Devika Malhotra, EMAC 6300. Future of the Internet, and How to Stop it – Jonathan Zittrain

Devika Malhotra

EMAC 6300. Due Date: 05/01/2011

Future of the Internet, and How to Stop it – Jonathan Zittrain

At the turn of the century (1999-2000) many of us were faced
with the fear of being infected by a bug, but not the kind of bug that our
ancestors would have feared infecting their lives, rather a bug created to
indirectly affect the lives of millions of users who’s lives at this point were
as highly dictated as anyone’s had been by technology thus far. It was the fear
of the “Millennium Bug” or “Y2K.” There were fears that all the computers
carrying extremely sensitive information would  crash at the turn of the century because
programmers of PCs did not account for a simple flaw in how dates would occur
on their operating machines. Instead of it reading the year as 1999, it would
just read ’99,’ this meant that when we went to year 2000, there was a good
chance that the year being read as  ‘00’
would cause several non-restorable glitches. The fear was prevalent the world
over, a pop artist famous at the time – Jennifer Lopez, even made a song in
anticipation of what would come to pass after midnight on the New Year’s eve
leading to 2000, and just as seen in her music video, “Waiting for tonight”
where all life restores to normal without much damage, so too was true of the
events that came to follow, and things went on functioning like normal, well
for the most part; that is until we find ourselves almost eleven years later
wondering about yet more problems that we could potentially face with
technology as it becomes more ‘generative’ in content and usability.

Personal computers and today’s handheld portable electronic
devices that are internet ready are at the center of this process of being able
to generate usable and innovative content, content that can be built upon even
further by future users. This is one of the strongest qualities of such
technologies that helps centralize things in our lives and thus has become a
huge center of most people’s everyday lives. Today, it is hard to imagine a
world without computers and computing technologies. Imagine a world where you
wake up and do not log on to the internet to read the “NYTimes”, or you do not
ever check your email, or you can never log onto “Facebook” or “Twitter” again,
you may not even be able to use “Google” to find current and relevant articles
for your next assignment, (you might actually have to use the library.) Such a world
seems hard to imagine, mostly because it so foreign and scary to what our
reality is today, due to personal computers. “IF the PC ceases to be the
center of the information technology ecosystem, the most restrictive aspects of
information appliances will come to the fore…Recall the fundamental difference between
a PC and an information appliance: the PC can run code from anywhere, written
by anyone, while the information appliance remains tethered to its maker’s
desires, offering a more consistent and focused user experience at the expense
of flexibility and innovation.” (Zittrain, 59) This could be a reality, (waking
up and not being able to check your Facebook) if we do not preserve the
generative and innovative aspects of freedom offered by personal computing, and
if legal intervention prevents the free use of information technology, so
as  to frame it as one would think of it in
terms of information appliances.

Simply put, if we don’t wake up and realize the importance
of preserving the positive qualities offered by PC like generative technologies,
while making a collective effort to rid them of as many harmful viruses, and
other security threats, as possible; then we are giving up… “…(t)he most
salient feature of a PC…its openness to new functionality with minimum gatekeeping.
This is also its greatest danger. (Zittrain, 57)

One way of doing this is by working in more coercion on
different layers of technology, such as users and programmers working closely
together. In today’s world this is more so than we have seen in years past, as
users often tend to be programmers in some form, but yet not as often, are they
coders of the information system itself. To be truly protected we would need to
have many gatekeepers, but since that hampers innovation and the generative capabilities;
less severe precautions should be put in place because, “(t)here is strong
evidence that the current state of affairs is not sustainable, and what comes
next may exact a steep price in generativity.” (Zittrain, 43)

The next generation of users that follows needs to be able
to sustain a world abounded by information technology, and not information
appliances alone. They need to harness emerging technologies in a manner that
does not stunt the generative and creative possibilities of open sources like
the internet, but that also, will not pose threats as eminent and as far
reaching as the Y2K bug was predicted to be. Such fears should not amount in
user’s minds, if we are to maximize the future with information technology. “The
deciding factor in whether our current infrastructure can endure will be the
sum of the perceptions and actions of its users.” (Zittrain, 246) “We must
appreciate the connection between generative technology and generative content.”
(Zittrain, 245)

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EMAC 6300. Code Version 2.0, Lawrence Lessig.

