Insight: The Internet, "The great segmenter" Part II [La Prensa (San Antonio, TX)]
(La Prensa (San Antonio, TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) As the first of a two-part series, last week's article discussed how some dreamers believed the Internet would serve as a force for unifying people. This new medium would allow strangers to reduce their differences by increasing their understanding of one another. The openness of the Internet meant anyone could have near-equal access this virtual "commons" and participate in it freely by learning, doing business, disseminating knowledge, posting videos, and more.
It would be a force for social (or even political) democratization thanks to its accessibility and the individual freedom it permitted. That was the dream. That was, quite frankly, a pipe dream. Far from being an equalizer, the Internet has been "the great segmenter."
It has been the medium that has contributed to the segmentation, or differentiation, of people since they are now freer to pursue their distinct interests and express their more idiosyncratic beliefs. However, this is nothing new.
All forms of media have "segmenting" effects. This is seen in the news industry, for example. How individuals get news (print newspapers, online articles, television, or word of mouth) and what news outlets they rely on (The Economist, Al Jazeera, "TheBlaze TV," or monologues on late-night comedy shows) inherently differentiates them from each other, despite the theoretically unifying potential of the Internet. Of course, there are exceptions in the form of individuals who break the mold.
This author's uneducated and absolutely brilliant grandmother made it a point to read a variety of newspapers in Mexico, ranging from the right-wing 'El Sol de México' to more mainstream publications. She stood apart, however. Most people get 95% of their news from only a handful of sources that they enjoy or otherwise rely on.
People's choice of'content' (new technology versus history, celebrity gossip versus political) says something about their interests or personalities. So too does their choice of ' form. ' That is, the medium through which a person acquires or conveys knowledge often implies (rightly or wrongly) something about that person. Consider the following examples: readers versus equallyinformed illiterates, newspaper readers versus TV watchers, magazine readers versus novel readers, Facebook and Twitter addicts versus email-only traditionalists, moviegoers versus those preferring movies 'on demand' at home.
There are even meaningful differences between those working with mass media (intended for larger audiences) and those using other less popularized types of media: journalists versus fiction writers, TV screenwriters versus playwrights, pensive bloggers versus tenured professors (who write lengthy articles for print publication in specialized academic journals).
What does all this mean? Despite the aspirations of some of the Internet's early champions, one cannot expect everyone to be on the same page (or webpage), despite their physical ability to do so. The multiple ways that individuals obtain information and the infinite types of content that they seek out mean that people will continue to gravitate toward their personal interests or needs. In doing so, they will necessarily separate or differentiate themselves from others, at least so long as they have the freedom to do so.
That brings up one feature that some of the Internet's libertarian-like proponents were correct about. The Internet has expanded freedom. It provides the freedom to virtually congregate with likeminded persons on Facebook Groups, criticize governments or gods on personal blogs, and learn from the in-depth publications provided by the cornucopia of non-advocacy think tanks. This transformative medium provides the freedom to explore the annals of history, acquire unique items from distant sellers on eBay, discuss new fashions and consumer goods on websites, and to offer insights... on anything, as this author does... in his case, in a print medium.
(c) 2013 La Prensa San Antonio
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