The Digital Revolution, the Informed
Citizen, and the Culture of Democracy
Jenkins and David Thorburn
American Democracy, circa 2000
commentators predicted that networked computing might be the
decisive factor in the election of 2000. By November 2000, 64
percent of all voters were Internet users and 90 percent of
Americans on the Internet were registered voters.1
The Web would offer, these commentators claimed, the least costly
and most effective means of reaching likely voters. How did
such predictions turn out?
Forbes became the first individual to announce his presidential
candidacy on the Web.
became the first state to allow online voting in its presidential
Bradley established records in raising campaign contributions
on his Web site.
- The presidential
nominating conventions were Webcast for the first time.
George W. Bush and Al Gore deployed their Web sites to issue
"e-buttals" critiquing the other side's performance
in the presidential debates. In some cases these responses
were posted while the debate was still taking place. Traffic
to these sites was so heavy following the debates that the
Bush Web site crashed.
- The Markle
Foundation's Web, White and Blue cyberdebate site featured
daily exchanges among six presidential candidates in response
to questions submitted by Internet users.2
staffs used computer modeling and extensive polling data to
map their strategies; hour by hour, precinct by precinct,
allowing rapid shifts of resources. In one of the closest
elections in American history, both major parties believed
they knew down to the last dangling chad how many votes they
could expect in each district of each contested state.
such signs of change, some commentators expressed disappointment,
convinced that the public was not yet ready to participate in
the cyberdemocracy they had envisioned. Jonah Seiger, cofounder
of Mindshare Internet Campaigns, spoke of his disillusionment:
"The evolution of the Internet and politics is going to
happen a lot more slowly than people expect."3
A Pew Research Center study found that only 18 percent of Americans
had used the Internet to learn about the candidates.4
On the other hand, in an election that was decided by a few
thousand votes, such numbers could have had an impact on the
outcome. Of those whom Pew identified as seeking candidate information
online, 43 percent said the Web had influenced their final decision.
Fifty percent of Internet users under the age of thirty said
the Net had affected their vote, a finding that suggests a generational
shift in political culture.
these disappointed observers were looking in the wrong places,
searching for some decisive moment that would embody the new
power of digital media-the contemporary equivalent of Roosevelt's
"fireside" chats on radio or the Kennedy-Nixon debates
on television. Such events, of course, were emblematic of the
old "consensus" media of broadcasting, systems defined
by a few monopoly networks and limited access to the channels
of communication.5 These
events were important, in part, because they enabled candidates
to address directly a significant portion of the electorate.
The current diversification of communication channels, on the
other hand, is politically important because it expands the
range of voices that can be heard in a national debate, ensuring
that no one voice can speak with unquestioned authority. Networked
computing operates according to principles fundamentally different
from those of broadcast media: access, participation, reciprocity,
and many-to-many rather than one-to-many communication.
not discover a single decisive moment when the Internet emerges
as a force in our national politics. Instead, digital democracy
will be decentralized, unevenly dispersed, even profoundly contradictory.
Moreover, the effects some have ascribed to networked computing's
democratic impulses are likely to appear first not in electoral
politics, but in cultural forms: in a changed sense of community,
for example, or in a citizenry less dependent on official voices
of expertise and authority.
recognize that "democracy" itself is a disputed term.
Is democracy a particular structure of governance or a culture
of citizenship or some complex hybrid of the two? How much power
must shift to the voters to justify the argument that society
is becoming more democratic? How much of our current understanding
of democracy is bound up with the concept of the "informed
citizen"?6 In an
era of networked computing, we are starting to see changes not
only in how politics is conducted, but in what counts as politics.
Consequently, it may take some time to discern the full influence
of the Internet on American civic life.
political events of the recent past offer some contradictory
clues about what online democracy may look like. If we wish
to locate a moment when the nation's attention turned to cyberspace,
we might choose the 1998 release of the Starr Report.7
The creation of Thomas, the Library of Congress Web server,
in 1995, had been one of the great idealistic achievements of
the early history of cyberspace: All government documents, speeches,
committee hearings, reports, and even, in some cases, drafts
of reports would be made available to the public free on the
Internet. Coupled with C-SPAN, which provided live or recorded
television broadcasts of congressional debates and committee
sessions, Thomas would permit the public to follow the tangled
paths through which legislative proposals became law.8
Yet these noble expectations were mainly disappointed. Thomas's
resources were largely unused until the presidential sex scandal
and the impeachment hearings seized the nation's attention.
