Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Changes in the Communication Landscape - Part 1

I was debating in my head whether to put this here or elsewhere, but as a) it deals with issues introduced in the previous post, and b) concerns the "hyper"-fragmentation of the public sphere that one could say the Internet produced, I think this is the right place. In many ways, it's simply the extension of the last post and so the link isn't so important. I should also, then, warn you now that this is a post "to be continued..." There are a number of points that I want to take up, and I think it's only fair to break them up into several posts, rather than provide one extra-large one. As such, this one serves as an introduction, while the next few will pick out some more specific implications over the next few days (hopfully).

Discussion with David and a report describing Web2.0 as a "catch-all buzzword that people use to describe a wide range of online activities and applications" provided the initial impetus, nonetheless. I've also been reading some Baudrillard which has got me thinking along lines of simulation, replacement, power defining itself in terms of its own death, etc.

So the last post started getting into the attitude that accompanies a drive towards "revolution". Or, indeed, the attitude that is the struggle for re-invention that ends up being defined as "Web2.0" - and it's this hope for re-invention, this determination to detach "our"selves from the problems created over the past couple of decades, that confuses the issue of defining just what "Web2.0" is.

But now I wonder if the "problem"* of Web2.0 itself is larger even than that - larger than just creating a confusing border between "old" and "new". At this point, though, I don't believe it's a coincidence that the issue is emerging just at the same point in time that debate over both new forms of network neutrality and independent networks is reaching a potentially critical stage.

The fundamental thread that ties the two together - along with many other aspects of modern computing and networking - is that the Internet is maturing rapidly. It has reached a point of no-return in terms of usage, and in terms (more importantly) of dependence on it - and both Web2.0 and a move towards differentiated control recognise the fact that we need to find new ways of managing the sheer volume of "Net".

It is at this point that we need to consider the implications for what we hazily refer to as the "public sphere". For all the cries of its death and the bitter mutterings of web developers around the world (myself included ;), the technical "immaturity" of whatever Web1.0 was meant that it was hackable to the many. It could perhaps be said that the ability for browsers to display horrible, munged-up code meant that you didn't have to get too technical to get a web presence and, as such, 98% of those interested could knock something together in some sense. Simple web-hosting (often via an ISP) gave a bog-standard - and hence highly flexible - space for these creations to come to life. This amateurishness was one extreme of the "hyperfragmentation" of the public sphere mentioned above - the sudden possibility that anyone could publish whatever they liked, even if it looked crap and didn't parse. And it was this same sloppiness that led to many others (myself included) getting extremely excited about the possibilities this new technology could offer.

So now we need to compare that to the Internet we're creating today. The evolution and maturation developed from this initial slapdash approach has, in my view, led to an extremely different kind of participation. That's not to say it's any better or worse, but the fact that it's different may mean that we need to re-assess what we believe to be possible, and what we think is currently occuring. But I should emphasise that it's this maturation - not new technology - that we need to take as the context for this.

I think this is a good place for a break. I hope that the next couple of posts will deal (again ;) with the separation and expectations of Web1.0 and 2.0 in this context, as well as the control over the kind of communication we, as our "own" little spheres, engage in.

* "Problem" is one perspective, but in reality, "evolution" is probably a better, less-biased term.

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