[iDC] In response to Tiziana

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Thu Jul 6 10:43:17 EDT 2006

>my research ... is about how digital communications affect the 
>unfolding of the war on terror, but substantially it is about the
>globalization of network communication in a neocolonial mode - 
>including exit strategies from it).

Thanks for your inspiring post, Tiziana, and welcome. Let me respond in
the hope that I understand your complex arguments clearly enough. Please
do correct me if I¹m off the mark. 

I think it¹s important to intensely listen to voices with whom we don¹t
agree, voices who may have a very specific and by all means limited set
of, perhaps all too safe- even mainstream, references. I¹m not sure if
Benkler is really a believer in transhistorical capitalism for whom it
is natural that people fall to the wayside.

>In the [Benkler] extracts... it seems as if the networked public sphere 
>referred to something like a space where 'nonmarket' actors and forces 
>can usefully capitalize that which the market economy cannot (a 
>productivity of the social as such in what has now become a familiar 
>argument in Internet discourse); and also as a kind of spontaneous 
>corrective to a mass media system which, in the end, appears not to be 
>liberal enough (it is too top down, it makes people passive and inert 
>etc.) Interestingly enough, the notion of civil society or public
>sphere emerges around the same time as political economy - almost as if
>civil society and the public sphere constituted a space of moderation
>but also support of the free market. 

I agree with Benkler¹s assertion that the network is a corrective to the
mass media system. There is endless debate about citizen journalism and
the blogosphere in relation to civil society. The most frequent argument
is that bloggers lack financial resources for investigative reporting
and that this shortfall automatically dispossesses them of a valuable
voice in relation to the mass media. ³They just don¹t have the means to
do in-depth reporting.² Let me ask a question. 

Whose reporting about the lead-up to the war in Iraq was more accurate:
that of the The New York Times/Washington Post/CNN/Wall Street Journal
or that of the blogosphere? I¹m not talking about individual weblogs but
the unstoppable multitude of blogs that make it very hard to oppress a
report or an unwelcome news item. Here, ³publishers² are less dependent
on advertisers and it matters less if readers unsubscribe. 

"Russ Kick, is able to maintain a Website, The Memory Hole, with
documents that he gets by filing Freedom of Information Act requests. In
April 2004, Kick was the first to obtain the U.S. military¹s photographs
of the coffins of personnel killed in Iraq being flown home. No main
stream news organization had done so, but many published the photographs
almost immediately after Kick had obtained them." (p.260)

Dan Gilmore, in We The Media, and also Benkler, describe the fall of
Republican Senator Trent Lott whose comment at Republican Senator¹s
Strom Thurmond 100th birthday triggered media reactions. (Thurmond is a
notoriously stern segregationist and civil rights opponent.) There, Lott
said that if Thurmond had won his presidential campaign, ³we would not
have had all these problems over the years.² ABC News and The Washington
Post made small mention of it. They focused on the fabulous farewell to
a ³well deserving² senator. The blogosphere, on several sides of the
political spectrum, harshly criticized Lott, and demanded his removal
from Senate, which did in fact lead to his resignation a week later.
(This, of course, was not the sole event that led to Trent Lott¹s


There are more, very detailed examples of this corrective function of
the network in Benkler¹s book. I¹m happy to post them here if you are
Voting is another strand of hope for Benkler. That is perhaps not so
far-fetched after all. Networked voting, if ever made possible without
turning every computer into a total participatory panopticon, could
indeed cut the lines in Ohio for those people who, ooops, just could not
be let into the voting office anymore. And, oops, they turned out to be
African American. And then, remember, there was all the unfortunate
traffic re-routing in Florida. Who was prevented from voting? We know
the answer, and we have not even mentioned the ³hanging² or ³pregnant²
chads yet. So, yes, perhaps there is a way in which electronic voting
would make sense.     

>Is the network a kind of extreme, active limit of the neoliberal 
>economy? And if so, what is it producing?

Yes, readers are turned into media authors. Sociable web media enable
places of peer production. I¹m not sure if I fully understand how
Benkler thinks of the products of peer-production. That is a bit fuzzy
maybe in his book.

However, sociable web media contribute to social change: they help to
mobilize and organize; they can aid in the production of demonstrations.
We are, of course, not talking of an either or. It¹s not the 90s debate
about the streets versus the Internet, we are rather witnessing a

Cell phones help educate in Africa

SMS contributes to the organization of governmental change in East Timor

SMS and riots in Sydney (on the beach)

Texting as latest protest tool

Txting culture in the Philippines

What about February 15, 2003? On the same day, millions and millions of
people demonstrated against the war. That would not have been possible
without the Internet. Howard Dean ³produced²/raised $40.000.000 online.
In terms of examples of sites of communal production, I will just start
by referring to: Wikipedia, NASA¹s ClickWorkers, and Freshmeat, the
largest web-based open source software repository. What about Michael
Albert or Christoph Spehr in relation to this? 


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