Posted by: Nathan Dinsdale | November 14, 2011

Functioning Anarchy

After 15 chapters of critiquing the media system past and present, McChesney finally landed on the future in chapter 16—though he doesn’t completely embrace it as such. McChesney cites “new technologies” (Internet, mobile devices, social media, etc.) as both “functioning anarchy” and a “communication revolution.” I concur on both counts, though I feel he underplays the revolutionary potential.

It’s hard to underestimate how much communication technology has changed in the last decade. I didn’t own a cell phone 10 years ago. Back then, I barely used the Internet for anything more than email. Dial-up access for my laptop seemed revolutionary. Twitter was still something only birds did.

I’ve been slow to adopt many new communication advances but I recognize the power of those technologies. In some ways, the Internet is true democracy in action. And the picture isn’t always pretty.

Still, the prevalence of Internet access (and all the functions, like social networking, it provides) worldwide provides the masses with the theoretical ability to supersede political impotence (chapter 17) and undercut the media stranglehold of global conglomerates (chapter 18).

Whether we use that power to provide our acquaintances with unsolicited details about the funny thing our cat did today or as a catalyst for igniting social change is another matter altogether. But for all the many faults to be found with the medium, it’s hard to imagine social movements like Occupy or the Arab Spring gaining the traction (or media attention) they did without these “new technologies.”

Discussion questions
In terms of fostering democratic involvement, how has the Internet “communication revolution” succeeded and failed?

Does the “commercialization” of the Internet (akin to what McChesney describes happening with radio, television and print journalism) threaten the democratic potential of the medium?

Which of the three hypotheses described by McChesney in chapter 15 would you say has had the most impact on the “lack of legitimate debate” about U.S. media ownership, structure and control?

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