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June 21, 2006

Cape Cod Musings from Benkler

I went to Cape Cod a couple of weekends ago and while it was fun to hang out with Tyler, Stacie, and Alex, I got shot down a lot over that weekend. There were a myriad of topics, including the Sat. night conversation at the restaurant that was a good wake-up call for me. But, I wasn't wrong in the other discussions we had.

I don't usually voice my opinion unless I think I'm well grounded (personality flaw perhaps, humility is the better way to look at it), meaning I've read or studied the topic.

Below are a couple of takeaways from Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, which I'm currently trying to finish, that prove my points more eloquently than I did over the weekend in Cape Cod. Just because I couldn't fully explain my point or argument all the way to this level of detail doesn't mean that scholarly experts like Professor Benkler haven't done their homework on the subjects of the mass media and the internet:

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1) Whether you agree with its effects, the premise here is true and critically important to understanding the future and as importantly, why the internet does fundamentally change certain economic patterns that we’ve become accustomed to over the last 50 years.

Book pg. 4 / PDF pg. 16

“First, non-proprietary strategies have always been more important in information production than they were in the production of steel or automobiles…Education, arts and sciences, political debate, and theological disputation have always been much more importantly infused with nonmarket motivations and actors than, say, the automobile industry. As the material barrier that ultimately nonetheless drove much of our information environment to be funneled through the proprietary, market-based strategies is removed, these basic nonmarket, nonproprietary, motivations and organizational forms should in principle become even more important to the information production system.”

2) Internet trumps TV because it’s a conversation, not one-way mode of communication and it strengthens the weak bonds that are never sustained in the real world

Book pg. 15/ PDF pg. 27 (emphasis added)

“A substantial body of empirical literature suggests, however, that we are in fact using the Internet largely at the expense of television, and that this exchange is a good one from the perspective of social ties. We use the Internet to keep in touch with family and intimate friends, both geographically proximate and distant. To the extent we do see a shift in social ties, it is because, in addition to strengthening our strong bonds, we are also increasing the range and diversity of weaker connections…we have become more adept at filling some of the same emotional and context-generating functions that have traditionally been associated with the importance of community with a network of overlapping social ties that are limited in duration or intensity.”

3) Mass Media doesn’t reflect or serve what the masses really want; it gives you just enough generic content to maintain the minimal interest level so that you keep on the television

 Book pg. 165-166 / PDF pg. 178-179 (emphasis added)

Mass-mediated outlets serve the tastes of the majority, expressed in some combination of cash payment and attention to advertising. Baker in Media, Markets, and Democracy shows why, however, that mass-media markets do not reflect the preferences of their audiences very well.

“Advertiser-supported media tend to program lowest-common-denominator programs, intended to “capture the eyeballs” of the largest possible number of viewers. These media do not seek to identify what viewers intensely want to watch, but tend to clear programs that are tolerable enough to viewers so that they do not switch off their television.”

“Small increases in the number of outlets continue to serve large clusters of low-intensity preferences—that is, what people find acceptable. A new channel that is added will more often try to take a bite out of a large pie represented by some lowest-common-denominator audience segment than to try to serve a new niche market. Only after a relatively high threshold number of outlets are reached do advertiser-supported media have sufficient reason to try to capture much smaller and higher-intensity preference clusters—what people are really interested in.”

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Taken together, my main point is that Alex was wrong in his assertions about the mainstream media and about the social value of the internet. I value your opinion, I really do (as evidenced by the homework that you assigned me), but you're wrong when it comes to these two topics.

9/3/06 UPDTAE: I forgot to include my Flickr photos from the Cape Cod trip.

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