Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The internet is frequently spoken of in the most democratic of terms, as a place where all voices can be heard, all have the ability to create content, and all have the ability to shape the internet's current state and future. This populist perception is evidenced in Time magazine's naming You as the person of the year in 2006. The cover states "You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.", thus very clearly painting the internet as not only a place for all to create contact or interact, but also as something under the direct rule of the people, a completely free space.
It's a simplistic view of the net -- for one thing, it does not truly function as a public space. Instead, users are occupying a private space, like somebody in a mall. Though each one can feel like a public square, big corporations lurk close beneath. Users' posts are subject to the rules and regulations of the businesses that own large swaths of the net, as well as the censorship of the site itself. In battles over penalties for file-sharing and illegal music downloading, some discussion has been raised over whether the restriction of internet constitutes an infraction against free speech, considering the integral role of the internet in modern communications.
The second problematic issue is that though the internet gives anybody the chance to share their opinions or work, a video or song rarely moves beyond the closest group. Indeed, the marker of success within the internet is to be snatched up by some big company after achieving fame, like Julie Powell's blog leading to a book/movie, or YouTube singers getting record deals. It's true that the "You" has some power and agency online, but the underlying desire and even need for corporate validation and a profitable entry into the capitalist system is the ultimate driving force in content -- the success in that arena is very much tied to the art's successes as well.