Following a story first publicized by the online journalist
Matt Drudge, more than twenty-five million citizens downloaded
the Starr Report and another two million downloaded President
Clinton's grand jury testimony in the first two weeks of their
availability on the Web. Americans wanted access to governmental
information, but perhaps not the kind the idealists had imagined.
we search for an instance in which online campaigning changed
the outcome of an election, we might consider fall 1999, when
Jesse Ventura, former World Wrestling Federation wrestler and
Reform Party candidate, was elected governor of Minnesota.9
Prior to his surprising victory, Ventura received far less broadcast
and print coverage than his Republican and Democratic opponents.
Commentators explained his election mainly as a negative vote
against the established political parties. Yet there is good
reason to believe that his campaign succeeded in part because
it made effective use of the World Wide Web to reach a new constituency.
The major party candidates, for the most part, conceived their
Web sites as glossy brochures, full of smiling pictures and
vague slogans. Ventura's site, on the other hand, offered detailed
position papers, and more importantly, constructed an online
community that connected his supporters to the campaign and
to each other. In a series of polls, Wired found that "netizens"-registered
voters with e-mail access-were fiscally conservative and socially
libertarian. Yet neither party was likely to nominate a candidate
with this mix of views.10
Ventura actively appealed to these netizens, bringing record
numbers of younger voters to the polls and dramatizing the changed
fortunes of third parties in the digital age.
another salient example of the Web's power to influence the
electoral process: the Ralph Nader "vote-swapping"
campaign of 2000.11
Recognizing that Nader could not win the presidential election,
his campaign developed a strategy calculated to enhance his
percentage of the national vote, thus improving the Green Party's
chances of receiving federal matching funds in the next presidential
election. Gore voters in heavily Democratic states like Massachusetts
were encouraged to trade their votes on the Web with Nader supporters
in more closely contested states, such as Florida, California,
or Oregon. Ultimately, 15,000 vote swaps were logged, with some
1,400 Nader supporters in Florida agreeing to vote for Gore.
These "Nader traders" incited sharp controversy; some
commentators deplored what they saw as the "Napsterization"
of American politics, whereas others suggested that such vote
swapping valuably enlarged the role of third parties in national
how the Web may grant visibility and influence to alternative
political perspectives, we might document the rise of independent
media centers during the 2000 protests in Seattle against the
World Trade Organization.12
Indymedia.org acted as a clearinghouse for publicizing the goals
of the protesters, posting first-person reports, photographs,
sound recordings; and digital video footage. These digitally
savvy activists linked their own documentaries via satellite
to a network of public-access stations around the country, developed
their own Internet radio station, and published their own newspaper,
available on their Web site to readers around the world. What
began as a tactical response to a specific protest has become
a self-sustaining, volunteer-run news organization with outposts
in Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, England, France, Italy,
and Mexico. These independent media centers have become a central
force in a worldwide campaign against what the activists perceive
as the evils of globalization.
critics who have argued that more information in circulation
does not necessarily result in a more informed citizenry could
cite the debate in fall 2000 in the New York senatorial campaign
between Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton. Responding to a reporter's
question, both candidates strongly opposed pending legislation
that would tax e-mail to provide financial support for the federal
postal service.13 The
following day, they discovered that the so-called bill was an
Internet hoax, though the reporter-and the candidates-on the
nationally televised debate had mistakenly believed it to be
examples suggest, the World Wide Web is already a powerful influence
on many aspects of American political life: on the public's
access to government documents on candidates' communication
with their constituencies, on voters' behavior in elections,
on political activists' efforts to circulate their message,
and on the topics that enter into national debates among candidates.
Not everyone would agree, however, as to whether that influence
is positive or negative, even in the specific instances described
above, or as to whether technological change adequately explains
such social and political developments.
the Myth of Inevitability
In his famous
1974 monograph Television: Technology and Cultural Form,
Raymond Williams challenges widespread popular and scholarly
notions of technological determinism (the belief that new technologies
have an intrinsic, autonomous power to shape and transform society).