Devika Malhotra

EMAC 6300. Due Date: 04/25/2011

Code Version 2.0, Lawrence Lessig

Since the dawn of time there has been an ongoing battle between the state and the individual, and whose interests should prevail in what context and situation. Law makers have struggled for years to strike a balance that would make everyone happy; that is the key here, how can we strike such a balance? The question is challenging, in that it makes it hard to answer because of the idea of “latent ambiguity;” that is as the author puts it, “(t)he question is… ambiguous between (at least) two different answers. Either answer is possible, depending upon the value, so now we must choose one or the other.” (Lawrence Lessig, 25) The obvious predicament here is that the value, and thus the choice made is going to be dependent upon whether it is in the individual’s best interest that is at stake or the states.

Fortunately there are constitutional laws in place that are there to protect such rights, but the problem we face today is that a lot of what was drafted centuries ago, is not relevant in today’s world, as so many changes have taken place and those laws often cannot accommodate all such changes. Put in other words, “(p)resuppositions – what is taken for granted or considered undebatable – change.  How do we respond when such presuppositions change?” (Lawrence Lessig,160) In the instance where the Fourth amendment was drafted to prevent unreasonable searches and to protect individual’s privacy, the limitations were in that physical privacy constituted 90% of what it meant to lead a private life. The issue today is different because privacy pertains at least 50% if not more, to non-tangible aspects of an individual’s life; a lot of which is lived through cyberspace, a space that the original amendment could not accommodate for at the time, but that does not mean that it is not relevant to us today as much as unauthorized searches of property were in the early 1900s. It would thus seem reasonable to suggest that we “aim at finding a current reading of the original Constitution that preserves its original meaning in the present context – a strategy… call(ed) translation.” (Lawrence Lessig, 160)

If we were to follow the strategy of translation in modern times, especially as it would pertain to activities in cyberspace, then as a society we can feel more comfortable and safe about using new technologies, just as one should in roaming around on an empty street at night, because we have some peace of mind in knowing that there are law enforcement agents that would protect us should someone try to take advantage of our freedom to walk about. At the same time it also acts as a treat to those who roam the streets to take advantage of innocent people. Certainly in theory this is the purpose, but we can never be too careful as there is always room for trying to escape such laws. The protection then that we want in cyberspace is one that is reasonable, but effective, and consistently protects people against vulnerable attacks online, but at the same time does not encroach upon an individual’s freedom to basic rights, such as privacy that have guarded for several years.

Today we can look up someone or someplace through a search engine online, as we would have through the yellow and white pages in print, in the past. One of the reasons this technology is so useful is because it makes people’s lives easier, in that we can do the same thing we did once, now with more ease. But if being able to conduct such searches put the people who were being searched (ourselves included) at risk of losing a basic right, (and not just a convenience)  a right to feel safe in knowing that their information will be kept private – such as where you are at what time of the day, and what your phone number is; then we can say that such a technology needs regulation and control, so that we do not abuse it to our advantage, and the disadvantage of innocent people. Just as we would not want to have an overwhelming feeling of being robbed every time we step outside of our homes.

Certainly, there are examples of technologies that are being made today that could very much heighten the risk and vulnerability we feel in just walking about. For example, “Google” has in the works an app – Facial Recognition App; it could potentially enable a user to take a picture of someone, and then with it be able to look up every single detail available about their lives, without their knowledge. [1] Information such as where they live and what their phone number is. It’s encroachment upon an individual’s privacy has made it a much debated and controversial topic. In this case, it’s almost as though “Google” is the state, and the individuals are, well the individuals. So what we need is to find a way to regulate the use of such technology so that it makes our lives more convenient, while finding a balance between the rights of the individual and the state. The author supports that “(c)ode strikes the balance between individual and collective rights…” (Lawrence Lessig, 277); and in terms of privacy, he argues that he is “…in favor of code that enables individual choice – both to encrypt and to express preferences about what personal data is collected by others.” (Lawrence Lessig, 276) This seems like a reasonable suggestion, to use codes backed by laws as tools of guidance, except that “…in the end the tools will guide us even less than they do in real space and time. When the gap between their guidance and what we do becomes obvious, we will be forced to do something we’re not very good at doing – deciding what we want, and what is right.” (Lawrence Lessig, 25)

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EMAC 6300. Information Feudalism; Drahos and Braithwaite

Devika Malhotra

EMAC 6300. Due Date: 04/18/2011

Information Feudalism; Drahos and Braithwaite

For many centuries civilizations have tried to find a way to protect what rightfully belongs to them and their individuals. The quest to save a country’s resources from being exploited by foreigners has always been a high priority in the minds of leaders. Once substantial ways had been established in achieving such protection, we then began to find ways of establishing proprietorship for intellectual property that is tangible, such as novels and scientific inventions. Today, we live in a world where the on-going battle of such disputes are settled daily in courts by judges and lawyers, but still as we have evolved, we have also brought with us, new ways of distributing and sharing with the world, for that which belongs to us. As part of this new way, we have a new type of resource – intangible, but valuable information property, and the way to best share it is through the World Wide Web.

