Are You There God? It's Me, Gidget, Culture, Technology

The Internet, Mass Media Pervasiveness

The Internet is a pervasive medium that enhances personal communication, access to information, and freedom of speech, while making obsolete borders, reversing isolation even as it reduces tactile and direct experiences with real people, which retrieves a sense of tribalism a global village.

By means of the Internet, the ways in which we can communicate have been forever enhanced. The Internet is here to stay and it will ever continue to grow in popularity.

The Internet Past and Present

The Victorian Internet

In “The Victorian Internet” Standage (1998) argues that the internet is not a modern day invention that is as revolutionary as others would make it out to be. Indeed, the internet was born in the Victorian age of the nineteenth century and was known at that time as the telegraph.

Standage outlines how every element of the modern day internet is founded earlier in the Victorian Internet. Telegraph operators who were able to transmit and receive messages without a paper log were the first real high-tech workers. Online chat rooms and online social life is also nothing new, back in the day the 24/7 hours required for telegraph operation allowed operators plenty of downtime to talk casually, sharing experiences and jokes, and news. Shorthand codes were developed similar to the signatures and chat abbreviations that we use today in emails and instant messages. They even played ‘online’ games such as chess and checkers! This environment led to the natural human development of romance which is the real precursor of today’s online modern romance stories.

He also asserts that “the telegraph unleashed the greatest revolution in communications since the development of the printing press. Modern Internet users are in many ways the heirs of the telegraphic tradition, which means that today we are in a unique position to understand the telegraph. And the telegraph, in turn, can give us a fascinating perspective on the challenges, opportunities, and pitfalls of the Internet.

Our generation has a ‘chronocentricity‘, to use the term Standage coined, when looking at the Internet. It is not our invention, nor is it a revolution that begun in our day. History repeats itself and every new invention is an old idea. For example, before there were even telegraphs there were messengers running around carrying messages on horses across the American frontier, and earlier, in ancient Greek and Roman times.

The Internet is not a new invention, nor are the elements that make up its social environment, nor are any of the issues that arise from any arrival of any new technology.

20th Century Internet

According to the Federal Networking Council, the “‘Internet’ refers to the global information system that

  1. Is logically linked together by a globally unique address space based on the Internet Protocol (IP) or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons;
  2. Is able to support communications using the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons, and/or other IP-compatible protocols; and
  3. Provides, uses or makes accessible, either publicly or privately, high level services layered on the communications and related infrastructure described herein.”

Simply stated, the Internet is a network of networks which allows information and documents to be shared, you might liken the Internet to telephone wires which are strung across the nation to which allow conversations to take place. A telephone wire isn’t a collection of conversations; they are just the means by which they travel from home phone to another. The World Wide Web (or “the Web”) is the system of interlinked (called “hyperlinked”) documents which can be accessed using the Internet. You could think of the WWW as all the people who you might want to call who have interesting gossip to share. Finally there is a Web browser which serves as your telephone… It is the means by which you receive and read documents that you have accessed on the Web via the Internet.

Bringing the Global Village Together

While the term was originally coined earlier, Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1962) used the “Global Village” to refer to the time period in which electronic mass media would break down the world’s barriers to form a global village in which people can communicate and interact. He warns of the need to be aware of the cognitive affect the media could have, moving the individualized, open society of the “Gutenberg Galaxy” into a collective identity formed by the “electronic interdependence”. Under such conditions he feared the possibility of a networked rule of tyranny and terror, while others would like to believe in it actually bringing the world together into a virtual real global village, a forum in which all may share and the world’s problems might be solved.

While we have entered the “Global Village” era as prophesied by McLuhan it is up for debate as to whether it has ushered in a once again closed society vulnerable to negative influences and power that might be wielded or rather opened to a vast array of free speech and individualism. However, either way the digital divide should here be noted, this being the inequality between peoples who have effective access to Internet and personal technology and those who do not. How global is your village if everyone cannot participate?

Lifting Voices to Make a Difference

While we’re on the thought of free speech, in as much as many more people have access to Internet publishing as compared to print publishing the Internet has democratized free speech. Whether it’s a news report you disagree with or offering personal commentary on major world events, people can now speak up and offer their opinions and input through simple comments (such as on www.usatoday.com) and blogging.