Instead, Williams argues, we must understand the emergence of
new technologies, and in particular new communications systems,
as a result of complex interactions among technological, social,
cultural, political, legal, and economic forces.14
Different cultures and different political regimes will exploit
nascent technologies in radically different ways, as a comparison
of the early history of television in Britain, the United States,
and Nazi Germany dramatically illustrates. Moreover, not only
are notions of technological determinism historically mistaken,
they are politically and morally dangerous, because they assume
we are powerless to shape new media in socially beneficial ways
and powerless to resist their pernicious effects: Paul Starr
strongly agrees: "A priori, little can be said about the
net effects of new media. When a new medium strikes an 'old
regime,' the political effects depend on both the technology
and the regime and on the decisions, both technical and political,
that shape the new medium and the institutions that grow up
Williams's research suggests that the introduction of a new
medium will engender debate about political culture but cannot
by itself significantly alter the society in which it appears.
Instead, the new medium generates an extended negotiation or
contestation among competing forces-some emergent, some well-established;
some encouraging change, others resisting it; some publicly
visible, others operating covertly. The impact of new media,
in Williams's model, is evolutionary, not revolutionary.
powerful argument confutes what one might call the rhetoric
of inevitability: the assumption that the introduction of networked
computing will inevitably lead to a more democratic society.
In "The Laws of Cyberspace," Lawrence Lessig, a sharp
critic of technological determinism, offers a summary of such
utopian faith: "Cyberspace is unavoidable, and yet cyberspace
is unregulatable. No nation can live without it, yet no nation
can control behavior within it. Cyberspace is that space where
individuals are, inherently, free from control by real space
sees freedom and democracy as inevitable consequences of digital
technology, sometimes going so far as to imagine the withering
away of the nation-state in favor of direct democracy.17
For example, in his notorious "Declaration of Independence
for Cyberspace," John Perry Barlow proclaims that national
governments have no authority over online communities: "Governments
of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel,
I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind
. You have
no sovereignty where we gather
. Cyberspace does not lie
within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as
though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It
is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective
a manifesto that claims a global perspective yet draws only
on American political traditions, Barlow describes computers
as liberating us from the dictates of national governments.
For Barlow, the battle has already been won and the outcome
has been determined; it is absurd for government even to attempt
to regulate this new "tribe" of the "Mind."
contrast Barlow's blithe assumption that the "revolution"
has already been won with Pierre Levy's more nuanced account
of the emergence of a culture of "collective intelligence."19
For Levy, this new information culture, defined by its high
degree of participation and reciprocity, exists alongside such
established structures of power as the multinational corporation
and the nation-state. Levy sees these political and cultural
structures as sometimes complementing, sometimes opposing each
other. For Levy, the world of "collective intelligence"
is an "attainable utopia," but not a condition already
a similar, if more pessimistic conclusion: "The world we
is not a world where freedom is ensured."20
Forms of control and regulation, Lessig writes, are already
embedded in the operational codes that govern our interactions
in cyberspace; we already accept without thought a series of
invisible constraints on digital associations and transactions
that have never been publicly debated. Unless we understand
this antidemocratic potential of cyberspace, Lessig says, we
are likely to "sleep through the transition from freedom
one of a number of recent writers calling on technologically
literate citizens to ensure a broader public debate about the
political impact of new media. Langdon Winner, for example,
urges computer professionals to take civic responsibility for
their work and insists that the general public should have a
part in the creation and deployment of new technologies. "Right
now it's anyone's guess what sorts of personalities, styles
of discourse, and social norms will ultimately flourish"
in our digital future, Winner says. "Industrial leaders
present as faits accomplis what otherwise might have been choices
open for diverse public imaginings, investigations and debates
If we're asking people to change their lives to adapt to new
information systems, it seems responsible to solicit broad participation
in deliberation, planning; decision making, prototyping, testing,
of Freedom (1983), Ithiel de Sola Pool established a framework
for this debate about communication technologies and democracy:
"Freedom is fostered when the means of communication are
dispersed, decentralized, and easily available, as are printing
presses or microcomputers. Central control is more likely when
the means of communication are concentrated, monopolized, and
scarce, as are great networks."22
At a time when the mainframe computer was seen as an emblem
of bureaucratic control, Pool envisioned a decentralized and
participatory media environment. The emergence of home computers,
he predicted, might strengthen democratic culture, enabling
citizens and grassroots organizations to circulate their ideas
more widely than ever before. But he also recognized that such
an outcome was not inevitable: "The characteristics of
media shape what is done with them, so one might anticipate
that these technologies of freedom will overwhelm all attempts
to control them
. [Technology] shapes the structure of
the battle, but not every outcome. While the printing press
was without doubt the foundation of modern democracy, the response
to the flood of publishing that it brought forth has been censorship
as often as press freedom. In some times and aces the even more
capacious new media will open wider the floodgates for discourse,
but in other times and places, in fear of that flood, attempts
will be made to shut the gates."23
Moreover, Pool said, new media are often perceived as versions
or extensions of their ancestor technologies and are subjected
to regulatory schemes that limit or undermine their progressive
potential. The conservative force of these regulatory schemes
will often blunt the radical transformations predicted at the
time of the technologies' first introduction.
