In reading chapter five of The Wealth of Networks it began to dawn on me on how elitist the conversation is for this chapter. Benkler doesn’t do enough to discuss the lack of access provided to people and their inability to participate in the information economy. It feels like the assumption that is made from the beginning is that we all have access, this autonomy that he talks about is a false autonomy that is only available to the elite.
Only 66% of the adults in this country own a computer, with only 40% able to access the internet. Benkler’s discussion about corporate control over access and how people can obtain it is flawed because I don’t believe that he addresses things from step one, which is the ability for people to own a computer and access the web.
Multiple times throughout the chapter Benkler either glosses over the idea of economic disparity or doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to mention it, “If we accept that all individuals are always constrained by personal circumstances both physical and social…” (Benkler, p.141) Where is the mention of economic constraint? When Benkler does address property it is looked at in a legal sense and how property law dictates certain relationships as opposed to a view about access, “Property is a cluster of background rules that determine that resources each of us has when we come into relations with others, and, no less important, what ‘having’ or ‘lacking’ a resource entails in our relations with these others.” (Benkler, p. 143) He gives the example of people using a cable system to gain access and how their relationship is formed through property, again not addressing the real disparity that exists.
Later in the chapter Benkler writes about options that are available to individuals and how they can achieve autonomy, “For an individual to author her own life, she must have a significant set of options from which to choose; otherwise, it is the choice set- or whoever, if anyone, made it so- and not the individual governing her life.” (Benkler, p.150) Again Benkler is given an opportunity to talk about economic realities here and instead dives more into the social options and how people navigate life, “..if self governance for an individual consists in critical reflection an re-creation by making choices over the course of his life, then some of the options open must be different from what he would choose simply by drifting through life, adopting a life plan for no reason other than that it is accepted by most others.” (Benkler, p.151) A lot of these options are predicated on some sort of economic standing within society. In reading this chapter I feel that the argument that has been laid forth ignores some of the larger problems that need to be addressed in the information economy, before people can obtain autonomy they need to be able to gain access.