Critical Juncture

A mass media revolution is unfolding at this very moment. McChesney describes this moment in history has a critical juncture. In order a critical juncture to occur, two out of three things must occur:

1) Revolutionary communication technology.

2) Dissatisfaction with the media system

3) Political Crisis

In 2011, all three of these criteria are evident. A notable event that is shaping the future of media is the Occupy Wall Street protests. Activists have lined the streets  in protest of Wall Street and have gained significant support through social media. The Economist believes that these events that are unfolding right now are the first, genuine social network driven cause. The article gives shows a group on  tumblr, We Are the 99 Percent, holding up written posters of how economic hardships have personally effected them. We Are the 99 Percent group is a prime example of the effectiveness of a revolutionary communication technology: the internet.

The internet is a revolutionary communication technology for so many reasons. It lets users actively voice their cause, support, and thoughts on a particular topic. No other technology has given the public an active voice. The radio, television, and newspaper simply gave the facts. The internet features videos, blogs, and internet groups that allow people to get involved with a story instead of simply listening to it.

The second factor for a critical juncture is also evident. People are very dissatisfied with the current media system. Journalism has been a steep decline since the Iraq War scandals. People simply don’t buy or read newspapers. Many blogs and news websites provide news for free, quickly, and accurately as possible. If there is a mistake, it can be updated in an instant. Advertisers and people realize that the newspaper is a dying enterprise. The benefits of a newspaper are diminishing as blogs become more prominent and preferred.

The third and final factor is a political crisis. Wall Street is a major political crisis. Protestors are fighting for less corruption and wasteful spending by people that lead the country. Corporations are notorious for lobbying in Congress for laws and policies. Citizens of the United States are become fed up with this mass corruption. George W. Bush’s administration made the public distrust government. Barack Obama was supposed to bring hope and change and get America out of the economic hole it’s in. So far, he hasn’t delivered his promise, and people are growing very upset.

The Wall Street activists have every right to be angry and demand a better system. The United States is slowly losing it’s grip, and the activists are trying prevent this from happening. A critical juncture may seem scary, but it has the potential to yield excellent results. America has survived three critical junctures: the Progressive Era, the Golden Age of Radio, and protests in the 1960s and 70s. Without the activists and the new media, social change may not have happened. The United States is great because it usually adapts to change and listens to what the people want. 2011 is just another bump in the road that needs to happen in order to ensure that this country maintains it’s glory and strength.

Commercial Mass Media & The Internet

McChesney’s chapter, Will the Internet Set Us Free, comes to the conclusion that commercial mass media will not be trumped by the internet. I completely agree with McChesney. He points out that corporations may resist change at first, but usually adapt to a new medium over time. As new technologies evolve, people will flock to them, and corporations will find a way to make money.

For the first 20 years of my life, TV dominated my media use. My family had internet, but we had dial-up and there weren’t many interesting sites as I recall. The only thing I really used the internet for was research and e-mail. As the internet developed over the years, it became more engaging to me. It started with Myspace. All the kids at school had one, so I wanted to see what the fuss was about. TV was still my primary source of news, entertainment, and all things media-like. When Facebook became popular and my family finally got rid of dial-up, my life changed completely. I could now watch videos, search for things faster, and use flash properly. I slowly put TV on the back burner.

When I moved to my apartment in Oneonta, my roommate and I opted to only get  internet and not cable. 2 years later, we’re still very happy with this decision. I can watch any show I want to watch on demand (I use sites that stream for free). I can watch shows that I wasn’t able to gain access to before. These are a few of the shows that I never would’ve watched (and become a huge fan of all these shows) if it wasn’t for the internet: Dexter, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, Arrested Development, and so many other shows. 50-60% of my time spent on the internet is watching commercial television. I primarily do it because it’s free. I would more than gladly watch shows with a few commercials online, such as Hulu. The only problem is that networks screw themselves over by not allowing an entire archive of episodes to be available. South is very ahead of the curve by allowing any and all episodes ready to stream for the price of watching 2 or 3 ads.

Another great thing about the internet is the accessible information that Google, Yahoo Answers, and Wikipedia can provide. I never have to ponder about a random thought, and I love that. Some may argue that it diminishes critical thinking, but there’s a time and place for that. Even before Google was established, people always wanted an electronic source that provided information instantly. Examples in pop culture include The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and the Pokedex. Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide provides the main character, Arthur Dent, with valuable information. The pokedex is featured in Pokemon. The Pokedex gives information about different Pokemon, such as their strengths, weaknesses, characteristics, and other vital information.

The real life Pokedex and Hitchhikers Guide are Google, Yahoo Answers, and Wikipedia. If you have a question, you simply type into the search bar, and you will most likely get your answer.

