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The Digital Public Podcast

Transcript:

Today is May 4th, 2009. This podcast is produced for English 4999: Directed Readings with Dr. Lynette Gaillet.

Hello. My name is Brett Jones. You’re listening to The Digital Public: A Podcast About the Public Sphere in the Information Age.

Today’s podcast will focus on the social theorist and philosopher Jurgen Habermas and how his notion of the public sphere applies to the new media.

First, what is the public sphere? How has technology shaped the public sphere? What will become of the public sphere as society continues to evolve? These are some of the questions I will ask here on The Digital Public, and after a few months worth of reading, I will provide you with my answers. Take them for what you will, because after all, I am only an egg.

Let’s start first by wrapping our minds around what the public sphere actually is. From what I’ve gathered from reading The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere by Habermas, and other various texts concerning the philosopher and his, I will say that the public sphere is any group of people who combine their collective voices to enter into a dialogue about the happenings of the community. More specifically, the public sphere is the domain where private individuals exchange ideas about how to shape their world. There are important elements which must exist in order for the public sphere to function properly, they are: freedom from coercion, equality among participants, and an orderly execution of rational discourse.

Whether it is known as the “city-state” of the ancient Greeks, the king’s court of the medieval monarchs, the coffeehouses of the 18th century, or the information super highway we call the Internet, human beings have participated in the public sphere for millennia. It seems the arena in which the sphere operates continues to change overtime. If this is the case, when was the public sphere last in its prime? What arena did the public sphere operate most successfully?

If you asked the Habermas of 1962 (the year The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere was published), he would tell you the best years of the public sphere existed in the 18th century. In his book All News is Local, Richard Stanton paraphrases Habermas by saying:

For Jurgen Habermas, the salons and coffeehouses established by the bourgeois and middle classes in the early 18th century took over the public sphere, the court of royalty . . . The role of information in this influencing process—news that could affect commodity and manufacture prices—was vital to the growth of the capitalist system; thus, those with the time and the need gathered in public places to receive and dispense. (87-88)

With the advancement in the technology of the printing press, information began to flow more freely than in any other time in history. Newsletters, pamphlets, and broadsheets circulated through the coffeehouses, and taverns, of the 18th century. These papers contained relevant news and information concerning the actions of Parliament and the King. The coffeehouses became central places where politics and business happened. These public places became the epicenter for social change. What was said in the coffeehouses was sure to influence the actions of the state.

Habermas claims that these arenas full of informed citizens engaging in rational debate, free from coercion is the high point of the public sphere’s existence. What, then, has happened to the public sphere? What changed?

In Frank Webster’s book titled, Theories of the Information Society, he says that:

Reading Jurgen Habermas on the history of the public sphere, it becomes impossible to avoid the conclusion that its future is precarious. His account of its more recent development is gloomy: capitalism is victorious, the capacity for critical thought is minimal, there is no real space for a public sphere in an era of transnational media conglomerates and a pervasive culture of advertising. (104)

He goes on to say that information is produced only to maximize advertising revenue and to drive the capitalist machine. This comes as no surprise to anyone who flips through the various news channels. The sensationalism of the news today is beyond the pale! It’s bad enough that we must endure the over-hyped drama in the news where celebrity takes precedence over social change. More screen time is devoted to figures like Angelina Jolie or Brittany Spears than important political figures. We also have to deal with the endless barrage of image and sound attempting to convince us to consume products we don’t need! The picture is pretty grim, but there must be hope.

In his conclusion of the chapter concerning Habermas and information management, Webster says the public sphere is undeniably diminishing with respect to the opportunities for mendacity and routine interference with information. He is talking about the commodification of knowledge, the emphasis on persuasion and propaganda, and the escalation of advertising-oriented media (Webster, 133).With broadcast television, newspapers, radio, and now the Internet, more and more people have the opportunity to engage in the public sphere. This is the paradox, while the public sphere is no longer what it once was there is great potential for people to participate in a free and open public sphere. They need only the will to do so.

With the Internet, people have the ability to communicate with each other more immediately than ever before. The potential for a community of individuals to congregate, exchange ideas, and plan actions for social change has been greatly enhanced by the advancement of 21st century technology. The 2008 presidential election is evidence of this fact. President Barack Obama utilized the Internet to efficiently organize grass roots movements which brought many young and first time voters to the polls to vote in his favor. He continues to utilize the Internet by creating websites such as recovery.gov devoted to tracking the spending of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. He posts his weekly address on YouTube and the whitehouse.gov website. This new way of involving the public in the goings on of the government is hitherto unprecedented. Websites like politico.com and the-daily-politics.com provide live chat rooms which serve as an arena to engage in public debate over the affairs of the state.

