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Digital Disconnect

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Digital Disconnect

How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy

The New Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The Internet was a force for freedom – until money came along!

Editorial Rating



  • Background


Robert W. McChesney, author of Rich Media, analyzes the rhetoric around the development of the Internet and points out where web “celebrants and skeptics” agree and disagree. Then he explains that most people, whether they advocate for the web or not, do not understand its relationship to capitalism and the “political economic context” of the Internet revolution. He tries to wave away some of the ideological smokescreen around the way the Internet is progressing societally and economically, and he outlines the way current public policies affecting the web serve corporate interests at the consumers’ expense. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends McChesney’s economic analysis and societal explication as interesting food for thought for futurists, investors, entrepreneurs, and anyone interested in cyberculture, the media, democracy, a functioning public sphere, a free press – or even just a faster Internet connection.


The Cybernetic Revolution

The debate over the Internet divides into “celebrants and skeptics.” The celebrants vary on specifics, but unite in claiming that the web will create prosperity, a more equal society, increased leisure and an explosion of scientific discovery due to the ability to share thoughts freely. Celebrants emphasize a speedy flow of data and the universal capacity to connect. Skeptics argue that more information does not generate increased understanding and that speedy communication does not guarantee objective information.

Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble, argues that, as a web consumer, you live in a protective sphere that shields you from data that threatens your preconceptions and that – not to your benefit – also impedes the lucky connections that spark creative thought. Skeptics note that those with power separate various aspects of the digital revolution to undermine an equal society. For example, China does not allow free speech, but it permits business use of the web. Skeptics argue that the web transforms people – they become shallower and less able to think critically.

Neither camp understands the “political economic...

About the Author

Robert W. McChesney is Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and author of Rich Media.

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