24 October 2009

Network vs. Archive, Decentralization vs. Centralization: A Brief Comparative Lesson in Irony

[From the website for the book Networked Publics, edited by Kazys Varnelis (MIT Press, 2008). The book broadly outlines the social and cultural shifts occuring through the emergence of "networked publics" (a term used over "audience" or "consumer").]
Our method is interdisciplinary, syncretic, and collaborative. This book is a result of a year-long fellowship program at the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California, where scholars from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines convened to consider the present and future of networked society and culture. From the outset, we decided against producing an edited work that would be simply a record of our diverse interests, with each scholar contributing a chapter in the well-established mode of an edited collection. To this end, we turned to the technologies that we are researching as vehicles for developing a collective intelligence. These included wikis, blogs, content management systems, and networked writing sites, as well as the usual toolkit of e-mail, instant messaging, and face-to-face and telephone conversation. A record of our work can be found at http://www.networkedpublics.org. A collaborative writing project, this book has pushed each of us beyond our specific research projects to consider the relationships between our different areas of study, working to build conceptual linkages that outline the contours of contemporary networked society in broad terms. To survey the spread of networked digital culture, it was necessary to sample areas and theoretical perspectives well beyond the comfort zone of an individual scholar. Despite the diversity of approaches that we take in this book, we share a collective commitment to an interdisciplinary understanding of sociotechnical change. The authors gathered here come from backgrounds as varied as engineering, architecture, critical studies, political science, communications, history, anthropology, and media arts. Working together demanded that we recognize the importance of a wide variety of factors including behavior, economy, culture, politics, and technology.

//Mizuko Ito, Introduction to Networked Publics

* * *

Radical decentralization of intelligence in our communications network and the centrality of information, knowledge, culture, and ideas to advanced economic activity are leading to a new stage of the information economy-the networked information economy.

In this new stage, we can harness many more of the diverse paths and mechanisms for cultural transmission that were muted by the economies of scale that led to the rise of the concentrated, controlled form of mass media, whether commercial or state-run.

The most important aspect of the networked information economy is the possibility it opens for reversing the control focus of the industrial information economy.

//Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks

Meanwhile, the world is shipping [read: centralizing] its server farms to [in] Iceland.

Clearly, there's more work to be done.


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