Yochai Benkler’s: Wealth of Networks

In the natural world our actions mean nothing.  Artificial world our actions mean everything and the artificial world depends on our actions. Whatever wealth the network has, it’s what we have given it.  Over the last decade or so the digital communications that we have developed have greatly expanded to becoming something of grave importance to our everyday lives.  While reading this introduction a birthday card that my mom got for my day last month stuck in my head.  Headline of the card reads “Before Google.”  Underneath it are a dog and rabbit sitting on the couch.  The dog says; “I just learned something new to day, and I wish I could learn more about it.”   The rabbits reply to this with; “That’s a damn shame.”

While first reading this I laughed my head off but after thinking about it for a bit, I find it troubling.  While it’s great that today’s technologies are so great and advanced for our times I can’t help and think about the experiences themselves that we miss out on now that we are all use to having computers easily accessible and at our finger tips.  And what happens when the computer breaks down… do we just stand there feeling lost and out of touch with society?  While the network is a wonderful thing and should be used as a tool to better society and interactions I think that we should always remember that it isn’t something that we build our lives around.

Two short Films I think is related to the ideas in class

Surviving progress (Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, 2011) available on instant stream at netflix: A film inspired by the book A Short History Of Progress by Ronald Wright
Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982) available free at Hulu and Vimeo
Ko.yaa.nis.qatsi (from the Hopi language), n.
  1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life out of balance. 4. life disintegrating. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living. http://www.hulu.com/watch/27800-watch koyaanisqatsi  and there are both free if you already have netflix

BENKLER: Ch. 1 Introduction… a Moment of Opportunity and Challenge

Benkler sees information as a part of the commons. To some degree we are going through a second Internet revolution, where ownership of information is decentralized, created by the people for the people. He attributes this change largely to the creation of cheap technologies that have given a wide range of access to the information economy, which belongs to the commons.

Benkler first distinguishes between two types of information environments:

INDUSTRIAL INFORMATION ECONOMY (BEFORE): exemplified by how we exchanged information from the 1850s to the early 2000s. The exchange of information was limited by a central force, or “market.” This was due to the high capital costs required to produce and exchange information in large quantities. Once these physical restraints were removed, we see the emergence of a new type of information economy…

NETWORKED INFORMATION ECONOMY (NOW, EMERGING): the key distinction of this type of information economy is that it is decentralized, cooperative, communal. The capital requirements to produce and distribute information are little to none. This freedom allows a true democratic spirit of information dispersal, where people are an integral part of the consumption AND production of information. Information is distributed through non-market mechanisms. This means that the distribution of information flourishes in response to the general public’s interests, rather than something like mass-media advertising that relies on the market mechanism of purchasing power.

How did this “networked information economy” emerge?

1] advanced economies shift to a information-based economy, but there is still centralized control by a market force: mass media?

2] from here, the Information-based economies develop cheap processing/computation capabilities. The physical constraints are removed, and the production of information becomes cheap and easy.

3] non-market information production begins to take its place within the sphere of market based information distribution. While there is market based mass-media that distributes based on purchasing power, there is also non-market based network information distribution where the power of distribution is not in money, but in its popularity and relevance to the network of people.

4] the open-source software “production” model beings to pervade other domains ex. Wikipedia. Peer production for peer consumption. This is exactly what Benkler means by a networked information economy that exists independent of a market force, or the mass media.

5] Individual need and creative drive, keep the spirit of the network information economy going. So does the idea of the commons, and the community that it creates within the digital realm.


How does the “networked information economy” provide means for self-governance?

Benkler states that this new information economy provides an even more varied means for self-governance, perhaps even enhancing what democracy really means. He states that individuals can do more for themselves, without having to rely on the cooperation of others, or with loose affiliation to others. Of course, he notes the advantages to these loose affiliations: exposure and diversity. However, I am skeptical of the low commitment to collaboration/communication with people that he seems to be praising so highly. He also states that groups can create networks, independent of mainstream media or established institutions.  While the Internet itself was an emblem of democracy, it was still somewhat centralized. However, emerging networked information economy is the next step towards an even more democratic state, where people can organize regardless of official status.



How specifically would you say something like open source software, or a peer driven domain such as Wikipedia, illustrates our previous reading of Lewis Hyde’s the gift? How is the idea of giving to receive evident in the new network information economy?

Benkler praises the emerging networked information economy for its ability to allow anyone from anywhere (with a network connection) to speak, creating a “new and rich information environment.” He also talks about the Babel objection which states that “when everyone can speak, no one can be heard.” Is the information economy helping us or hurting us? Is it really allowing us to know more? While we may be exposed to more intellectually stimulating topics, what are the shortcomings of an excess of information? (for example: every time I want to learn how to do something, I simply google it. Does this lessen my ability to figure out things for myself? Am I truly learning, if I don’t engage in the process of try, fail, try, fail, try, succeed?

The free flow of information in the Internet age has always been argued as emblematic of democracy. Benkler makes the distinction between the industrial information economy and the network information economy. Just as there is a difference betwee these two types of information economies, can you find a parallel distinction between our previous perception of democracy and our new view of democracy? (think occupy wall street..)