Blogging has proven a very powerful form of communication having great impact on both government and business. Take for instance May 16th, 2007 the now historical day in which “AppleGate” took place. The extremely popular technology blog, Engadget, reported that the iPhone and Mac’s new OS “Leopard” would both be delayed several months. The effect? Within six minutes of the “news” report Apple’s market capitalization took a hit of four billion dollars where many investors lost staggering amounts of money thanks to the automation now built into “playing the stock market game”.

The concept that the Press is the fourth estate is founded on the idea that the media’s function is to act as a sentinel of the public interest and a government watchdog. In as much as this is true, bloggers are the newly established “fifth estate“—those watching the watchdog. Rony Abovitz, a blogger made famous by his posting CNN executive Eason Jordan’s accusation at the World Economic Forum in 2005, acknowledges the influence and impact that blogs have stating,

“The ability of blogs such as this one [www.forumblog.org] to influence and reach the mainstream media is a relatively new mode of the expression of free speech—truly free speech. The balance of power is being disrupted because the corporate media can no longer strongly control what a wide audience sees or hears. We need to continue this reclaiming of the freedom of speech away from corporate media, where revenues and market share will always balance with objectivity—a business is a business and has its own internal logic of building shareholder value. Voices who care primarily about the ethical and moral considerations of an issue are needed if the world is to become transparent and accountable.”

Viable

The Internet and the World Wide Web is a viable solution to serve global communication and democracy. The system which undergrids the Internet allows nearly unchallenged growth and is virtually unlimited by resources. It grows when someone purchases a computer and sets it up to host information on the Internet, thereby becoming a Web server. Anyone can register a domain name which can be used to reference a Web site hosted on such a server. Upon that Web site they might maintain a blog where they voice their opinions and offer commentary on issues affecting the global village. If space is used up, another server is added. Domain names choices are increased by adding more extensions, such as .net and .org. The Internet has come to serve as a mapping of whats relevant to the human mind, and as the human mind is seemingly limitless in its ability to grow and imagine so you must believe the Internet is too.

Ever Popular

The Internet and its World Wide Web are as popular as previous mediums, such as books, newspapers, magazines, radio, television and movies, ever were. As a matter of fact the Internet seems to be a subversive influence on these other mediums as it gobbles them up. Books may be published only online as are Web ‘zines. Local radio might be streamed, or maybe you prefer a station from halfway around the world. Missed the latest episode of your favorite television show? No worries, you can just watch it on the network’s Web site. Netflix has a streaming movie service so you can watch DVD’s online in beta right now.

Next add the democratization of publishing, social networking and shopping to the mix and it’s no wonder why this medium is so popular. It is everything to everyone, and all accessible from the comfort of your very own home, or your local library. The Internet and its World Wide Web is pervasive and is becoming its very own unique form of mass media. It is self-governing and self-regulated. It is the voice of the people, and the mediated landscape of the modern life.

Conclusion

The Internet and the World Wide Web built upon it have changed how people experience communication in this modern age. The Internet enabled a connected virtual global village where people can interact socially and in business nearly instantaneously regardless of location. The advent of blogging freedom of speech saw a new era where 70 million people have a forum for discussing ideas and influencing change both socially and politically. Where one may not have previously had the resources to champion a cause the Internet’s World Wide Web allowed for these campaigns and the prolific distribution of content.

While the digital divide still plagues developing countries and those who are uncertain as to effective use of the technology, many are working to close this gap and further connect the world’s citizens. Many debate whether the Web is promoting a hegemonic or factionalist society, but despite what may decided we can be certain that the Internet was a gift of Science to mankind, and it is up to us to use it wisely. As always, “with great power comes great responsibility“.

References

Standage, T. (1998). The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers. New York: Walker and Co.

Hafner, K., & Lyon, M. (1996). Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.

McLuhan, M., & McLuhan, E. (1988). Laws of Media: The New Science (Rev. ed.). Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.

McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Cooper, S. D. (2006). Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers As the Fifth Estate. Spokane, Wash: Marquette Books.

Barry Leiner, Vinton Cerf, David Clark, Robert Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, Daniel Lynch, Jon Postel, Larry Roberts, Stephen Wolff. (May-30-2007) A Brief History of the Internet http://www.isoc.org/internet/history/brief.shtml

Block, R. (May-30-2007) Engadget.com. http://www.engadget.com/2007/05/16/iphone-delayed-until-october-leopard-delayed-again-until-januar

Abovitz, R. (May-30-2007) forumblog.org. http://www.forumblog.org/blog/2005/02/journalists_kil.html

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