Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks

With the radical changes in information production that the Internet has introduced, we stand at an important moment of transition, says Yochai Benkler in this thought-provoking book. The phenomenon he describes as social production is reshaping markets, while at the same time offering new opportunities to enhance individual freedom, cultural diversity, political discourse, and justice. But these results are by no means inevitable: a systematic campaign to protect the entrenched industrial information economy of the last century threatens the promise of today’s emerging networked information environment.

In this comprehensive social theory of the Internet and the networked information economy, Benkler describes how patterns of information, knowledge, and cultural production are changing—and shows that the way information and knowledge are made available can either limit or enlarge the ways people can create and express themselves. He describes the range of legal and policy choices that confront us and maintains that there is much to be gained—or lost—by the decisions we make today.

There are new opportunities, he says, most importantly shifting from finished information and cultural goods to platforms for self-expression and collaboration. Social production is a fact, not a fad. It is “the critical long term shift caused by the Internet.” But it is a threat to, and threatened by, incumbent business models.

Why should we care about the outcome of this political debate, he asks? Because of our core commitments to autonomy, democracy, and justice & development.

We’re in a battle of institutional ecology, he says: DMCA, Net Neutrality, “trusted” computing, etc. Law is pushing in favor of the incumbents, he says. But that doesn’t mean they’ll win. E.g., the market doesn’t want “trusted” machines. (He says they’re trusted in that the content creators can create it not to do what customers want.) The sharing culture is increasing. The battle has begun and is worth waging.

As Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School, puts it: “In this book, Benkler establishes himself as the leading intellectual of the information age. Profoundly rich in its insight and truth, this work will be the central text for understanding how networks have changed how we understand the world. No work to date has more carefully or convincingly made the case for a fundamental change in how we understand the economy of society.”

The Wealth of Networks is simply essential reading.

2 Comments Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks

  1. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » A landmark essay: Nick Dyer-Witheford on the ‘Circulation of the Common’

  2. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » The Crooked Timber seminar on The Wealth of Networks

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