useful accounts of the political impact of new media balance
excitement about these emerging communications technologies
with an awareness of the social, economic, political, and cultural
forces that shape their deployment. In the early 1990s, many
writers believed networked computing would revitalize the public
sphere. Throughout the twentieth century, theorists had warned
that urbanization and increased mobility would weaken the fragile
social ties upon which American democracy depended.24
Now, writers were insisting that the American public hungered
for community and predicting that cyberspace would give birth
to a new civic culture.
ideal of the public sphere set the terms for this argument:
"Access to the public sphere is open in principle to all
citizens. A portion of the public sphere is constituted in every
conversation in which private persons come together to form
a public. They are then acting neither as business or professional
people conducting their private affairs nor as legal consociates
subject to the legal regulations of a state bureaucracy and
obligated to obedience."25
The public sphere, Habermas argued, is the site where deliberations
about important civic concerns occur and the public consensus
takes shape. Habermas blamed the rise of modern mass media for
privatizing civic life and turning citizens into consumers.
Critics have suggested that Habermas underestimated the barriers
to participation in this historic public sphere.26
Economic factors, for example, determined which citizens would
have access to a printing press; social factors determined which
citizens could exert influence at town meetings. The democratic
ideals of the earlier public sphere were compromised by the
disenfranchisement of women, minorities, and the poor. Similarly,
the promise of a new public sphere depends on whether technical,
economic, and cultural barriers to full participation-the so-called
digital divide-can be overcome.27
Network computing offers potential resources for community building,
yet how those resources are used depends on whether society
embraces the civic ideals essential to a viable public sphere.28
cite evidence that online communities are embracing those civic
virtues. Julian Dibbel, for example, has described the passionate
debates that occurred as multi-user domains (MUDs) and other
online communities struggled to develop strategies for dealing
with dissent and antisocial conduct.29
Online communities offer participants a chance to experience
civic affiliation or personal empowerment and thus nourish ideals
of citizenship.30 But
others have argued that immersion in these virtual worlds may
simply displace what would be more productively deployed in
real-world political action. These skeptics express alarm over
the vulgarity; triviality, and aggressiveness of online interactions
and see virtual communities through a glass darkly, as enclaves
isolating participants from opposing perspectives.31
the journalist who coined and popularized the term "virtual
community," is far from a technological utopian. Rheingold
argued that online citizens needed to educate themselves in
order to "leverage" the emerging forms of political
and economic power enabled by new media: "The technology
will not in itself fulfill that potential; this latent technical
power must be used intelligently and deliberately by an informed
. The odds are always good that big power and
big money will find a way to control access to virtual communities;
big power and big money always found ways to control new communications
media when they emerged in the past."32
In the early 1990s Rheingold saw a need to defend virtual communities
against political and economic forces that would coopt or corrupt
them. A decade later, the economic colonization of cyberspace
is still recognized as a serious threat to this participatory
culture; activists are calling for the establishment of a "public
commons" to ensure the survival of the grassroots social
and political experiments Rheingold and Dibble documented.33
rhetoric predicting an imminent digital revolution is simplistic
and often oblivious to complex historical processes. But its
tenacious, diverse history is instructive and significant. For
one thing, such pervasive talk about revolutionary change implies
some fundamental dissatisfaction with the established order
Even if we believe that the concept of a digital revolution
is empty rhetoric, we still must explain why a revolution, even
a virtual one, has such appeal. A surprising range of thinkers
on the right and the left have used the notion of "the
computer revolution" to imagine forms of political change.
