Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Will The Internet Be The Great Leveler?

Here is a review of a book called Power, Poverty and The Digital Divide. The book addresses the question of whether the mass presence of millions of people on the Internet will eventually create a more democratic society. It doesn't just look at the Internet either, but at the greatly expanded use of other devices, such as cellphones, iPods, etc. It also considers the negative and superficial effects of this technology. For instance, it suggests that our dependence on it as a medium for much of our behavior may enable a dystopian version of Marshall McLuhan's "global village", in which everyone knows what everyone else is doing - or at least the government and the corporations do, through the agency of digital surveillance. (Anyone familiar with the Bush administration knows this is already happening.) It levels other critiques at the supposed freedom of the Internet, citing the control that corporations like Google have over which websites are seen, and which are not. It also suggests that there is a "bread and circuses" element to the Internet, in which frivolous and superficial content crowd out the worthy and the profound.

Nonetheless, it does see the potential of the Internet to give citizens not only a greater say in the political process, but fuller and more expedient access to information and government services. However, even in the realms of the Internet devoted to politics and social change, a kind of Gresham's Law can apply, where divisiveness and anger overwhelm worthier attitudes and emotions, and consensus is sacrificed for the spectacle of pigheaded opponents haranguing each other in the vast arena of cyberspace. (That is already the norm in, say, talk radio.)

The review is not especially easy to read, but the book itself sounds provocatively ambivalent and could be worth a look.

"Will the digital age bring equality?" from the Time Literary Supplement

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