The Wealth of Networks Chapter Reviews – Chapter 6

@Kevin | Social

In Chapter 6 Benkler begins to lay the groundwork of how the information economy has changed mass media

I believe I see where the argument is going but want to wait until Benkler frames his debate before I talk about the transformation that is currently going on from a consumer culture to a prosumer. One topic that I want to address, that I think Benkler did an outstanding job on tackling, is the topic of control, specifically how we were served and how we used to consume mass media. I believe that Benkler is setting the stage to talk about the shift that has/is occurring in media, looking at the past relationship though is important to examine the current change.

A liberal economy brings about a few different forms of mass media ownership. The three forms are: government sponsored, the private sphere where the stations are fueled by advertising, and a blend of these two types. Whichever form is in place, the media is controlled by large and powerful bodies, the influence that these bodies have on the public sphere is important to note, “The structure of the mass media resulted in a relatively controlled public sphere… with influence over the debate in the public sphere heavily tilted toward those who controlled the means of mass communications.” (Benkler, p.179) The message that is being put forth to the population of a country is controlled by a few with an impact that is massive. Mass media was responsible for prioritizing, creating, framing, and delivering the debate to the populous. Our information was being served to us by people that have the power to chose what they feel is important which can be tainted in numerous ways mostly though through government or corporate influence.

The public would take the debates and messages served by these controlling interests as an entire product. These messages weren’t looked upon as an opening salvo to start off a larger conversation, which is something that you see in social media today but as an already developed product, “Consumers (or subjects, in authoritarian systems) at the ends of these systems would treat the communications that filled the public sphere as finished goods. These were to be treated not as moves in a conversation, but as completed statements whose addresses were understood to be passive: readers, listeners, and viewers.” (Benkler, p.180) This is a rather one-sided relationship with the only possible public response for the consumer being sending in letters for the letters to the editor section. That response though was still controlled by the people disseminating the information in the press. Sadly the public was only able to digest what was served up to them, they had no real way to engage in conversation in a public way where they could respond to or contradict the ideas the mass media was giving out. They were under the thumb of these large bodies.

With the mass media serving up information that was considered to be designed to have the widest audience and not necessarily information that is produced to be thought provoking, it lead to a complacency in the public, “The passivity of readers, listeners, and viewers coincided nicely with the role of the authoritarian public sphere—to manage opinion in order to cause the widest possible willing, or at least quiescent, compliance, and thereby to limit the need for using actual repressive force.” (Benkler, p.197) As a population we had become consumers that ate up what was served to us without the ability to publically respond to the information, while we were able to question it within small groups we didn’t have the ability to do it in a public fashion.

This is where the advent of the information economy began to break this mold, we switched from being passive to participating. I look forward to getting into that discussion next week.