Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Does weblogs and podcasting meet Habermas's ideal of the public sphere

The three readings for the last 2 weeks concentrated on blogs. The nature of blogs and how they match or do not match Habermas' ideal of the public sphere. For the point of this exercise blogs shall be measured against 3 arguments of Habermas' theory.
Inclusivity of access, a key element to Habermas' theory is that all can have access to the public sphere. Once that access is given to everyone no one should be discrimanted against by rank or social heirarchy. There should not be a power struggle and content should be judged on its quality rather then extraneous factors like social rank. The final criteria that Habermas set forth was that any topic is available for rational debate and should be discussed until consensus is meet. Although he did identify categories for the public sphere - arts/culture, science/technology and political/legal.

To assess if blogs are able to meet this criteria it is essential for a brief discussion of the nature of blogs. The pereseus development company found in (2003) that 2-9% of internet users use blogs. THe average lifespan of a blog is 4 months and only 9.9% contain a link to a traditional news source. Most update their sites once or twice a week or less. So based on these facts the majority of blogs act like a personal diary where people can inform a limited amount of people the going ons in their lives. Best example of such is the rise of MySpace a personal diary. The content of these types of blogs are not what Habermas had in mind for the public sphere. So keeping these asides we are left with the serious political/legal blogs that constantly link to news sites, the type of content that people often equate to blogs.

So these types of blogs, think drudge report etc are the types I will evaluate for the purpose of this exercise.

Firstly inclusivity of access. Although blogs are the easiest medium to publish work there are still barriers to access. The obvious barrier is access to an internet connection. This restricts users as the internet is still the domain of the worlds wealthy. Internet users have been found to be young, middle class and well educated. Developing countries lag behind the developed world in terms of infrastructure. However you do not need to own a private internet connection, there are a number of blogs started by homeless people in the US. These people may be poor but they live in an affluent society it is unlikely that a homeless person in Zimbabwe could keep a blog.

Another aspect that is needed for a blog is time. There is a new rise of people who are money rich and time poor who simply don't have the time to reguraly update a blog. So blogs have tended to fall to a certain type of person journalists, academics and students that have the time to regularly update a blog. Tied into this issue of time constraint is that there is none or little financial renumeration for producing a blog, if there was a market for blogs maybe a more varied people would free time to create one. However the creation of a marketplace for a blog brings with it its own set of problems, the whims of the market may affect the content of blogs.

Without the worry of monetary benefits or corporate ownerships most blogs can be considered to be the sole work of the authors. There is no filtering systme like in mainstream media. Although the blogosphere is a meritocracy there is still a form of hierarchy. The emergence of celebrity bloggers have created a form of blogger hirarchry. These celebrity bloggers - academics journalist - attract a large number of views. They are constantly linked by other bloggers and the way that search engine works means that the more a website is linked in relation to the topic the higher it will appear in the search thus increasing its chance of being seen. So if you know a well known blogger and he links to your site you are able to increase your page views. This site is the perfect example there are very few links to the page so it would not gain a high place in any search. I'm free to publish my views but that does not necessairly mean they will attract an audience. My contribution to the debate is very limited when compared to other bloggers.

There are also internal power ranking within blogs, the administrator e.g. me sets the topic. They have the power to moderate comments allow people to make posts or ban people from making posts.

Although the ideal is that anyone can post anything and anyone can comment on that post. This is the nature of the debate on blogs. For some blogs the notion of a rational debate is almost laughable. Consensus can be meet but due to the nature and order of posting new postings supplant old and the content of the blog often moves on to the next topic before consensus is meet on the last. The internet and blogs do allow the continuation of debate outside of physical constraints, so no longer do enlightened greeks have to travel to the marketplace to discuss ideas.

Blogs do not meet Habermas' ideals but they are probably the closest thing to it. The barriers of use make the internet and blogging an activity that only a small number of socity can do. Within this small community there is a hierarchy and just because you can publish it doesn't mean it will be viewed. THe internet can encourage rational debate. However Habermas' ideals are fairly dated now, people would much rather see a picture of other peoples cats on MySpace or pictures of their last trip to europe on photobucket then discuss politics/news arts/culture and science technology.

References
Gurak, Laura, Smiljana Antonijevic, Laurie Johnson, Clancy Ratcliff, and Jessica Reyman. eds. 2004. Into the blogosphere: rhetoric, community, and the culture of weblogs. [available from:
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/.]

Baoill, Andrew O. 2004. Weblogs and the public sphere. Into the blogosphere: rhetoric, community, and the culture of weblogs. available from:
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/weblogs_and_the_public_sphere.html. [accessed 4 October, 2004].

Lampa, Graham. 2004. Imagining the blogosphere: an introduction to the imagined community of instant publishing. Into the blogosphere: rhetoric, community, and the culture of weblogs. available from:
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/imagining_the_blogosphere.html. [accessed 4 October, 2004].

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