in ‘Googled’.

Roles are being redefined by Google, just as Shirky mentioned and as is illustrated by Auletta. In both cases none is more clear than old vs. new media. How to exactly define Google News and YouTube? As content providers or platforms for content providers? Quincy Smith says that the platform is the business, and Google can help you monetize your content. News consumption hasn’t gone down, it’s the circulation of newspapers and magazines that has diminished. Google has taken advantage of the digital platform to aggregate news. In Publishing 2.0, a post reads that content doesn’t matter, packaging does, and news providers need a new interface for their news. I agree traditional news providers need to adapt to the digital landscape to compete, but what a standard new platform for news that can be monetized will look like is unclear even though Publishing 2.0 has a post for a new platform for the AP. It will take a new approach, because right now there is no scarcity for the traditional media product. It’s interesting to note that content vs. delivery is the divide with old and new media in many cases.  Maybe if old media finds a way to take hold with an innovative news interface, their emphasis on content can be better served.

The way companies adapt, or fail to adapt, to new reality and new technology is one of the big takeaways I had from ‘Googled.’ Stories of companies that couldn’t see the potential of doing old business with new technology sounded like it was becoming a version of Moore’s law. Instead of transistors it’s companies that are increasing the speed in which they add layers to technological capability and experience. They have been and are moving faster to add to what has already been accomplished: computer, platform, interface, application, internet, community, search, commerce, expansion to digital devices etc. For years it was IBM, then things started happening faster with Apple and Microsoft, now Google, and already Facebook could be a potential threat to Google. Lawrence Lessig describes Microsoft’s success as having its operating system that controlled the applications, and now Google has on top of that a data layer that cuts across layers of human life: privacy, competition, access to commerce, and content. Paul Graham pronounced Microsoft dead in 2007, in large part because of Google with its search, Gmail and online applications. Microsoft is clearly not dead, but the idea of the seemingly prescient technology juggernaut of only a decade ago not being able to adapt to the next layer in the ever-moving digital world is intriguing, and one that any media or technology company needs to be wary of. This makes Google policy of 20% time to innovate and work on other projects seem like it may be a critical idea, not just a good one. The ideas that Shirky put forth are constantly evolving and Google and Facebook show this. They are a decentralized way to communicate and get information, layered on what has already been built.

‘Googled’ touches on many areas the company impacts, from competitors to privacy concerns and international politics. Jeff Jarvis in his blog discusses recent anger at Craig’s list and German anger at Google, and I think his explanation for both can be applied to a lot of American sentiment as well: people are going after a disruptor. Auletta describes how people feel Google is the new Microsoft. It’s so big and powerful and so utterly dominates the search and related advertising market. Plus, people were upset about how it handled itself in China, appearing to many to cave in to censorship. Further, the incredible amount of personal data it collects has many people worried and skeptical that Google is just a benevolent company for its users.  I know it took  me some time to realize just how prevalent Google was in daily life with email, search and calendar as a few examples.  Add to that the fact that they have so much personal information and it makes me wonder if I really want to put so much trust into a catchy motto.  Time will tell if Google can simultaneously address these burgeoning concerns of the digital frontier and continue to innovate, or if it will be eclipsed by the next company to add a layer to the new technology landscape.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shirky and Here Comes Everybody

In Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky explores the current impact and potential of the Internet and new media.  Clearly a fan of what is possible and an admirer of what has already happened, he explains how the advent of new communications tools and interconnectivity have had a fundamental impact on organizing people.  Now, it is possible for a group to communicate, share, interact, mobilize, and direct their energies without the need of any type of traditional organization.  The “transaction costs” as Shirky puts it, of organizing, publishing, connecting, spreading ideas, and communication are lowered or disappearing.  In essence, the barriers to collective action are being removed.  Wikipedia, flash mobs, and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan group are some examples of what is possible in the right circumstances combined with the right technology.

The conditions necessary to take advantage of well known tools such as The Internet, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Wikipedia, blogging, messaging, and SMS are summarized by the need for three key ingredients:  The promise (of what the group or media tool is going to/can do) the bargain (of what the users or group can expect), and the tool itself (the correct new media technology to make these things happen). Touching on various theories such as the Tragedy of the Commons and Longtail, Shirky convincingly explains many examples of things that worked, like Wikipedia and flash mobs, and things that did not, like the Wikitorial of the LA Times.

In this new ‘eco-system’, roles are redefined, and I think Shirky does a great job in explaining this.  The news industry is a key example of this profound change as many areas reserved for institutional journalism professionals and publishers have moved online or led to mass amateurism.  Definitions for a journalist and news have grayed because so many people have the opportunity to communicate whatever they want with many others.  The technological impact described is not unprecedented, and blogger Jeff Jarvis would likely agree about the shift in what we look at as news.  A September 1 post in his blog BuzzMachine discusses Jay Rosen’s research on the history of publics and press.  He highlights a 1780s printer announcing the service of a city register enabling people to receive word of who was in town.  The register provided a form of news for people in a community that had too many changing connections with people coming and going.  Jarvis parallels this with Facebook’s ‘newsfeed’ which he now considers news, something he scoffed at previously.

The fact that I can reference a ‘blog’ as a legitimate way to make a point even as I’m writing one is a reflection of the magnitude of change that has taken place.  Back in 2004 the LA Times ran an article titled “No doubt about it, blogs are major players,” that highlighted the role of blogs and their impact on the CBS story concerning George W. Bush’s national guard service.  This was a watershed event showcasing the changing media landscape Shirky describes.

Shirky marvels at what is possible, especially when it comes to international situations like Belorussian flash mobs or the local citizen reaction to a Chinese earthquake. Author Evgeny Morozov interprets such events differently, and has written extensively on the limits of the Internet. Morozov feels that it can be just the opposite of revolutionary. He writes about the likelihood of the state using the tools to monitor and oppress, and explains why Twitter, for example, won’t overthrow the Iranian government.  What backs up these ideas is the fact that many authoritarian regimes are still in place after various uprisings using new communications technology. Both Shirky and Morozov have very interesting views found in a debate on the Edge.org, and this particular area is one in which both could ultimately prove correct to some degree since no one knows what technology or implementation the future will bring.  I think its clear there is an impact on authoritarian regimes and the ways and means that Shirky lay out are an excellent way to grasp this.  However, perhaps best to keep in mind are the three ingredients he deems necessary for technology to take hold and cause change, as well as what is on the front cover of his book:  “revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behaviors.”  Technology, as Shirky knows, is only part of the equation.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment