Apr 26, 2010 Comments Off
All three readings this week discussed Habermas’ understanding of the “public sphere”.
According to Dahlberg, a public sphere is “a space free of state and corporate interests where private individuals can come together as a ‘public’ and rationally deliberate, ‘as if equals’ (bracketing out of inequalities), upon issues of common concern” (Dahlberg, 71). There are certain things that define this public sphere: 1) it must be flexible, 2) opinions must be understood as plural, and 3) it must overlap internationally, nationally, and locally. This ultimately allowed for “critical scrutiny”. Dahlberg compares this to the European bourgeois, which was ultimately destroyed by the development of mass media. He then goes into a more recent example of Al Gore’s argument that the Internet offers more democracy than mass media would because of the anonymity it offers. However, this anonymity is not as “blind” as Dahlberg suggests because it can eventually be traced with new technology. Therefore, this would make it less likely for people to post negative things about democracy as Habermas suggests. Dahlberg then goes into an argument about how the public sphere will offer equality among users, a point a strongly disagree with. Though it is discussed more in Papacharissi’s article, Dahlberg completely ignores the “digital divide” of those who do not have the luxury of computers, let alone Internet access. These people, usually of the lower class, probably have more problems they would like addressed than those with access. This creates an enormous problem with Habermas’ public sphere because there is automatic inequalities. Next, Dahlberg discusses the three major developments of privatisation: 1) commodification, 2) convergence, and 3) commercialisation. In terms of capitalism, he argues that the Internet offers the “perfect market place” because it is a place for direct advertising. As the Internet continues to develop, it is clear that this is becoming increasingly true. There are now ads in more places, including Facebook, YouTube, and extended ads on Hulu. Dahlberg then quotes Apple founder Steve Jobs, who discussed the implications of the privatisation of the Internet, including: 1) corporate control and censorship, 2) access restrictions, and 3) privatisation of interactions. However, it was conceded that privatisation is the reason the Internet is growing as quickly as it is. As a result, cyberspace is becoming a commercially rented space, causing a need for censorship. This eventually is causing new classes to develop, again indicating that there is indeed a “digital divide”, but not only between users with computers between those without. Instead, there is also a divide between companies who can advertise and market online and those who cannot. Eventually, Dahlberg states that the Internet will be increasingly seductive in that people will want to “maximize their individual pleasure”. This will ultimately lead to more censorship and control of information on the Internet.
Erkki Karvonen sets up a better explanation of Habermas’ “public sphere” by setting up the historical background of democracy. The author begins by developing the history of the pure democracy in ancient Greek. Karvonen then discusses the development of how democracy has become privatized with the development of capitalism with public discussion in English salons. However, this was still limited to those not in the bourgeois and those who were not considered to be in the lower class. The author defines Habermas’ “public sphere” slightly differently saying there are three main features: 1) universal access, 2) rational debate, and 3) disregard for rank. This definition is similar to Dahlberg’s. Karvonen believes that there has been a “refuedalization” because of the digital divide within the Internet realm, however. One part of Karvonen’s essay that I agree with is that “it is widely agreed that western democracies have problems in activating people to discuss, debate and even engage with their common business” (Karvonen, 347). Because of the difficult way to vote, only a small portion of our country actually votes in presidential elections, and even less in mid-term elections. However, Karvonen ultimately believes that “the internet will contribute to, or even be primarily responsible for, a new era of participatory democracy and a re-energizing of the public sphere” (Karvonen, 347).
Zizi Papacharissi continues the idea of Habermas’ public sphere, but believes that it cannot be revived because of the increasing digital divides. She analyzes democracy in a different way than Karvonen in which she looks at the different views of different philosophers, including Tocqueville, Dewey, and Jones. Papacharissi believes that there is a distinct difference in a public space and a public sphere. She believes that the new Internet a public space, in which it offers a place for discussion. However, a public sphere is different in that it provides a new form of democracy, which has yet to be developed. She believes that the democratic tradition was corrupt because only the upper class had a say in what went on. This has led to multiple unequal public spheres that the government cannot keep track of. Therefore, collective opinions are being ignored. Papacharissi reiterates Dahlberg’s idea that “privatizing forces of capitalism have created a mass commercial culture that has replaced the public sphere” (Papacharissi, 381). She points out that the speed that information can be accessed will eventually lead to citizen activism. However, I believe the opposite. I think the Internet has offered a forum for political discussions, but if it was supposed to lead to citizen activism, we would have already seen it. Instead, we have seen how lazy the Internet is making our generation. This is reinforced in Papcharissi’s next section about information access. An example of this laziness can be seen in the 2008 Presidential elections. While both candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, were very prevalent on the Internet in order to gain support from a younger generation, I don’t think they did so effectively. Obama had a popular video on YouTube (Yes We Can), and it helped him gain support from younger voters. However, the video had nothing to do with his campaign and was simply a bunch of celebrities who supported him. Therefore, neither candidate took advantage of the easy access to information younger voters had. Papacharissi then discusses the digital divide in further detail, saying that “[the advantages] do not instantaneously guarentee a fair, representative, and egalitarian public sphere” (Papacharissi, 383). The Internet is still also liberals versus conservatives, despite the effort to combine people of common beliefs. Papacharissi also talks about white supremacist groups, which we have seen in detail in class. This “certainly [does] not promote democractic ideals of equality” (Papacharissi, 383). The author then goes on to examine the effects of different cultural backgrounds combining on the Internet. However, this also may lead to miscommunications and may not make a difference. Papacharissi then discusses the evolution of rapid information flow, from radios, to televisions, to the Internet. Something I found surprising was that only six percent of the world has access to computers. Lastly, the author looks at a virtual sphere and how “cyberspace extends our channels for communication” (Papacharissi, 388).