the new economy of ideas

Earlier today I posted a link on twitter to an article I read a couple years ago in the Atlantic ( about how the internet is “rewiring” the way our brains process information. Eco touches on this in “Future of the Book” and, for an old-timey published print author, makes some rather large concessions towards internet literature and its future. Like the Atlantic article, Eco discusses how much more/quicker we are able to decipher vast amounts of information.

Eco also points out the limits of hypertext; similar to my trite arguments last week, he explains that nearly all texts are finite and limited to a certain sphere. He does touch on a third type of hypertext, one which Coover discusses more at length: the unlimited, ongoing, reader-driven hypertext. This is really the advantage that internet lit has over print; the medium is quick, constant, open to all and free. So my real question regarding this is an inquiry into the future of the economy of ideas.

By this “economy of ideas” I mean how new ideas/information are exchanged. The  economy of print is fairly simple: people buy/borrow books, read journals, etc. But the internet is a whole new game. One of the main benefits of the internet, that it is open to all on a level playing field, may very well be one of its downfalls. Print may very well be closer to Plato’s vision of society and information being regulated by a doted group of philosophers, but the online sphere certainly induces the opposite problem of over-saturation.

Yes, every one is indeed on equal ground on the internet, but how are we to decipher reliable information from bullshit? Not that society has never been run by morons before, its actually quite common through history, but while back at my native Midwestern home I briefly indulged in some CNN for the first time in months and heard this while they covered the IMPENDING tsunami headed for Hawaii:

“Okay, well, folks, uh, let’s, uh, see what you have been saying on the internet–on searches or, uh, twitter, or facebook, too, or, uh, maybe myspace, too…Well, it seems that you all were talking about Chile and now it seems, yes, that Hawaii is coming up an awful lot on those “message boards” [signaling with his hands]…”

And so it went on like this for a few more minutes with anchorman Paul Deuschbag fumbling over twitter posts praying for Hawaii or Chile or begging for Poseidon’s gnarley fury not to head for those po’ lil’ islands. The point is that CNN was able to direct the discussion. The reason people were talking about Chile or Hawaii, specifically at certain times, was because CNN and other news networks were doing just that, too.

So that’s not the answer either. And it seems that, regardless of openness and freedom, internet chatter follows the mainstream media, anyways. The fact that “Justin Beiber” is one of the most common topics on twitter goes to show that, not only that most people tend to have horrible taste in music, open internet forums and wikis and reader-generated material don’t necessarily create a novel way of pushing information.

Even if we are able to push past this banal wall towards the sublime transfer of ideas and information, there is, as I mentioned earlier, little or no way to sort or organize it. It would seem that this creates a few equally weak types of “users” (I’ll probably think of more the second I post this): 1)the lonely, rogue wanderer who participates in a number of forums (I guess I’ll just call them that for now) of a wide variety, but does not invest in any particular one with much depth and has little output towards external sources/others and 2) Small, close-knit online communities in which all the users are extremely engaged and participatory, but the lack of any external output (whether it be the effort of the producers or the ambivalence of the greater majority) hinders the wider spread of these ideas and no economy of them beyond the small group.

Really, I am so curious to see how this plays out and I wonder what a community comprised of internet thinkers and rovers, alone, would be like. From my perspective, it seems that the over-saturation of the internet economy of ideas may lead to vast numbers of isolated intelligentsia or small, like-thinking groups incapable of greater ploy.

-Steve Whisler


~ by PDG on March 1, 2010.

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