Research Paper: Wealth of Networks Communication

Pages: 14 (4609 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 12  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Communication - Journalism  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Up until now, access to the informational network -- the internet -- has been near neutral with respect to both the person using it and the data that the person is passing back and forth (Hindman 327-348). The internet operates much like a public highway, in that it is indifferent to the person and his or her destination, as well as the type of data he or she is transmitting, this is giving the individual direct control over his or her use of the new media, in contrast to older techniques where you cannot manipulate media as much (Hetsroni 439-451). However, the concentration of business and media that has occurred within the industrial information economy is being echoed in the basic infrastructure of the NIE -- most people obtain high-speed internet access from either their cable or telephone provider. Moreover, new router technology allows internet providers to distinguish traffic between a subscriber and "undesirable" sites (e.g. A competitor's or non-rent-paying site) and traffic between a subscriber and "good" sites (e.g. those of advertising partners) and vary the speed of access accordingly. Government regulations support this discrimination. Broadband internet access has been regarded in the United States since the Brand X case last year as an information "service" rather than a telecommunications infrastructure, relieving cable and telephone carriers from the regulatory requirement to permit competition from other broadband service providers (Hindman 327-348). Without significant pushback from citizens and businesses, the effect of these trends will be to needlessly destroy or, at least, inhibit the growth of a promising new arena for economic production. This is where we see a needed paradigm shift in media policies, and in regards to McQuail's chapter which discusses how the new media calls for a new theory (van Cuilenburg and McQuail 181-207).

Benkler's book provides a comprehensive, informative, and challenging meditation on the rise of the "networked information economy" as discussed above, along with this its implications for society, politics, and culture are covered which can be related to McQuail's views on the new media (Braman 153-182). Benkler, argues that the digital revolution is more revolutionary than has been recognized, even by its most passionate defenders. The new information and communications technologies do not simply make the old ways of doing things more efficient, but also support fundamentally new ways of doing things. In particular, the past few years have seen the rise of social production, a radically decentralized, distributed mode of interaction that Benkler calls "commons-based peer production." McQuail also believes that the new media gives individuals openings to be more creative and to utilize the new technologies more for personal and societal use.

The Wealth of Networks is Yochai Benkler's book is regarded as a heavyweight analysis of the state of the internet in the early part of the 21st Century. In the book, Benkler argues strongly in favour of what he calls "social production," which harnesses impulses, time and resources that, in the industrial information economy, would have been wasted or used purely for consumption. The immediate effect of this social production is therefore likely to increase overall productivity in the sectors where it is effective (McChesney). This is where McQuail believes that the distinction between mass communication and personal communication is blurred.

However, this does not mean that its effect on market-based enterprises is neutral (Hindman 327-348). A newly effective form of social behavior, coupled with a cultural shift in tastes as well as the development of new technological and social solutions spaces to problems that were once solved through market-based firms, exercises a significant force on the shape and conditions of market action. This cultural shift is because of the new media as well as the new policies required to govern it (van Cuilenburg and McQuail 181-207). The new media, as stated above, with its dynamics and crossing of cultural and networking bounds observes a paradigm shift. The Wealth of Nations is an in-depth examination of the forces that are bringing about this change, and the efforts of existing industrial media providers, particularly in the United States, to restrict this change by lobbying for stricter laws in relation to copyright and patents, also mentioned in McQuail's media theory.

Benkler cites many examples of social production that have come about through the web, such as Wikipedia, Linux and Folding@Home; this utilizes un-used computing cycles to carry out protein research. Peer production involves the creation and dissemination of "user-generated content," including the online Wikipedia encyclopedia and open-source software, such as Linux, that allow users to generate their own entries and modify those created by others (McChesney). Commons-based peer production is characterized by weak property rights, an emphasis on intrinsic rather than extrinsic (monetary) rewards, and the exploitation of dispersed, tacit knowledge. He views the new collaborative models as something to be encouraged and assisted, on the basis that the pursuit of knowledge, unfettered by excessive restrictions of intellectual property, benefits individual freedom and the common good. The book shows how the way information and knowledge are made available can either limit or enlarge the ways people create and express themselves, as McQuail discussed how the new media opens up new ways for people to use technology for their personal use.

In truth, it is quite difficult to summarize Benkler's book. It is pages on end with incredibly in-depth research and analysis on the development of social production and the challenges which it faces from the "industrial media" sector, looking at the media and technology as an economy (McChesney). This is not to criticize the book or writer; Benkler has contributed greatly to our understanding of the battle between those who would enable the spread of new ideas and those who would restrict them out of self-interest.

In 1776, Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, which is viewed by some as the blueprint for the capitalist system. The Wealth of Networks, in its title, implies that it contains a blueprint for a new economic system, in regards to the new media. This is not strictly correct -- the networked economy which Benkler sees emerging generates wealth largely in a social sense rather than in a monetary sense. But it is inaccurate to label the book as anti-capitalist -- to put it simply, Benkler argues for a reasoned and balanced approach between the commercial and the social aspects of the internet. This is a problem which McQuail faced, where there is no clear line between the personal use of the world wide web, and public use. This comes as problematic and is what calls for new policies in governing the internet and virtual environments.

Surprisingly, The Wealth of Networks focuses almost entirely on social production of digital products -- software, media and scientific data. It does not refer to how social production might impact manufacturing or durable goods. You can, however, take the arguments put forward and envision how they might apply to the developing field of digital manufacturing. This would lead you to ask yourself: could present day extensions to copyright laws inhibit the future development of a digital manufacturing economy?

The bottom line of this book, is that democracy and prosperity are both enhanced by shared rather than restricted information (Baker). The open commons model is the only one that allows us to harness the distributed intelligence of the Whole Earth, where each individual can made incremental improvements that cascade without restraint to the benefit of all others. As it is discussed above, the new media sets up a different and more developed framework for media users because of the accessibility the internet gives.

The author has written the authoritative analytic account of the new social and political and financial realities of a networked world with information embedded goods. It is said that this book suggest that the era of sharing and voluntary work has come of age. On that note, I wish to observe that those who label the volunteers who craft Wikis including the Wikipedia as "suckers" are completely off-base. The volunteers are the smartest of the smart, the vanguard for a new economy in which bartering and sharing displace centralized financial and industrial control. Indeed, with the localization of energy, water, and agriculture, this book by this author could not be more important or timelier.

The Wealth of Networks is divided into three main parts, as discussed above. The first deals with the economics of the networked information economy. Benkler's treatment is nevertheless insightful, intelligent, and engaging. The characteristics of information as an economic good -- high fixed costs and low marginal costs; the ability to be consumed without exhaustion; the difficulty of excluding "free-riders" -- support the widespread use of commons-based peer production.

Benkler proposes social production as an alternative to the traditional organizational modes of "market and hierarchy." Indeed, open-source production differs in important ways from spot-market interaction and production within the private firm. But here, as elsewhere, Benkler tends to overstate the novelty of social production. Firms, for example,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Wealth of Networks Communication.  (2010, November 27).  Retrieved July 17, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/wealth-networks-communication-general/6561635

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"Wealth of Networks Communication."  Essaytown.com.  November 27, 2010.  Accessed July 17, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/wealth-networks-communication-general/6561635.