The Hyperlinked Society

Book: The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age. Joseph Turow and Lokman Tsui, Editors. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press and University of Michigan Library, 2008.

Some weeks ago, I discovered this new book, which I did not read, but browsing through the chapters convinces me that it is a very high quality collection of essays.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction, to give you an idea of its themes:

Any discussion of how to promote a healthy society offline as well as online must therefore pay close attention to links. The aim should be to facilitate the widest possible sharing of varied, reliably sourced information in order to encourage specialized groups and society as a whole to confront their past and present in relation to the future. With a cornucopia of new media technologies and millions of Web sites and blogs, it would be easy to assume this goal is imminent. Yet a wide range of critics has lamented that this is not in fact the case. Some claim that both mainstream and nonestablishment sectors of the digital media target people who already agree with them, by producing content that reinforces, rather than challenges, their shared points of view. Other critics claim that media users themselves show little inclination toward diverse ideas. On the contrary, they tend to use the Web to confirm their own worldviews—for example, by going to political blogs with which they sympathize politically or even by ignoring news on the Web and on TV altogether.

How should we understand these claims that linking is not living up to its possibilities? What evidence do we have for them? What are the political, economic, and social factors that guide linking in mainstream media firms and among individual actors such as bloggers and wikipedians?

I asked Michael Goldhaber, one of the eminent experts on the attention economy, if he could have a look at the book, and report on it, and he started doing so, based on a first essay by David Weinberger.

So, please do read this first installment of commentary on his own blog here, and there will be more to come.

I’m just reproducing the (pessimistic) conclusion:

So I don’t think it has been settled that the Web is intrinsically good, though it’s obvious that most people do enjoy what they find on the web. If it is good intrinsically, then either its users should become noticeably more moral than non-users, or its rise should clearly make the world a better place. If it could be convincingly shown that the Web’s presence improves the chances for world peace, for human rights, for environmental protection or other clear moral goods, then the Web could plausibly be called good in itself. Neither Weinberger nor anyone else writing in this tome offers any such assurances, at least not in any way I find believable.”

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