I want to say something unpopular and provocative: I am thankful for the Internet, especially this year, especially in the midst of the pandemic that still engulfs the world.
In the media narrative, according to my sample of the coverage of a single newspaper and a magazine lately, the network is singularly guilty of the polarization of society, a toxic ecosystem of hatred, renewed racism, the deterioration of the public square, the destruction of democracy, a disinformation pandemic, the rise of paranoid conspiracy cults, a rise in tyranny, the so-called surveillance economy, the death of privacy, the end of individuality, the decline of free will, harassment rampant, sex trafficking, mental health morbidities, addiction to our screens, outright evil, and making us stupid. For journalists and lately for politicians, nerds are now villains, algorithms are dark spells, and Mark Zuckerberg is the popular devil. In its moral panic, the media has turned the Internet into the enemy.
But try to imagine this last year without the net. Please pause to remember the privileges that the network has provided, because thanks to it …
- Countless people could remain employed who would otherwise have lost their jobs, as others lost theirs. The world economy would surely have fallen into a severe and long-lasting depression.
- Many parents are able to work from home and care for, and sometimes educate, their children.
- Students could continue studying and learning with their teachers and classmates. Without it, they would have wasted the year entirely.
- Families and friends could connect, talk, and see each other to offer support and love for as long as they wanted. I’m old enough to remember long-distance charges and the ticking of greedy telecommunications company clocks.
- Scientists and clinicians could share research and data like never before due to the open information ecosystem the network is provided with servers for prepress, peer review through social networks and search. His adaptability is a model for all of us.
- The trade continued. We could order anything from our homes, staying safer inside them.
- Telehealth enabled patients to receive treatment for their physical and mental well-being.
- Vaccination campaigns could be organized online.
- After the assassination of George Floyd, and after the network made it possible to witness the crime, a movement emerged across the country and around the world to promote a long-awaited Racial Reform in America.
- Deprived of the ability to ring the bell, candidates and supporters could reach out to voters and defeat the most dangerous president in the nation’s history.
- We could entertain ourselves by spending so many lonely hours, watching movies, bingeing on series, reading books, playing games, collaborating on TikToks.
- And thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Zoom, TikTok, Reddit, Discourse, Slack, Clubhouse, podcasts, and blessed blogs, we were able to chat.
Myself, I was able to teach online, attend conferences around the world, conduct my research in many libraries, and learn from more than 600 scientists and doctors around the world. COVID Twitter List I will police. I was able to make up for the three and a half hours a day that commuting was eating me out of my life, to be with my family, to work, to save money, to bring groceries to my 95-year-old father in Florida, and to stay safe . I am grateful for all that.
I was also able to finish a manuscript of a book on the end of the Gutenberg era, which has given me a lot of perspective on our transition to the era that follows. God knows, the early days of the printing press were disruptive, preceding the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (I think today we are witnessing a parallel struggle over race), various wars (in particular, the Thirty Years), the Scientific Revolution, and finally , illustration. . I am not a technological determinist. The impression did not make this story inevitable, nor did the story make the impression inevitable. But it is clear that without the printing press, Martin Luther’s reforms would not have spread with the speed and force that they did. (He could have ended up like his predecessor, Jan Hus, in ashes. On the other hand, without the scale printing provided to the indulgence business, he would have had no reason to complain either.) Without the web, specifically social media, # BlackLivesMatter would not have been able to mobilize with the speed and force that we have witnessed; He would still be strangled by the limited attention paid to him in the media. As #BLM has shown, the First Amendment not only encourages speech, but also the rights of assembly and petition for redress; Online, the First Amendment has reached its maximum expression through the people, not the press.
Is the network perfect? Of course not. Keeping you in that expectation is ahistorical and simple. It is imperfect because we, its creators and users, are imperfect. Everything that the media objects in their list of details against the network is the result of human failings, weaknesses, exploitation and corruption, some within the big corporations, others outside. Should the current owners of the network do a better job of recognizing, anticipating and countering bad behavior and bad actors and protecting her and us from their manipulation? Absolutely. But if we focus our attention only on the worst, we will never build the best; We will only lose if we catch up with the villains in our midst.
As I often say, the network is still young. We still have to understand what it can be and what we can do with it. Its current owners are maligned in the media, although that’s a fairly recent turn from utopian to dystopian. (USC Researcher Nirit Weiss-Blatt points out the date and cause of the media change). I also spent time during the lockdown, on a semi-sabbatical, working on a book proposal on the moral panic of the media regarding the web, examining the self-interest of the legacy industry at work. I think it is an important story to tell. But I also don’t want to make the mistake that the media make, obsess over the negative.
In every panel and lecture I saw during these Zoom Times, the starting point of the discussion about the network is what is wrong. The ideas that emerge in that context are then necessarily reactive, incremental, and often unimaginative: quick fixes and supposed cures for what some say ails the web (though not us).
What interests me the most is to imagine a better Internet and a better society with it. What if, instead, we allowed ourselves to start the discussion with what the network could be and what we could do with it? What if we raise our expectations to those heights? We have the perfect opportunity, and this is the perfect moment, because we have before us, right before our weary eyes of Zoom, the astonishing, even miraculous, litany of what society managed to accomplish even during the dark and desperate days of a global pandemic, thanks to the network.
As a journalism teacher, I had the privilege and opportunity to start three new degree programs with my colleagues at Newmark J-School, in entrepreneurial other commitment journalism and leadership. So I can observe students when they have the space to reimagine and reinvent journalism. It is wonderful. But I have begun to see that I have been thinking too small. Journalism is only one sector of the media and the media is only one part of the network; every institution and industry requires similar scrutiny and invention. I wish to work with other disciplines (anthropology, sociology, philosophy, psychology, African American studies, Latino studies, gender studies, ethics, design, neuroscience, digital humanities, literature, history, law, economics and technologies) to provide Students, academics and the people known as users are the stage in which to imagine and build a better network and a future partnership with it.
What if the starting point of our discussion was not what Zuckerberg did to disappoint someone this week, but the example of what many did with the web in a time of need: teachers, students, technologists, companies, government agencies , philanthropists, doctors? , scientists, parents, citizens achieved a lot. What if we don’t look at giving some evil fools too much attention for their bullshit, but instead focused our attention on how brilliant people of goodwill could use new media to speak, meet and act and to build movements for racial equity, economic equality, climate protection, education, art , cultural understanding, civic participation, health….
I want to free students, knowing what we now know about what can go wrong, to design new functions, features, platforms, regulations, standards, companies, measurements, experiments, networks. More than that, I want to see them create what their imagination allows them with technology, outside of it.
So I thank the network for what it made possible. I am grateful to the people who had the vision to see what I could do and made it work for us in times of crisis. I am eager to see what we can do next.
(Request the note card from BlissCollections.)