When we feel like we own something that is valuable, because we have discovered it, or thought of a way of finding it, we not only feel like proclaiming that to the world, but we also feel a sense of pride in its discovery, which is why we want to share with the world that we have what others don’t. Take for example the invention of the telephone, how valuable would it have truly been if the invention had not been shared with the world. The fact that the telephone’s purpose is to connect people, and that then people use it to make that effect take place, is precisely what makes its worth, worthy. Similarly, when we put information about ourselves up on the internet, we know that other people are going to have access to it, but there are limits to which we want people to have access to that information. If we share too much information about ourselves then we are setting ourselves up for trouble, because someone who has a bad motive against another person could use that information in a harmful manner. But at the same time, if we don’t share any information at all about ourselves then we are basically invisible to the rest of the world. Thus finding a balance between being able to protect our sense of privacy and security, while also letting the world know something valuable about us, is a hard balance to strike, especially though a medium that allows so much transparency, i.e. the internet.

Just as the rules of copywriting by industry players govern and suppresses innovation, while threatening new ideas that bring about a change in the basic functioning of a system; similarly, sites like “Facebook” on the internet allow an outlet for sharing information with the world about ourselves, but govern the extent to which one can make their lives traceable or not. And just as we would lose in the battle of not following and understanding the rules that control an industry’s functioning’s, such as in the movie industry; similarly, we lose if we do not understand and play by the rules that govern the functioning of social information sites like “Facebook.”

The problem is that there is no universal set of rules that applies to all people on all such sites, of sharing such intangible information about themselves; just as there are no uniform rules that apply to all tangible properties across industries. In this is where the predicament of utilizing a system to our advantage lies, because to understand the system, not only do you have to be an expert about using the system, but also about knowing the rules of knowing how to be an expert at using such tools.

There is no way for a system to maximize the benefits of using such information sites, for the maximum number of people, if all those people do not have the same understanding of how the system itself works to everyone’s advantage.  It is similar to the idea of how, “(a) patent system that does not recognize the utility preference of much of the world’s population when it comes to disease (,) can (then) hardly look to utilitarianism for comfort.” (Drahos and Braithwaite, 16)

For us as a population to be able to collectively utilize new technologies that would allow information sharing without hesitation, we would first have to master our understanding of its functioning. But the confusing aspect of all of this is that it is hard to understand something that is not truly ‘defined.’ Just as the rules for different patent cases can vary depending on the nature of the resource and its origin, similarly, there are no ‘defined’ rules that govern how to use sites like “Facebook” to the best of all our advantages; mainly because information about handling information changes so fast, and is often so intangible that finding a tangible way to define them for everyone is almost impossible.

The best thing we can do is use caution in what we distribute and share online, depending on whom we want the information to reach, and to what extent; keeping in mind the “principle of territoriality,” which is that “intellectual property rights operate in the territory of the sovereign that created them in the first place.” (Drahos and Braithwaite, 28) By the same measure we need to understand that the extent of privacy by which information sharing online is treated, is subject to the ‘territory’ through which such sharing was made possible in the first place. In order for such sharing to be effective across a broad audience, there needs to be a low threat/cost to distributing such information, which is similar to the argument that “(e)conomic efficiencies are gained if information, once is existence, is distributed at zero cost.” (Drahos and Braithwaite,32)

The internet is a new source of publishing new ideas, and a way of sharing that was once confined to printed materials. The old way of publishing was restrictive and hampered innovation at the expense of bureaucratic upkeep; “(s)ince lawyers generally think that too much caution is never enough.” (Drahos and Braithwaite, 45) For innovation to flourish through our new mediums of communication and sharing, we need to find a way to reinvent (the concept of) innovation as it was practiced in the past, while staying cautious of the rules that could govern and hamper the effective spread of knowledge in reformed ways.

