Howard v. Benkler
Today's question: Now that we are at the end of the semester, use your experience from all of the readings in this course to put Benkler's ideas in The Wealth of Networks in play with one of the other authors we have read. For instance, compare and contrast a central argument from Benkler to Price, Innis, Howard, or any of the readings in the class. You might consider: Is the real difference between the two arguments you chose found in the choice of a research method or a set of assumptions? Or, can "the Internet" be substituted for another technology described by an earlier author in this course? (and if so, are the author's arguments still true?)
My Response: Not to go for the easy, and perhaps obvious choice because of my paper topic, but I thought it would be interesting to compare the perspectives on internet technologies of Howard and Benkler. On a superficial level Howard and Benkler seem to have opposite perspectives of the potential of the internet. But on some level it is just a matter of which type of evidence each is looking at. Both authors value the interactivity and collaboration possibilities of the internet. Benkler sees many examples of what he refers to as “non-market” interactions dominating the scene. While Howard does not examine traditional market activity he does examine a much more structured organization. Howard is not looking for examples of the ways that peer production has been able to overcome adversity, but instead almost looking for the ways in which political organizations fall short of their own proposed ideology. In some ways the story Howard tells is one of how those with power are able to harness networked technology to their advantage, while Benkler sees the rise of the more powerless to gain more autonomy. What seems most likely is that these two phenomenons are not directly in conflict with each other but are occurring simultaneously. After all it is through additional activity on the internet on issue related sites and through your credit card purchases that Howard’s consultants are able to construct more sophisticated profiles of their members and constituents. I suppose that is price of transparency (which Benkler prizes), that to truly have a transparent network then you are not only transparent to those who share your values, but also to those who do not, or even those who oppose your values, and what they do with your information can sometimes be out of your hands.