Corporations are finally starting realize the value that the internet can provide. Ads can be found on the side of the page. Advertisers even pay Google to have their links featured on the top. Hulu always features ads for TV networks. I am certain that cable and satellite providers will slowly dissolve into nothing. Show formats will probably stay the same, but the gatekeepers will change. I could be wrong because the radio is still around and prominent; despite the popularity of mp3 players and music players on phones and laptops. The main point is that McChesney is correct when he states that the power of commercial success because of the internet. In reality, it’ll probably only strengthen it.

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is the principle of non discrimination of websites on the internet. Network neutrality allows websites to be equally accessible by all users. Companies such as time Time Warner, Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T want to get rid of network neutrality and instill a new system. If this happened, users would have to pay extra for better access to sites. In addition, websites would have to pay the gatekeeping companies to have their content more accessible to users.

This is a grave concern for a lot of people and companies. The internet was intended to be unregulated and free to grow. With the absence of Net Neutrality, the internet as we know it, could completely change. Tim Wu of Slate made a very interesting analogy comparing the KFC and Pepsi business model with highway interstate systems:

“The fast-food chain discriminates. It has an exclusive deal with Pepsi, and that seems fine to pretty much everyone. Now, let’s think about the nation’s highways. How would you feel if I-95 announced an exclusive deal with General Motors to provide a special “rush-hour” lane for GM cars only? That seems intuitively wrong.”

He argues that both practices work fine in their own right, but questions which model is a better fit for the internet. The answer is that Net Neutrality should be instilled and protected. If gatekeepers could discriminate sites based on money, it wouldn’t provide the users with the best possible internet. People go to certain sites for certain reasons. For example, nearly everyone chooses Facebook over Myspace. If the gatekeepers favored Myspace, then people that still prefer Facebook would suffer because they wouldn’t get a fast connection. It would inhibit the experience of the internet. Change should always occur for bettering things, not greed. Getting rid of neutrality is unnecessary and would be met with intense opposition.

Pornography and Society

There has always been a negative association with pornography, but access to it has never been easier. Pornography accounts for a decent amount of web traffic in the 21st century; thanks to sites that host professional and amateur porn for free. Chris Morris, of CNBC, wrote an article questioning if pornography’s reputation is as bad as society believes. Morris argues that society has overblown the effect it has on men’s psyche. Morris interviewed professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse, who is overseeing a study about the effects of porn. “Those who could not live out their fantasy in real life with their partner simply set aside the fantasy. The fantasy is broken in the real world and men don’t want their partner to look like a porn star.” The study suggests that men know the difference between fantasy and real relationships. Except in extreme cases, there doesn’t seem to be a correlation of changed behavior in men. In fact, it seems that watching porn may be a normal behavior for most men. “Lajeunesse initially had hoped to conduct the research with men in their twenties who had never seen porn. ‘We couldn’t find any.'” It doesn’t seem that pornography doesn’t effect society and morals very much.

A few years ago, SEC had a scandal involving porn. Many employees were wasting time and valuable tax payers’ money on watching porn at work. The scandal was not a good image for the SEC; however, the employees were not sex obsessed degenerates. According to Mark Hayword, the  author of Finance and Pornography at the SEC: A Media Studies Approach, thinks the problem is more about employees rebelling against the corporate system. He explains that employees are either subliminally or actively protesting their bosses by wasting corporate time. It’s a passive way of messing with the system and sticking it to the man. Hayword uses an excellent quote to explain this phenomenon:

“Media technologies have always offered the prospect of making office work more efficient or the means for management to exercise control over em- ployees. However, those same technologies have also served as the plat- forms on which one can engage in dilatory acts, stealing time from behind the boss‟s back .”

Porn’s reputation does not precede itself. It is negatively casted as oppressive to women and corruptive to men, and immoral. The truth is that porn really isn’t as bad as society makes it. Yes, there are people that have addictions, but they are a small majority. Porn should be protected by the First Amendment, but with restrictions. For example, people should have the freedom to search and watch porn in the privacy of their own home without consequence (except child pornography b/c that’s wrong and immoral on all accounts). Porn, however, should be banned in public places and the work place. Not everyone wants to see people having sex, and it is disrespectful to others. The work place is for work. The SEC should have fired any employee that indulged in that behavior. It is inappropriate and a waste of tax payers dollars. Employees are paid to work, not watch porn.

Facebook and Advertising

Facebook has had some controversy for user’s privacy policies. It is no secret that Facebook gives companies valuable information for the purpose of making ads more appealing and personal. Most people have come to accept this technique; however, Facebook has crossed the line with it’s Beacon online ad system. Juan Carlos Perez, an article writer for PC World, reveals that the Beacon system is more intrusive than people know. He explains that even when users have logged out of Facebook, the social network’s beacon system still tracks third party websites users have visited. For instance, if someone visits a site such as Fandango (a movie company), Facebook will still collect your activity on that site and sell it to corporations that want that information. There is no option to turn this off. This is an atrocious practice and a major invasion of privacy. Thankfully that practice is no longer in effect (or so they say…). Facebook continues to give any information it’s users post or share.