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EMAC 6300. Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody.

Devika Malhotra

EMAC 6300. Due Date: 04/10/2011

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody.

When I was a kid growing up in India, I often wondered what the world outside it looked like. I had never been anywhere new at the time, and had nothing to compare it to. But one day we moved and went to live in a country in Africa, and all of a sudden that comparison became so real, having finally seen a place outside of the country I grew up in. It is not to say that I never imagined what Africa would look like before having been there, through pictures or descriptions in books of travel. It is more that I never had any way of experiencing the extent of the reality in terms of which I could compare India to Africa, until I was actually in Africa; due to the fact that mere pictures and words cannot replace the extent of a realistic feeling of being in a place in real time, while something is occurring live. The pictures I saw were of a real place, but of a place that existed as it did, once many years ago, and not in the ‘now’. They were pictures collaged together by professional whose job was to make sure that they only painted a pretty picture of what Africa looked like, through a filtering process.

Years later, we are living in a time where the idea of a picture is no longer what it was 20 years ago, of course we still see pretty pictures of places, but the difference is that we have far more real time and unfiltered photos taken by amateurs on their personal camera phones and made live on the internet. This form of photo sharing helps redefine what the purpose of a photograph on its own used to be, and changes its very form of existence as a medium of delivering a message.

When I finally got to Africa, I realized that it was very little, if nothing like what I had seen of it in pictures or read of it in books, to be. The reason it was so different is because, so much was blurred out by the filtering process of the pictures I had access to in the past. Today’s pictures of real time events and things taking place in a country like Egypt, Africa, make it far easier for a person viewing these pictures on the internet to understand the real extent of the political disturbances there, but also to be able to have a more accurate visualization of the process as it takes place. And while pictures alone can speak a thousand words, real time pictures taken by ‘real’ people, and posted on sites for millions of users to comment and talk about, make possible the exchange of far more idea generation about something of such significance, than one could do 15 years ago. “The basic capabilities of tools like Flickr reverse the old order of group activity, transforming “gather, then share” into “share, then gather.” (Shirky, 35) It is because through new technologies that transform how old tools such as pictures can be used that, we can share and then gather, and hence have a feeling of being more connected as groups that are made of people from dispersed places all over the world, but with similar ideas.

The spread of group thought and effect through information sharing and its ability to be dispersed seems easy enough today, and it is only going to become more so in the years to come, as the cost of such processes is becoming ever-more feasible.  Certainly we already have websites where can store and share photographs for a small fee, or even for free, but there is still the cost of buying a camera in some form so that we can take pictures to upload. But as the cost of sophisticated cameras drops, and as the purchase of new mobile phones that come with a built-in camera is practically a given these days, we begin to wonder, at what point will no one have to pay for any such technology all together; i.e. to say, at what point will technology as a whole become a necessary tool whose components and services altogether become a commodity that is offered for free to the general public. “Ridiculously easy group – forming matters because the desire to be part of a group that shares, cooperates, or acts in concert is a basic human instinct that has always been constrained by transactional costs.” (Shirky, 54) The trend is already prevalent in the way customers have access to free online banking, free music streaming, free Wi-Fi in several locations, and the list goes on. Soon enough just having the internet as a paid service on our phones and laptops, may go from being a feature we pay added costs for, to an integral service without which such products may not be sold otherwise.

“Our recent communications networks – the internet and mobile phones – are a platform for group forming, and many of the tools built for those networks, from mailing lists to camera – phones, take that fact for granted and extend it in various ways.”  (Shirky, 54) It is because we all have a responsibility to gather and produce change in a constructive way that technologies are gearing us to connect at a level more so than we could in the decades past, and to then take responsibility for our actions through the use of these mediums. “Information sharing produces shared awareness among the participant, and collective production relies on shared creation, but collective action creates shared responsibility, by tying the user’s identity to the identity of the group.” (Shirky, 51)

No longer does one need to spend a $1000 to fly from India to Africa to compare what the two places look like, one can see such live images through broadcasts over the internet, and though software that produces real time satellite images of the same. And the change did not happen overnight, but it happened because there were probably thousands of other children just like me, thinking many years ago, just as I had thought, what it would be like to be able to compare two such places, spread so far apart from one another. We alone are in control of how we change technologies, and how as a society we will function through its use.

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EMAC 6300. The Exploit. A Theory of Networks; Galloway and Thacker.

