Internet works: story at eleven

24/01/2012 § Leave a comment

I’m back at work after a great holiday. I decided to unplug myself from internet for a few weeks, which was just lovely. I get rather wrapped up in news and commentary so a clean break was the way to go.

My travels took me to New York, Paris, and London. I did pay attention to newspapers and television in those cities, particularly to the economic and financial news. Despite coming from the other side of the world, I felt pretty well informed about the major stories. For example, there were no big revelations in the news coverage of the euro stories.  Of course, it was interesting to hear the tone of coverage and see which aspects were emphasised.

It is fascinating and empowering that we can sit in New Zealand, plug into the internet, and be as well informed as most people in the world financial centres. The internet is an amazing tool for spreading and finding information.

And of course, that’s the problem for old communication technologies. Hence the push-back from Hollywood and others against the internet. The SOPA and PIPA bills in the US Congress have been stopped for the moment, but the larger issue isn’t going away. Movie, television, music, even book companies are trying to figure out how to make money in the new technological environment. One way is to adapt to the technology; another is to have the government restrict the technology to protect their businesses.

When the Web was first commercialised, I used to think about McLuhan’s dictum, ‘the medium is the message’. What was the new medium, and what message did it carry? It seemed to revolve around three things: content tailored for the individual, the active role of the individual in sourcing material, and the individual’s ability to reflect on old material and produce new stuff. If you want it, you can probably find it on the internet, and then you can tell the world what you think of it. If you can’t find it, you can make it.

However, this active individualism is based on high-tech tools whose control is contested. People and companies are fighting over control of the infrastructure that allows me to type my thoughts into a text box and quickly produce a webpage. That’s the other part of the medium-message: the individualism is contingent. It isn’t a veneer, but it also isn’t self-sufficient. This was the AOL business model, and it is still being attempted in various forms.

The old communications technologies – the broadcast technologies – are more appropriate for mass production and passive consumers. Internet technology is more individual and fluid, but large-scale providers are still important (Facebook, Apple, Cisco). The two realms also interact with each other. Movies use the internet as a plot premise; TV shows let viewers comment on-line; the value of Megaupload is partly derived from the products of the old media firms.

So, yep, the internet works. But its success will be televised.

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