Rheingold recounts how the development of communication technology has removed the power top transmit messages from a tiny elite, and had been a force for democratization. Following Benkler's idea of peer production he explains how the diffusion of many-to-many communication technologies enables new forms of collective action.
|Play from beginning
|Interview with Howard Rheingold
|Of course the most important change that the internet
|brought has been a democratisation of the ability to create
|and distribute not only your opinions, but all sorts of media.
|It used to be that if you had a radio station or TV station or printing press
|you could broadcast your views to a very large number of people
|at quite a bit of expenseive and a fairly small percentage of the population was able do that.
|The internet made it possible for everyone who had a personal computer
|that was connected to the network to in effect have a printing press,
|and a broadcasting station and a place of assembly a place where community
|could take place, a market place.
|That's a very radical change in the way the printing press was a radical change.
|For thousands of years, scribal culture really hand-picked the people who were
|given this code to transmit knowledge across time and space.
|In the wake of the printing press, milions of people became literate
|instead of thousands and constitutions, democracies, science
|as collective knowledge gathering, the protestant reformation Ð very large scale social changes
|Ð were enabled by a literate population.
|So now we're seeing the beginning of vast expansion of literacy,
|not only in the ability to send words on a page, but TV and audio
|and software and music and movies from any spot to any other spot.
|Structurally, that change is a very dramatic change
|and socially it means that we now have another population
|that has a degree of literacy that will enable them to organise forms of collective action
|that they weren't able to organise before.
|Just as you couldn't govern yourself,
|you couldn't overthrow the monarchy and create a constitution
|without a literate population. You couldn't create science as a collective enterprise,
|you had to wait for Newton or a Gallileo or an Aristotle to come along,
|you couldn't enlist entire populations of people in that.
|So I think the largest social question is what forms of collective action -
|and that could be political, rise of democracy and nation states,
|it could be economic, the emergence of market capitalism in the wake of Gutenberg,
|literacy Ð it's cultural: public education afforded by cheap printing.
|Those are the kinds of changes that we ought to look at in the largest sense,
|in regard to what the internet provides as a communication medium.
|Well we're benefiting from two technological bonanzas
|the microchip, Moore's law, making devices much more powerful and less expensive
|every year, that means that a five year old's video game
|has all the power that all the computers in the world had not too long ago.
|That's a tremendous advantage in terms of putting the ability
|to produce and distribute culture in the hands of many many people.
|It used to be that you had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a video camera,
|You had to spend hundreds of dollars per hour to edit it,
|now all those capabilities are broadly available.
|But it's not only I think the distribution of news, media and cultural material
|we're seeing with open source software production, the rise of peer production software
|we're seeing with Wikipedia, the collective creation of knowledge or aggregation
|of knowledge, what Yochai Benkler calls «commons based« peer production,
|may well be a third method of economic production along with the market and the firm,
|we're really in the earliest days of that, so I think the wide spread availability
|of devices that enable people to compute and to capture and distribute media
|we're only judging that on the basis of what we know from the past,
|we really need to look forward to what entire populations of people are going to be able to
|argue, are they going to be able to do scientific research?
|Together we're now seeing with distributed computations, that people lend their computing
|power to big scientific efforts to understand how proteins fold,
|or the immune system works or the weather systems propagate.
|Entirely new economic systems we have a very crude price system,
|that allocates value according to what populations are willing to pay for commodities,
|what if we were able to find out what individuals were willing to pay for commodities?
|We're seeing subsistance farmers, who are able to get one bit of information on their mobile phones
|should I walk 3 hours in this direction with my crop or 3 hours in that direction?
|Or should I go to this port with my fish or that port with my fish?
|That makes the difference between feeding their children and not feeding their children.
|So I think we need to think broadly in terms of the kind of economic, political
|and cultural power that can be wielded by populations.
|formally that are only wielded by small numbers of people.
|Centralised systems of communication that are expensive to operate
|naturally support a centralised and hierachical power structure.
|Those who can afford or those who have the weapons
|to control a newspaper printing facility or a tv broadcasting system
|have the power to inform and persuade;
|that has proved to be a much more effective power
|in many political instances than traditional weaponry.
|When not just those who can afford to persuade and inform and perhaps misinform
|have the ability to spread information we have a very different decentralised power regime
|and certainly we are seeing a struggle between the incumbent powers that be
|and people who suddently have cultural and political power they didn't have before.
|I think if you belive in democracy having more people involved in decisions
|about their govenance is a good thing, then in the long run this is a good thing.
|But i think that democracy has its problems - the mob is as dangerous as the tyrant
|and i would not put too much trust in the utopian decentralisation of power
|without an accompanying kind of education about the use of that power.
|The world in which our bodies exist does not cease to be important,
|simply because we have this world of the mind.
|A dictator or a criminal can come to your house and take you away,
|or kill you. I think it's important to understand that physical power is not going away,
|The rise of soft power means that physical power is not the only way
|to sway populations, but I think we're going to see the co-existance
|of hierarchies and networks of centralised power and decentralised power
|of hard power and soft power, the ability of powerful and well financed players
|to manipulate a distributed system should not be over looked.