Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Hopes & Defeats Of The Internet

Is the Internet – now turning 25 – something that has truly democratized us and changed the world for the better – or is it just another thing that is filled with a handful of winners and many losers?

A new book explores whether the digital democracy proposed by the Internet has resulted in inequities and concentrations of power.  It’s called The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age.

It is hard to have a simple conversation about the Internet.  It started out as a way for people far away to instantly communicate with one another – at only a small cost (a monthly fee to AOL and other online service providers).  It also started out as a way to give a voice to everyone – with websites available to anyone who wanted to sell something or share something.  Then came an explosion in e-commerce, social media, and streaming music, movies, TV, and eBooks.  It’s still expanding and altering how we live.

But the bigger question is this: Did the Internet put people on an equal footing or is it run by a handful of powerful forces, just like the rest of the world?

The Internet seems to have key players that dictate and dominate the medium.  You can name them – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple.  They have replaced the pre-Internet leaders like IBM, Ford, DuPont, GE, AT&T, Procter & Gamble, Eastman Kodak, Chrysler, and PepsiCo. 

The rule of thumb is that every economy will have a handful of giants and a vast landscape of marginal players.  The digital marketplace is no different, except that as every industry moves into the digital world, a few players will run everything.  It used to be that an industry, such as computers or beer or energy, would have a clear cut winner and some other big players.  Now, one company, like Amazon or Google, can own or impact multiple industries.  There’s less segmenting of industries, thus opening the door for a tyrant or bully to dictate prices, policies, and offerings across a huge field.

What hasn’t yet developed is an improvement in news gathering.  There’s not a single online site that does a better job of gathering information than old media, such as New York Times, Associated Press, ABC News, or WINS 1010 in NYC – but online has done two things.  It’s great at spreading the news.  Once something is made public it spreads online.  But also hand in hand with that are more hoaxes, faux news reports and stories that have not been verified legitimately.  The online world has also caused traditional media to lose money and force cutbacks to news gathering staffs – which actually leaves us dumber – or more in the dark – than we were a quarter-century ago.

The Internet is good for analyzing the news.  Millions of bloggers share their untrained, sometimes uneducated or biased views on a news topic.  More and more people will be swayed by propaganda, via the Net, which depending on the subject and the viewpoint, could be great or awful.

The Internet has also brought out the me culture like never before.

We share everything online – photos, information, opinions, ideas – even details of our bathroom activities.  Do we really benefit from too much information?

We’ve trivialized life with the Internet.  It goes hand in hand with the influx of idiotic reality shows on TV.  It’s as if the masses have just given up and settled for nonsense as both entertainment and a pulse on the truth.

Facebook and NJ Housewives may not make for the voice of the 21st century; yet, Americans log billions of hours daily reading or watching mindless crap.

The Internet moved from something optional to something mandatory, from new and hopeful to gimmicky and stale.  It is shaped by a handful of companies that has managed to manipulate the minds, time, values, and pocketbooks of ordinary people.  The Internet has many positive features – and it still has the potential to transform our lives for the better – but beware of the promise of new technologies.   They can enslave us just as easily as free us.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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