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Net Culture and the Future of the Mass Audience

The most rudimentary creatures employ basic forms of technology. As humanity has advanced from the more primitive stages of existence, so too has cruder forms of technology evolved into the vast array of complexity that defines modern life.

Technology has always had powerful effects on our culture. It is so interwoven with the structure of living that it is inseparable. These days, technological advancement is exploding.

Technology has always advanced throughout the ages in a clear exponential pattern. The Agricultural Revolution took 5000 years. The Industrial Revolution took 500 years. Our recent Information Revolution has taken a mere 50 years. What's next? Whatever it is, it looks like it may only take 5 years. It is as if we are riding on the slope of a rising line graph nearing the edge of infinity. We are in a whirlwind of change and there doesn't appear to be any stopping.

This net is spawning revolutions in our society.

In no other medium could one so easily connect with groups of unknown people sharing common interests. Those of like mind gather together in the primordial sea of data, a fluid and ever-flowing dynamic world of interaction. Something is being born.

Never before under the rule of mass-media information monopolies could common people so freely share, publish, disseminate, and consume information. The power is truly in the hands of those who accept it.

I once read a small study entitled "The Future of the Mass Audience", which greatly enhanced my perspective about the changing landscape of information technology and mass-media. This book was written by W. Russell Newman and was funded by a conglomerate of mass-media giants such as ABC, CBS, etc... Their main question of the study was this: how is advanced information technology, such as the net, going to affect what they called their "Mass Audience"? By this they meant the billions of people that basically watch the same shows, read the same sort of mass publications, and listen to the similar audio media put out by an increasingly small number of multinational corporations. Their fear was apparent. They were, and are, afraid that the decentralized nature of the net could shatter their mass audience into a spectrum of increasingly individual and diverse group of independents.

The result of their study was best summed up in a story that was used as a metaphor. During World War Two, a small city in the Soviet Republic was bombed into ruin. Yet before the war, the city was actually a gnarled mess of streets that was nearly impossible to navigate. It was a horror of design and it was a maddening chore to get from one side of it to the other. So now that the city was destroyed, there were some who felt that this was the perfect opportunity to rebuild it once again in a much improved fashion. They could make sense of the crooked streets and make reorganize what was previously a total mess.

Well, that isn't what happened. The public of the city wanted the same old confusing streets. They rebuilt the city from scratch into an exact replica of the old disfunctional mess that once existed before.

The lesson being demonstrated was this: people want what they are used to. Although people are given the opportunity to break out of molds and do things completely revolutionary, the bulk of humanity will choose the same old thing. The study showed that if people want Disney from their TV, they will want Disney from the net.

There was one catch though. The study concluded that there exists a "fringe group" of individuals that are not a part of this "mass audience". A minority group of people do not participate in the same things and they tend to view things in different ways. The final conclusion indicated that this "fringe group" would be greatly empowered by the new technologies and would find a power unparalleled in previous systems.

All of this reading was completely motivating and inspiring. It boosted my desire to connect with those of common interest and to take full advantage of the liberating aspects of modern technology.

Let's not leave our minds out in the factory farm... Ok?

Authored by Andrew Vavrek

You are free to copy, distribute, and alter this information as long as you allow everyone to do the same.

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