Examining the rhetoric of digital revolution, we may identify
a discourse about politics and culture that appears not only
in academic writing or in explicitly ideological exchanges,
but also in popular journalism and science fiction. This rhetoric
has clear political effects, helping to shape attitudes toward
emerging technologies. And even if such discourse is not an
accurate measure of the impact of new media, it may nonetheless
nourish serious discussion about core values and central institutions,
allowing us to envision the possibility of change. Utopian visions
help us to imagine a just society and to map strategies for
writers on the left, the rhetoric of "digital revolution"
registers their disillusionment with earlier fantasies of revolutionary
change following the fall of communism. In a return to Frankfurt
School categories, some left intellectuals have cast capitalism
as an irresistible force and media consumption as its most powerful
tool for manufacturing consent. In contrast, some younger left
intellectuals have found the "digital revolution"
to be a revitalizing fantasy, the promise of an alternative
media culture.34 At
the same time, the rhetoric of revolution has been appropriated
by the right, with Newt Gingrich and George Gilder, among others,
advocating a "Republican revolution" that would "get
the government off our backs" and return decision making
to the local level.35
Still others have seen computers as paving the way for a new
economy, an entrepreneurial "revolution" that would
allow smaller, leaner new companies to rise to the top of corporate
America. The introduction of networked computers, it has been
said, will transform all aspects of our society, changing industry,
government and social life, altering the ways in which artists
circulate their work and money flows through the economy. All
institutions will have to be "reinvented" in response
to these new technologies. The rhetoric of the digital revolution
thus has allowed disillusioned left intellectuals, a newly emboldened
right, ambitious entrepreneurs, and many other interest groups
to see themselves as on the cusp of vast historical change.
Such a climate
has enabled political alliances that would have been inconceivable
a decade earlier.36
Both the left and the right distrust monopoly broadcasting and
embrace the promise of a more dispersed and participatory media,
although they would surely disagree, in the end, about the society
they hope will emerge from the "digital revolution."
Some communitarians see the Web as an instrument for social
cohesion, for cybercommunities, whereas conservatives and libertarians
use distributed computing as an emblem of decentralized antifederalism.
Yet such alliances are fragile and problematic. One can divide
these digital revolutionaries by posing basic questions. Which
is the greater threat to free speech: government censorship
or corporate ownership of intellectual property? Which is the
greater danger to privacy: government surveillance or massive
corporate databases of consumer information? In other words,
if this is a digital revolution, what are we rebelling against?
powerful irony in the fact that both the left and the right
initially understood computer networks in opposition to bureaucratic
control because so much of the initial research had been funded
by the military and had occurred at the Rand Corporation. The
original governing fantasies, closely linked to the nuclear
fears of the Cold War, were dystopian, not utopian. The government
wanted to ensure "minimum essential communication"
and thus preserve "second-strike" capability. A distributed
system was essential so that it could operate even if central
nodes were destroyed. What was envisioned was not a broad-based
participatory medium, but a system restricted to government
officials and the military high command in their bunkers; access
was extended only reluctantly to the research scientists who
were helping to transform this Cold War vision into a practical
reality. One legacy of this bureaucratic understanding of the
Internet is embedded in the metaphor of the "information
superhighway," allegedly coined by Albert Gore as a tribute
to his senator father, who had helped to promote the interstate
highway system following World War II. Describing this new information
space as a "superhighway" implies that it is a federal
project, a stark contrast to the libertarian fantasy of an "electronic
frontier" that should remain forever free of government
notions of cyberdemocracy took shape amid the heated debates
of the Vietnam War era. Frederick Turner has shown how publications
such as Wired and Mondo 2000, digital communities like the Well,
and organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation took
root in the political culture of San Francisco, a center for
many 1960s countercultural movements and subsequently a seedbed
for the new digital economy.37
Many writers, including Stewart Brand, Timothy Leary, Howard
Rhinegold, Alvin Toffler, and John Perry Barlow, shifted easily
from the agrarian countercultural style associated with the
Whole Earth Catalog to the cyberutopian and consumerist values
promoted in Wired, helping to define the popular representations
of digital technologies. Ironically, whereas the early counterculture
had been emphatically anticorporate, the rhetoric of the cyberculture
was coopted by digital entrepreneurs who transformed utopian
longings for participatory culture into pitches for high-tech
commodities. One of the most influential commercials of the
personal computing era, Apple's "1984" campaign, represented
the home computer as a tool of liberation directed against an
impersonal Orwellian bureaucracy.38
At the same time, this easy linkage of political and corporate
fantasies deepened the skepticism of other leftists who understood
the computer through the filter of Frankfurt School theories
of mass culture as yet another manifestation of corporate control
over American civic life.39
In an influential
essay, "Constituents for a Theory of the Media," Hans
Magnus Enzensberger described the student movement's embrace
of a participatory model of communications in opposition to
the corporate monopoly systems of the movies and television.