Devika Malhotra

EMAC 6300. Due Date: 04/03/2011

The Exploit.  A Theory of Networks; Galloway and Thacker.

One of the reasons the ‘Media’ is successful in how it functions and what it accomplishes is that it plays a role of communication and provides information over a vast array of networks globally. But it is because these effects are so far reaching that usually, regardless of the message that is incorporated in the news, and how true it may be to what existed before its broadcast, what they define as a term, often comes to be. In fact, many-a-times, the way that media defines something is what makes it an integral part of the media. “The role that communication and information networks have played in international terrorism and the “war on terror” has meant that media have now become a core component of war and political conflict. (Galloway and Thacker, 9)

But there is another reason why the media functions so well as a network of information, it is because it understands what it means to transmit information in a non-human way, but through human effects. It consists of ‘nodes’ that make up its complex body of information carriers, which can be disseminated at any point of contact. “To have a network, one needs a multiplicity of “nodes.”… (T)he existence of networks invites us to think in a manner that is appropriate to networks.” (Galloway and Thacker, 13) And today we live in a world where the visibility of such nodes through the vast dispersion of technologies that connect us the world over, can be seen. So the more we come to think in terms of living as a network, the more networks work.

“Not all networks are equal…Networks are never consistent or smooth but exhibit power relations that are internally consistent(,t)his is what makes them networks… (A) small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic” (Galloway and Thacker, 18.) Just as leaders emerge from groups of people that seem similar in some way or another, i.e. that there are power figures that emerge through unconscious consensus; in the same manner networks that seem similar at face value tend to have internal power that is disproportionate. For example, even though NBC, FOX News, BBC, CNN, and other news stations are all networks of information carries that seem the same, they are configured differently based on the perceived needs of the viewers in a region. This is to say that while CNN might seem like the news broadcast giant in the United States; the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation,) with all its internal inconsistencies as compared to CNN is more prevalent in its role in a different region, such as the United Kingdom. It is because the BBC is more welcomed in its structure as a network in the UK than in the US, and visa-versa for CNN here in the U.S. “Even in distributed networks, certain power centers will necessarily emerge through a sort of clustering pattern…” (Galloway and Thacker, 19.)

Networks function primarily on a basis of understood protocols, and just as these protocols keep the individuals of networks in check, they also hinder the room for growth beyond those rules. “…(T)he concept of “protocol” refers to all the technoscientific rules and standards that govern relationships within networks…Protocol is twofold; it is both an apparatus that facilitates networks and a logic that governs how things are done within that apparatus.” (Galloway and Thacker, 28-29) It is important to note that protocol is more about control than power, as it directs ‘how’ information flows, rather than from whom. This is because the power of any network is greater than the power of any individual or element in a network.  It is in understanding principles of networks such as these that parents can facilitate the use of social networking sites for their children nowadays in a useful and productive way, than in a way that could hinder them socially or otherwise.

Networks have a property of working in contagious ways; regardless of the reason that connects them the effects can be vastly different. Just as classmates sitting in a classroom are there together to learn, (as it may be) the effect of one child’s behavior towards a learning attitude, can easily affect the entire set of students. So if a few kids start misbehaving in class and develop a negative learning attitude, often other children will follow suite, regardless of the original reason as to why this network of children was created in the first place. Such destructive powers of networks can only be attributed to the very characteristics of networks themselves. “… (N)etwork causality is not necessarily the same as network accountability.” (Galloway and Thacker, 97) Networks possess a protocol that pertains to change, but it is usually that very change in the network that leads to its demise. The thing to counter such failure in networks needs to be non-human in its existence, but not in its affects.   

The power of networks is of ‘no doubt’ in our minds, that its effects can be vast and far-reaching. But in order for us to be able to have control over the effects that networks produce, as humans, we need to think in non-human ways that are more akin to the structural nature of networks. “The new exploit will be an “Antiweb”… It will consider the radically unhuman elements of all networks.” (Galloway and Thacker, 22) And it should be through this new form of governance that we can move beyond the constraints of networks.

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EMAC 6300. Nicholas Christakis: Connected; The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and how they Shape our Lives

Devika Malhotra

EMAC 6300. Due Date: 03/27/2011

Nicholas Christakis: Connected; The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and how they Shape our Lives.