Seventy two percent of the population in the United States uses the internet according to the website internetworldstats.com. As this number continues to grow, the potential for a more democratically involved public becomes greater. If the Internet can avoid being transformed by the threat of corporate conglomerates attempting to control bandwidth distribution and thereby creating an experience not unlike television (see my show on Net Neutrality if you want to learn more about this threat), then the revival of the public sphere will most likely take place in cyberspace. If the public sphere is a place where individuals free from coercion seeking to participate in orderly execution of rational discourse among equal participants, then the internet is the place to do it. We only need the will to band together, the determination to take it upon ourselves to create change, and the ability to engage in the discourse to do so. Why not start now? Use the comments section to tell me what you think. My name is Brett Jones. This is The Digital Public. Thanks for listening.

Show Notes:

Habermas, Jürgen . The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1989. Print.

Stanton, Richard C. All News is Local: The Failure of the Media to Reflect World Events in a Globalized Age. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company Inc., 2007. Print.

Webster, Frank. Theories of the Information Society. New York City, NY: Routledge, 1995. Print.

http://www.recovery.gov

http://www.whitehouse.gov

http://www.internetworldstats.com

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Net Neutrality. Tell your friends.

Net Neutrality & You

Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to Net Neutrality & You: A podcast about Net Neutrality and how it affects your access to an affordable and high speed Internet. My name is Brett Jones. The date is December 4th, 2008. This podcast is for the class English 3090, History, Theory, & Practice of Expository Writing with Dr. Mary Hocks at Georgia State University. Before we get started, let’s have a listen to, Ask a Ninja.

Present Audio from http://www.askaninja.com/node/585

To first explain what Net Neutrality is, we go to savetheinternet.com. They explain Net Neutrality as the biggest cable and telephone companies wanting to charge money for smooth access to websites. They believe they should be able to charge website operators, application providers, and device manufacturers for the right to use the network. Those who don’t make a deal and pay up will experience discrimination. Their sites won’t load as quickly, their applications and devices won’t work as well, and without legal protection consumers could find the network operator has blocked the website of a competitor, or slowed it down so much that it’s unusable.

Network owners say that they want a tiered Internet, and if you pay to get in the top tier, your site will be more serviceable and more fast, if you don’t, you will be in the slow lane. So the problem is discrimination, double-dipping, and the stifling of innovation.

What needs to happen in order to keep Net Neutrality from being taken over by corporate conglomerations is the intervention of legislation. Fortunately, the upcoming administration plans to protect Net Neutrality. President-elect Obama’s website, change.gov ensures the full and free exchange of ideas for an open Internet and diverse media outlets. They will protect the equalness of the Internet by importing the principles of Network Neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.

Thanks to the contributions of both coalitions and groups like the ElectronicFreedomFoundation.org, and savetheinternet.com, as well as the individual contribution of people like Phillip DeFranco of Philly D TV, and the folks at AskaNinja.com, the word was spread very quickly about the importance of Net Neutrality, and why keeping a free and open Internet is vital to enjoying the Internet as we know it today.

At one time AT&T was working to disband Net Neutrality. In her article entitled, “AT&T Changing Tune on Net Neutrality?” Celia Kang states that during a panel she moderated, “AT&T’s cheif lobbyist Jim Cicconi and the public interest group Free Press were in surprising agreement on Net Neutrality as it applies to the wireless industry.

Four public interest priorities are cited on FreePress.net’s website: first, protect an open internet, second, promote universal and affordable broadband, third, increase diversity in media solutions, and fourth, renew public media.

With a new administration in place, it is likely that the upcoming sessions in congress next year will push for Net Neutrality. According to PCworld.com, the FFC has addressed what it saw as Net Neutrality violations on a case-by-case basis in recent years. However a law passed by congress would customers, investors, web based companies, and broadband providers with certainty about the rules of the road, according to Frannie Wellings, Telecom Counsel for Senator Byron Dorgan.

With the likelihood of Net Neutrality being protected by the federal government, we can all rest easy knowing that user created content we have come to know and love so much in these recent years will continue to be a part of our daily lives. So happy Googling and YouTubing to you all.

The music for this podcast is provided by Jamendo.com, a community free legal and unlimited published under Creative Commons licenses. The artist is Revolution Void, from the album, “Increase the Dosage,” track one, “Invisible Walls.”

Sources:

askaninja.com

eff.org

savetheinternet.com

pcworld.com

freepress.net

washingtonpost.com

change.gov

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