Contingency and the 'Networked Information Economy': A Critique of 'The Wealth of Networks'
Fordham University School of Law
April 30, 2008
International Journal of Technology, Knowledge, and Society, Vol. 4, No. 3, 2008
Yochai Benkler is right when he argues, most recently in "The Wealth of Networks", that the "networked public sphere" affords a looser, more democratic "platform" for innovation and deliberation than the "one-way, hub-and-spoke structure" of the "mass-media model." His suggestion, however, that the techniques of meaning production in the emergent technologies themselves vindicate the liberal theory of deliberative democracy is unconvincing to the extent they, in Benkler's rendering, remain unavailable or unintelligible to whole swaths of the citizenry. By overstating the accessibility of the new technologies, he obfuscates the extant political economy of cultural production. It may now be truer than ever that the decentralized and transparent characteristics of the new platforms allow ideas and information to flow more efficiently and democratically to more people than under the "mass-media model." It also affords more people the opportunity to create and participate in a range of "nonmarket" deliberative processes in public and in private. But these facts do not mean that we are all smarter, or freer, or (with apologies to Adam Smith) better off. The "networked public sphere" is hardly analogous to the lived public sphere in which the putative free flow of ideas itself has a "nonmarket" logic that is contingent on a variety of entrenched economic, social, and cultural arrangements. Until policy leaders develop strategies for expanding the availability or improving the accessibility of the new technologies, the affordances of the "networked public sphere" will accrue only to its wired participants.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 12
Keywords: benkler, network information economy, wealth of networks, public sphere, technological determinism, telecommunications, open source, open access
Date posted: September 19, 2008 ; Last revised: August 25, 2011