It is no shock that we often meet people who have something in common with us, and while this statement might seem true (for the most part), it is also false, in that we also do meet people who are rather dissimilar to us, but tend to keep connections with those that stand out. The determining factor that tends to make people stand out in our minds is how well we can relate to them. Typically, if we cannot remember having met someone, it’s because there was nothing ‘striking’ about them to us. This then justifies that “(w)hile a network, like a group, is a collection of people, it includes something more: a specific set of connections between people in the group… (These ties) allow groups to do things a disconnected collection of individuals cannot (do). Ties explain why the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” (Christakis, 9) We can see this to be true in a simple example of how people act collectively, in that if one person smells smoke in a crowded theater and yells fire while running out, and two or three of their friends follows suite, then soon enough you’ll find a stampede of people running out the crowded theater, whether or not there was an actual fire.

Most connections, from whom we chose to have lunch with in school as children, to whom we end up marrying have a great deal to do with the structure of the society that we grow up in, and the ideas and morals that people around us follow. “…(T)he truth is that we seek out those people who share our interests, histories, and dreams. Birds of a feather flock together.” (Christakis, 17) And while we might feel that we have no control over what the structure of connections around us entails, we tend to be more in control of it subconsciously, than we realize in everyday life.

Christakis explains how we choose the structure of our networks based on three important variables. One is that we decide how many people we want to be connected to. For example, if by nature we are extroverts, then we tend to find ways of making more connections than may seem possible at hand. This can be done by travelling, going to more parties, and in today’s digitally networked world, even being more socially active online (with the goal being to act on those connections made online, in our real lives.)

The second variable that Christakis mentions is, about how densely interconnected we want our friends and family to be. We tend to have more control over who knows whom in our social circle through us when we live in the thick of a ‘transitive relationships.’ Transitive relationships are interpreted from the text as being defined as those that encompass many individuals knowing one another, through a person who is at the center of their social circle. (Christakis, 19) Our social surroundings influence the outcome of our personalities to a large extent, and how involved we tend to find ourselves to be in a transitive relationship plays an important role in how we are perceived by other people. Thus, even if we are not that sociable by nature, but happen to be involved in the thick of a transitive relationship, we then come be known as more outgoing, and people often find themselves wanting to talk to such central nodes of a group, because they tend to have a lot of information that members can relate to.

The above point brings us to our third and last variable that explains the structure of social networks as defined by Christakis; this is that we control how central we are to the social network. While we can consciously control this third variable, by say, trying to keep more to ourselves even if many people expect us to be the life of a party, there is only a certain degree to which our nature can overcome the outside influence of our surroundings. At some point we will either subconsciously or out of a feeling of necessity give into being more sociable if it is expected of us, because the three variables are closed tied together. That is to say that if we have high transitivity in our relations to others in a single group of people that surrounds us; it is typically because we have controlled ourselves to be more central to our specific social network. But because of this central positioning we will also tend to know more people, and be more connected to them, because of the rule of six degrees of separation and three degree of influence.(Christakis, 31)

Cultural aspects of places tend to be very determinative of how isolated or connected we are; especially if we move away from a place we are accustomed to living in. It explains why people who move from a more collectivist cultured country, (like those in most of the Eastern world) to a Western and individualistic natured country like the United States, tend to feel more isolated. But this also influences such individuals to be forced into a state of not having high transitivity, as they are usually no longer deeply involved with any one group of closely tied individuals that they grew up with, but try to find similarities from many people who tend to come from different groups of individuals, then perhaps bridging those group; being the definition of having low transitivity. (Christakis, 19)

Here in the United States, people tend to have a very small core discussion group, which are people that they feel they can talk about important and emotional matters with. This tendency seems only natural though, when we consider that we influence and are “…influenced by people at four degree (of separation, which is termed as) the network – instability explanation.” (Christakis, 29)

Social media tools nowadays do everything from help us understand who in our networks is most similar to us, to minimizing the distances between six degrees of separation. But at the end of day the thing that social network sites like “Facebook” do that makes them so successful over its predecessors, is that “…at their core, social – network sites primarily reflect offline interactions.” (Christakis, 270) Facebook only allows people to see people we may know at some degree of separation rather than strangers, and shows us what’s going on in their lives, thus fulfilling a need of intimacy and curiosity about people in our core discussion group, and the people that influence them.

