Saturday, December 6, 2014

Question 3

3.         “. . . questions about the psychic, political, and social effects of information are as applicable to the computer as to television. Although I believe the computer to be a vastly overrated technology, I mention it here because clearly, Americans have accorded it their customary mindless attention; which means they will use it as they are told, without a whimper. Thus, a central thesis of computer technology—that the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data—will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved”(Postman 161).

Question: “What is [‘the Internet’]? What kinds of conversations does it permit? What are the intellectual tendencies in encourages? What sort of culture does it produce?” (Postman, Ch. 6; slightly modifiedJ) If television was “the command center of the new epistemology” (Postman 78), what is the epistemology of the Internet, and how can or should that affect our understanding of rhetoric? What is the ideology of digital culture? What is its relationship to issues of race, sexuality, disability? How might we understand “the public sphere” online?


  1. I ended up answering this question. Halfway through answering I kind of tripped up when I began to consider "what is the epistemology of the internet?" In order to sort this out for myself, I compared Habermas' concept of mass media's culture of consumption to the culture that the internet creates. I did this, because the question quotes Postman saying "If television was the command center of the new epistemology what is the epistemology of the internet?" Although I understand the epistemic differences between the mass media culture and the internet, I am not sure if found a nice, concise way of describing the epistemology of the internet. What do you guys think?

    1. Do you think that the internet could have taken place of the television as the command center of the new epistemology? Postman's book was written in 1985, so it may be appropriate to argue that the internet has supplanted television.

    2. I would agree with that, Mary. While internet and TV are certainly different in what they afford users, I would say TV provided a foundation for the internet to evolve into mass of information and networking it is now.

    3. I am not quite sure if I would say that the internet has supplanted television exactly; however, I understand what you are getting. The only reason why I would not phrase it that way is because the internet draws from mass media. For instance, it's really common for clips from television broadcasts to be redistributed online. If you are to look at mass media as whole (i.e., include things like periodicals and newspapers), newspapers function in a similar way in the digital mode as they do in the print mode. It's true that readers are allowed to add comments in the digital mode, but I would argue that this does not typically result in a uniform discussion or critical thought.

      Basically what I am getting at is I think that mass media has found a new home in the internet. I am not suggesting this is all that the internet is, but this is part of the reason why I had trouble figuring out what the epistemology of the internet is if it also includes mass media.

  2. Good questions, Abigail. I'm not sure if I know the answers (or if there are concise answers), but here's my go at what I think.

    I definitely see Habermas' concept of a culture of consumption being a part of the epistemology of the internet. But, I also see as part of the epist. of the internet, more cooks in the kitchen as part of that consumption culture. What I mean by that is while in the TV realm, a few people have the power to pass along "information" for consumption, the realm of the internet allows for many more people and almost anyone to pass along their own "information" for others' consumption. Problems therein lie, however. Just because more people are able to shape discourse doesn't necessarily mean discourse is being shaped for the better. I would estimate that for every Honey Boo Boo episode on TV, a hundred Facebookers and Twitterers roam the internet, consuming and producing ill-advised, one-sided, abrasive arguments about trite topics such as abortion, guns, and immigration. That, or they demonstrate a lack of audience awareness, kairos, or activism when posting or commenting on the hangover incurred from last night. (I'm going off of my memory of having FB three years ago, so maybe things have changed).

    So, while this consumption is associated with the internet, I also think the epistemology of the internet has some redeeming characteristics. For example, the social media affords users to report on a single incident or occurrence, and for those reports to reflect multifarious perspectives and voices is a feat not seen by the emergence of any other technology thus far (and on this planet). So, instead of the television networks doling out a particular canned version of a story, a person who seeks to know other accounts of the story can look to social media and its affordances. I'm not sure how to describe this characteristic of the internet's epistemology, but I see it as important to consider. Of course, some may argue that social media in fact makes visible the activism capabilities inherent in it by the fact that so many of its users are there to consume only.

    Another example is the ease with which the internet allows its users to develop or revise ideas and then present those ideas to a particular audience, which can be seen in blogging or in collaborative sites such as Wikipedia. In the case of Wikipedia, any one can make a revision to a page, as long as it's deemed accurate by a group of (we hope) knowledgeable and diverse people. This could be seen as problematic because information is being controlled or maintained by a few, but I see it as a move into the direction of open information. Blogging, on the other hand, is largely unmonitored and unfiltered. Anyone can have a blog, and in that blog, that "anyone" can write about "anything." Sometimes this a problem, sometimes not, depending on who's writing. But what's interesting is that those who read the blog can comment and interject their opinion or offer a revision or suggestion as a way of interacting with the writer. Newspapers allow this in a kind of, sort-of way, in the form of "letters to the editor," which are screened and sometimes edited. This characteristic could be called the "Anyone can blog" epistemology which leads to a kind of knowledge that seeks to be unregulated, free flowing, and idiotic/brilliant at the same time.

  3. The conversations permitted by the Internet are almost limitless, and it tends to encourage the intellectual tendency of not engaging in sustained concentration. This produces a culture that, as Postman suggests in talking about the effects of television, is fragmented in its content.

    One connection I see between Postman’s assertions about television’s effect on culture and the effects of the Internet on culture is both have this effect of leading people to expect entertainment from their consumption of the media. Rather than looking with seriousness at the rhetoric they observe from the media, many people still find the content entertaining, and news producers such as Jon Stewart tend to make serious topics funny, for good or ill.

    If, as Brommett argues, epistemology is a way of discovering the truth, it could be argued that Internet users are using their opportunity for self-expression to discover truth through the assertions they make online. Miller and Shepherd discuss the blog genre as a “new rhetorical opportunity, made possible by technology that is become more available and easier to use, but it was adopted so quickly and widely that it must be serving well established rhetorical needs.” One of these rhetorical needs discovering truth through epistemic rhetoric.

    The ideology of digital culture is described by Porter in terms of seeing writing as part of a cycle of “production, consumption, and exchange” (188). Content is produced by Internet users in the forms of blogs, web pages, social media posts, and others; it is consumed by the people who read their writings, and exchange occurs in the discourse that users cycle back and forth. Importantly, the Internet can serve as a space for marginalized voices to emerge. People from racial communities, individuals with disabilities, and queer people have all found communities of identification on the Internet. This pushes back against dominant culture and can lead to increased awareness of the issues facing these groups.

    In terms of the public sphere online, the lines between public and private have been blurred drastically with the posting of personal content online. This has commonalities with reality television, where what could be akin to “personal life” is broadcasted for the world to see.

  4. I think you both bring up good points, and that is why I think I struggled with the concept. You both seemed to point out that while Internet gives people the space to exchange and critically discuss content, people still tend to fall back on the consummative characteristics of culture that we received from mass media. I think that it was difficult for me to reconcile this, because I kept thinking that the Internet must have a different kind of epistemology.

  5. I wonder, too, if we would consume the Internet the same way if television had never existed. I think if we'd manage to leap over T.V. some how our exchanges on the Internet would be more shaped by print culture because that is what proceeded it, rather than being shaped by the passive, consumer experience of T.V. I'm curious how that would change the epistemology of the Internet.