I’m co-teaching with John Palfrey a course at Harvard Extension School called Internet & Society: The Technologies and Politics of Control. Tonight, we will be discussing how digitization in tandem with the emergence of electronic communication networks such as the Internet have changed the ways in which we use media. More specifically, we will look at the shift from passive receivers of information to active users and creators. This class will be more of a conversation rather than a lecture.
As my students must have realized by now, I have a bias to think and — worse — talk in abstract concepts (call it the European blind-spot). Tonight, however, I won’t talk much about theoretical frameworks, promised. Rather, I would like to present a couple of examples illustrating the above-mentioned shift from passive receivers to active users and discuss them in an open format. While looking at the examples, please keep the following questions in mind:
- What are the opportunities and challenges associated with the shift as illustrated by each example?
- What are specific areas of concern or emerging legal/regulatory issues?
- Do we need to address these concerns? If yes, what’s the appropriate regulatory approach (social norms, markets, law, technology)?
- What are potential effects — also side-effects — of regulatory intervention?
Okay, that being said, here are the examples that we will use in class tonight. Please note that I provide positive examples, nice stories, but — of course — also at least problematic examples, some of which you might find disturbing. (Again, we’ll discuss these examples in class and provide enough context to make sense of these illustrations; however, I want to include the examples here so that our distance students can easily access them.)
(1) Research and Knowledge
- Wikipedia (1, 2, 3) [update: for a wonderful illustration how wikipedia works, click here. Via Luis Villa]
- Health information (1, 2)
(2) News Reporting & Journalism
(4) Social & Corporate Criticism
- Endless love
- State of the Union (1, 2)
- Media enterprises (1, 2)
- VictoriasSecret (1, 2)
- Other illustrations (1, 2)
We’ll end the class with some big-picture-questions, including:
- What are the normative dimensions and criteria to assess the shift from passive receivers to active users?
- What are key areas of concern across the examples we’ve discussed?
- Applying old laws or need for shift in the legal/regulatory paradigm?
- Issues down the road?
The teaching team is looking forward to discussing these and other questions with you tonight.