In this was technology moves us away from an isolated feeling to a feeling of connectedness to the people and places we feel at home with, thus reinforcing our emotional comfort zone. “Human mobility reflect(s)… that we tend to return to the same locations, such as our homes, workplaces, favorite restaurants, and stores, again and again.” (Christakis, 265) We do so, not so much because we are connected to the physical location of these places, but because of the people that are connected to these things, and thus to us through such mediums. Our core discussion group connections help us discover the greatest gift of all, which is to understand who we truly are, and why we are all connected. (Christakis, 305) In the 21st century digitally networked sites help us understand this part of humanity as a whole, so that we can go back to seeing who the ‘individual’ is.

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EMAC 6300 – Habermas’ Heritage: The future of the public sphere in the network society.

Devika Malhotra

EMAC 6300

Due Date: 03/20/2011

Habermas’ Heritage: The future of the public sphere in the network society.

In general there are fears and concerns about the influence of the internet on the idea of the public sphere as we have known it to be, but at the same time there also come advantages from advances in media technology that cannot be measured in comparison to all that came before it. There is also a broad agreement in Boeder and Poster’s essays in that the public sphere is not something tangible. Boeder argues that “the public sphere transcends these physical appearances as an abstract forum for dialogue and ideology–free public opinion, a lively debate on multiple levels within society.”(3) It is also central in these essays, the discussion pertaining to how what was once concerned public and private have been revamped through the advent and wide spread dispersion of technology as a tool for communicating, thus changing how we actually perceive these two terms and implement them. “It seems most likely that the virtual public sphere brought about by [computer–mediated communication] will serve a cathartic role, allowing the public to feel involved rather than to advance actual participation.” (Boeder, 4)

Through advancements in technology and media, one can sit in their living room and empathize about the recent disasters in Japan. One can imagine how horrific it might be to actually be in the middle of the tsunami, earthquake or large nuclear disaster, because we can see footage and coverage though media broadcasts that hit close to home by their accuracy of real time events. However just the mere act of sitting on our couch and feeling sorry for the Japanese does not change the outcome of the disaster, it only changes our perception of it, were we not to witness these events as they occur, but only read about them later. For us to truly act in a new democratized way while using the internet as a tool, would be to take some action to mitigate the adverse effects that these natural calamities have had on the lives of millions of Japanese citizens. The public sphere itself may not be tangible, but using media technology to revisit the idea of how we perceive the public sphere to be, can very much have tangible effects. For example, if we are to merely blog about how sympathetic we feel towards these disasters around the world, we would not be playing our role in pushing forth the limits of what these new media enable us to do; as, if we were to make a donation in some form through the internet to help aid the victims of such disasters, while also continuing to express our sympathies at the same time. “…(G)roups and individuals can indeed accomplish change by communicative action, and digital communications technology may empower them to do so.” (Boeder, 10)

In “Cyberdemocracy” by Poster, we see that there is a discussion pertaining to how the internet was once perceived as something “accused of elitisms” (4). But as we know, and as in also mentioned in Boeder’s essay, there are far many more individuals that are in control of the power of the internet today, than just an elite few as was the case in the past. And because the internet has a ‘Panoptic’ prevalence in its functioning, it makes room for, “(o)n the basis of the ‘information revolution’…the social totality, (that) comes to function as the hierarchical and disciplinary Panoptic machine.” (6)

Thanks to the internet, journalism has taken on a new view, one that is more individualized and user interactive, rather than being a spectators’ sport. “The traditional task of journalism will shift from collecting information to directing the social flow of information and public debate. Next to this “orientating journalism,” the new media offer scope for “instrumental journalism.”” (Boeder, 7) Not only can we go online and read the news as it happens on, rather than waiting for the news paper to arrive in the morning, but we also get to write our own comments and views about the news we read, as though we were the journalists reporting what was happening from our own perspective. In fact, sites like are so geared towards individualization of what people chose and read and how they read it, that one has the option of setting their CNN homepage to either a ‘U.S. version’, where we mainly hear about events in our country, or the ‘International version’, where we see a little about the main events in the U.S., but more about the rest of the world.

Because the idea of the public sphere is incorporated in new media technologies, we have the privilege of being more individualized as a democracy of people on the internet. The public sphere that is more vocal across a wide array of people, but also is able to include the tangible aspect of what was once missing; this is the ray of hope that new media technologies brings to our future, and the network of people using these technologies that is ever expanding.  Networks like and, which are becoming the new form of our neighbors, and us getting the newspaper at our front doors. “As modern society’s dominating structure, networks are quintessential to the future of the public sphere.” (Boeder, 10)

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