Nicole S. Coen, the author of The Valorization of Surveillance introduces a concept of people providing free labor to Facebook and advertisers. She defines the audience works by “learning to desire, generating command for and consuming mass-marketed goods and services.” In a sense, corporations are brainwashing us to want their products. When it’s combined with Facebook’s scheme of selling private information, it could have a scary effect. Advertisers have a better idea of how to manipulate people into buying their product. They can do this by creating their ads to be more personal and harder to resist. It’s not fair, because advertisers our buying our information that we choose to give. We don’t see a single cent for our input. People fuel advertisements on Facebook, and without them, ads would have no purpose. In addition, Facebook doesn’t give many options to protect against this. Users don’t have a say in the Terms & Conditions. It’s either sign or you can’t be part of the social network. It’s oppressive and unfair.

Facebook struck a nerve with a lot of people during the Beacon scandal. The issue has been reprimanded, but a similar scheme could happen in the future. Facebook does a wonderful thing connecting people and letting them share their lives with people, but cost is your privacy. Eventually people will begin to question if the benefits outweigh the intrusion of privacy that Facebook and advertisers commit.

The Impact of Social Networks

Sam Grahm-Felson’s article, How Cyber-Pragmatism Brought Down Mubarak, gives a detailed analysis on the role social networks played in Egypt’s revolts. He address that there is a disagreement if social networks were the primary reason for the revolution beginning. Grahm-Felson describes how Wael Ghonim, the hero of the Egypt protests, was inspired to start protesting. For him, social networks did give him a push to take action, but it doesn’t apply to most people that joined his cause. It is a fact that citizens had been unsatisfied with their current political situation. Citizens that marched in the streets weren’t necessarily influenced by the internet.

The Huffington Post gave social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, a lot of credit for fueling the Wall Street protests. They argued that the internet played a critical role, because it inspired people to get involved. Many young American citizens use Facebook and Twitter as their primary social tool. The founder or, Ben Rattray, stated,”The best way to get people away from their computer is through the computer; you can’t organize thousands of people in New York City [the way Occupy Wall Street has] without the web.”

The Huffington Post makes a very strong argument about the web making a difference. They should keep in mind that America is more media and social network driven than Egypt. Occupying Wall Street is successful because it’s applying the internet’s tools effectively. Pictures, videos, and blogs inspire people to take action and get involved. If it weren’t for the internet, it is very plausible that the Wall Street protests wouldn’t have been very effective.

As the world becomes more immersed in technology, social mediums will continue to be at the forefront for inspiring social change. The practices of peaceful protesting may not change, but inspiring people to join the fight will (and already has). The key to sparking a revolution is connecting with people to actively fight for a goal. For the 21st century, Social Networks are the most effective way to reach a mass amount of people.

Journalism and the Internet

The Atlantic, an American magazine, featured an article about the impact the internet has had on journalism. The magazine did not take a side, but it featured arguments from both sides. One expert stated, “It has blurred the line between opinion and fact and created a dynamic in which extreme thought flourishes while balanced judgment is imperiled.” This anonymous media expert has valid point, but it is biased. There are so many professional news corporations that have an agenda. Fox News is a prime example. They are often set on a political agenda that they often get their facts wrong. Fox News is an abomination to professional journalism. It consistently makes unprofessional mistakes and blurs the line between news and opinion.

Blogs are great alternative to the failing news corporations. Authors are often ordinary people that have a passion for writing, conveying information, and truth. Hindman, the author of The Myth of Digital Democracy, points out that a lot of ordinary bloggers do not reach an extensive audience. Those that do, are often very talented and more extraordinary than mediocre. So in other words, some bloggers are just as good, if not better, than their professional counterparts. Both journalism and bloggers have the same inherent problem: accuracy depends on an agenda or personal goal. Fox News warps news stories for it’s own purposes, and some bloggers may or may not do the same thing. It’s a matter of putting your faith and trust in a reliable source.

The Atlantic was very wise to not take a side because there is no wrong or right answer to the role the internet. Blogs have their flaws, just like news corporations have their own. What it really comes down to is a person’s trust in the news source. The decline of journalism primarily happened because of the War on Terror. False allegations and assumptions were made, and the public found out. News corporations did it to themselves. Blogs are just a different source of news that have the potential to be more accurate.

The truth of the matter is that society is evolving and traditional news sources may not survive. That’s okay. Change is inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing. Corporations have and will always fear change, because the future is always uncertain and profits could be lost. Blogs and journalism do not need to be opposed to one another. If journalism was wise, it’d adapt to the changing times and maintain professionalism in a new form.