Enzensberger's critique centered on the absence of reciprocity
in mass media, their reliance on one-to-many modes of communication.
Television, he warned, "does not serve communications but
Enzensberger documented the emergence of the underground newspaper,
grassroots video production, people's radio stations, and other
forms of independent media production and distribution, seeing
them as the birthplace of a new political culture: But these
"do-it-yourself" media never offered a serious alternative
to commercial systems. The regulatory and policy decisions governing
UHF and cable television, for example, marginalized local access
content and granted priority to commercial broadcasters.41
Similarly, although the reduced cost of photocopying enabled
the production of grassroots zines, there was no viable system
for distributing such materials to a significant reading public.42
the failure of these earlier participatory media intensified
skepticism about networked computing. But for others, cyberspace
appeared as the second coming of participatory media; the Web,
these hopefuls proclaimed, would be a world with no center,
no gatekeepers, no margins. The new cyberculture would be a
bulwark against the concentration of commercial media, ensuring
access to alternative perspectives. Such countercultural impulses
shaped, for example, the online community's early resistance
to unsolicited advertising messages and their insistence on
free expression and strong encryption to protect privacy. The
legacy of this construction of computing can be seen in the
cyberpunk movement in science fiction, which often depicts hackers
as activists at war with powerful media corporations,43
or in the culture jammer movement, which aims to block the signals
of commercial media in order to open channels for alternative
messages,44 or in the
open-source movement, which pits the grassroots collaborators
of Linux against the concentrated power of Microsoft.
of the 1960s may help us to understand this distinction between
old and new media. The first is Gil Scott Heron's song "Will
the Revolution Be Televised?" The answer, in 1968, was
clearly "No." A narrow pipeline controlled by corporate
media was unlikely to transmit dissenting ideas or images. The
counterculture communicated primarily through alternative media:
underground newspapers, folk songs, posters, people's radio,
But in 2003,
if we ask whether the revolution will be digitized, the answer
is "Yes." The Web's low barriers to entry ensure greater
access than ever before to innovative, even revolutionary ideas.
Those silenced by corporate media have been among the first,
as Pool predicted, to transform their computers into printing
presses. This access to the World Wide Web has empowered revolutionaries,
reactionaries, and racists alike. It has also engendered fear
in the gatekeeper intermediaries and their allies. One person's
diversity, no doubt, is another person's anarchy.
the second slogan, which students in the streets of Chicago
chanted at the network news trucks: "The whole world is
watching." Whatever the difficulties, the students knew
that if their protests were broadcast via ABC, CBS, and NBC,
they would reach tens of millions of viewers. Is there any place
on the Web where the whole world is watching? The Web is a billion
people on a billion soapboxes all speaking at once. But who
is listening? The old intermediaries are still in place, not
likely to wither away any time soon, so long as they command
national and international audiences and thus retain their power
to deliver commercial messages to millions.
were quick to recognize the value of that first slogan but slow
to realize the importance of the second. At its most excessive,
the rhetoric of the digital revolution envisioned a total displacement
of centralized broadcast media by a trackless web of participatory
channels. Netizens spoke of the major networks, for example,
as dinosaurs slinking off to the tar pits as they confronted
the realities of the new economy. The decline of the dot-coms
makes clear, however, that such predictions were premature.
The power of movies and television to speak to a vast public
is immensely greater than the diffused reach of the new media,
through which many messages can be circulated but few can ensure
a hearing. This dramatic reversal of economic fortunes suggests
that similar arguments for the decline of powerful governmental
institutions in the face of cyberdemocracy may be equally premature
1. Jim Buie, "Internet Proves to Be Powerful
in Political, Legislative Battles" (2001 online posting).
also William Benoit and Pamela J. Benoit, "The Virtual
Campaign: Presidential Primary Websites in Campaign 2000,"
American Communication Journal 3, no. 3 (2000).
