Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Information Revolution

This week’s reading on the Origins of the Information Revolution by Elizabeth Hanson provides a great overview of the different technological innovations that have impacted the way society communicates over long distances. From the printing press to broadcasting, these technologies have revolutionized the way in which we communicate and share information across borders. Hanson does an excellent job in explaining how each of the technologies (printing press, telegraph, telephone, and broadcasting) play a role in disseminating information domestically and internationally.

One of the more interesting points that was highlighted in the chapter is the discussion of how domestic programming, in particular newscasts, “helped to shape images of other countries and interpretations of international events, providing a potential influence on individual opinions about foreign policy and conceptions about world politics.”

If I had to expand Hanson’s list of technological innovations to include modern day technologies, I would add Internet-based technologies such as social networking sites, blogs etc. There is no denying that many of us, myself included, use these mediums to gather information, spread ideas, and influence the way our friends, family and people in our social circle think about an issue. This has allowed individuals to directly influence each other’s opinions more than any other time in history. Therefore, as we utilize these technologies we must be responsible in making sure that the information we disseminate is accurate (although “accurate” can be a relative term).

Not to be left out, the government is beginning to take a more active role in utilizing these mediums as well. For example, the U.S. State Department currently has accounts on Twitter and Facebook, as well as a social networking site on its own web server. This will allow the State Department to play a more active role in directly influencing the opinions of individuals on its own terms.

As more people seek internet-based networking sites to access information, and governments increase their efforts to shape public opinion through these mediums, broadcast (radio and television) will, if not already, become an obsolete way to shape public opinion.

1 comment:

  1. It's really a layering process. Historically, pre-newspapers, 'public' opinion was really just formed by your peers, who you talked to and what they knew. This function has really never gone away, but it was supplemented by newspapers and later technologies, that provided news of places and issues your peers most likely had never had access. Even then, this news was then shared and analyzed by collective peer groups, with more or less cynical or knowledgable voices pitching in.

    Then came information overload - where your peers are all bombarded and so actually talking about all the news you take in would take an insane amount of time. The gradual turn to Internet and community has allowed peer groups to be transformed, made broader and more comprehensive.

    Therefore, the government is now trying to influence your intake again - when it used to be one of few voices.