Information Studies

Technology World War I: Mainstream vs. Non-Mainstream and Public vs. Private

The internet is an arena of human aspirations.  From CEOs and government authorities to amateur journalists and hackers, people of all walks of life in try to achieve their own goals while encountering obstacles posed by others in cyberspace.  Two apparent battles, since the birth of the internet, highlight significant debates within our information society.  Mainstream media is fighting the rising forces of culture jammers and indy media personnel, in which average individuals are contesting the popularity of mainstream platforms and competing against of big internet platforms (Google, Facebook, etc.), while a larger, more ambiguous battle is taking place between public (who prioritize public goods) and private sectors (who prioritize revenue and growth).

    The internet is a decentralized place for communication, and it is thus not surprising that online mainstream media is not really mainstream.  Remixes, rising music sales outside of popular categories, and amateur artists populate cyberspace, and this phenomenon of defying the mainstream is called culture jamming.  Culture jammers come in all shapes; they either utilize little resources and thus make small impacts online to veer audiences away from mainstream material, or dedicate a lot of effort to interfere with mainstream sources (through parodies, collaborations, talking to large target audiences, etc.)  Allies of culture jammers are indy media personnel; these individuals pool their resources to establish amateur journalism sources and amateur news distribution.  Huffington Post, The Onion, and NowPublic were first start as indy media outlets.  Indy news is responsible for providing different perspectives on current events compared to mainstream news outlets (CNN, New York Times, whitehouse.gov, etc.) and thus challenges the authority of mainstream news sources.  Despite centralized corporations leading the future of the internet’s infrastructure, all kinds of individuals are given the chance to speak their own words and thus lower the impact of mainstream media.  Today, as this activity continues, the word “mainstream” has become relative towards everyone.  Relativity within the “mainstream” would have never been imagined before the birth of the internet.  After all, the very first users of the internet envisioned it as a place of decentralized expression, regardless of your socioeconomic status.  To counter the costs of a decentralized cyberspace, businesses and government alike have changed regulations and practices to appropriately fit their influence into the online world.  These adaptations are successful in many regards; however, culture jammers and indy media personnel, to name a few groups of people who are diverging from what is considered mainstream media, are lowering the influences of popular culture.

    The internet is seen by many individuals today as a potential public good, and thus the public sector, in order to ensure economic fairness, information credibility, and user security, should be the sole provider of most, or all, internet features.  Economists, however, argue that the internet is a beneficial aspect to add to a national market, and thus must be populated with private sector entities. Problems with the private sector across all boundaries include ambiguous credibility, unfair pricing, unfair opportunity, and unbalanced market forces (supply and demand, regulation loopholes, etc.).  Indeed, the internet reflects such problems characteristic of private sector-heavy economies.  For example, democratic ideals of the internet are being shattered by the confusing functions of search engines.  It is now known that search engines index and rank websites based on subjective criteria, which means one must abide by the rules of the privately run search engines to run businesses, distribute advertisements, and spread information on certain issues.  Ultimately, the question for both sides of the argument revolves around similar public policy questions being asked in real life.  Although the internet is home to decentralized communication systems, there exists a power class in the online world, in which this class is run by private agendas and not the agendas of the people.  The internet was designed to be for the people; if it starts to deviate from the people, then activists would inevitably ask the public sector to monitor the power abuses of online private mechanisms.

    The internet can be described as two war fronts – mainstream versus culture jammers and indy media outlets coupled with the age old private versus public conflict.  Each side believes that their agenda is more valuable than the other.  We are now enveloped by debates trying to figure out which side yields the most beneficial results for humanity.  Different people have different goals, and it is hard to prioritize which goals are more deserving to be achieved.

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