Markle Foundation, "Web, White & Blue 2000" (2000),
available online at http://www.webwhiteblue.org.
Aaron Pressman, "Analysis: Internet Lessons for Campaign
2004," Industry Standard (November 15, 2000), available
online at http://www.cnn.com/2000/TECH/computing/11/15/campaign.2004.idg/index.html.
The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "Youth
Vote Influenced by Online Information" (2000 online posting).
On the concept of consensus narrative, see David Thorburn, "Television
Melodrama," in TV: The Critical View, ed. Horace
Newcomb (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 595-608,
and "Television as an Aesthetic Medium" Critical
Studies in Mass Communication 4 (1987): 161-173.
On the role of the flow of information in defining our sense
of belonging to nation-states, see Benedict Anderson, Imagined
Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nation
States (London: Verso, 1991). For a history of how the concept
of the "informed citizen" shapes debates about American
democracy, see Michael Schudson, The Good Citizen: A History
of American Civic Life (New York: Free Press, 1998).
CBS MarketWatch, "Starr Report Cost Business Millions"
(October 5, 1998 online posting).
Stephen Frantzich, The C-SPAN Revolution (Oklahoma City:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1996). On Newt Gingrich's vision
for Thomas, see John Heileman, "The Making of the President,
2000," Wired 3, no. 12 (December 1995), available
online at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.12/gorenewt.html.
For an insider perspective on the Ventura Web campaign, see
Phil Madsen, "Notes Regarding Jesse Ventura's Internet
Use in His 1998 Campaign for Minnesota Governor" (1998),
available online at http://www.jesseventura.org/internet/netnotes.htm.
Ventura's success was built on the foundation of many years
of work in Minnesota promoting cyberdemocracy. For background
on this earlier work, see G. S. Aikens, "American Democracy
and Computer-Mediated Communication: A Case Study in Minnesota"
(1998 online posting).
Jonathan Katz, "The Digital Citizen," Wired
5, no. 12 (December 1997), available online at http://hotwired.lycos.com/special/citizen.
Scott Harris, "Nader Traders May Have Affected Outcome
in Florida," Industry Standard (November 17, 2000),
available online at http://www.cnn.com/2000/TECH/computing/11/17/nader.traders.help.gore.idg/index.html.
For a fuller overview of the movement, see the materials assembled
On the use of the Web for grassroots activism, see Robert Rhoads,
Freedom's Web: Student Activism in An Age of Cultural Diversity
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).
Daniel Sieberg, "Debate Gaff Over E-mail Hoax Raises Red
Flag for Some," CNN, Oct. 11, 2000 online posting.
Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form
(New York: Schocken, 1974).
Paul Starr, "The New Media and the Old Regime," paper
presented at the Democracy and
Digital Media Conference, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(Cambridge, October 8, 1998).
Lawrence Lessig, "The Laws of Cyberspace" (1998),
available online at http://www.lessig.org.
For an overview of these debates, see Lawrence K. Grossman,
The Electronic Republic: Reshaping Democracy in the Information
Age (New York: Penguin, 1995).
John Perry Barlow, "Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace"
(1996), available online at http://members.aye.net/~hippie/barlow/barlowci.htm.
Pierre Levy, Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging
World in Cyberspace (New York: Perseus, 2000). For an overview
of Levy, see Henry Jenkins, "Interactive Audiences?"
in The New Media Book, ed. Dan Harries (London: British
Film Institute, 2002).
Lessig, "The Laws of Cyberspace." Lessig explores
these ideas in more depth in his books The Future of Ideas:
The Fate of the Commons in the Digital World (New York:
Random House, 2001) and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace
(New York: Basic Books, 2000).
Langdon Winner, "Who Will We Be in Cyberspace?" The
Network Observer 2, no. 9 (September 1995) online posting.
Ithiel de Sola Pool, Technologies of Freedom: On Free Speech
in an Electronic Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
For a contemporary example of this argument, see Robert D. Putnam,
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community
(New York: Touchstone, 2001).
Jurgen Habermas, "The Public Sphere," in Media
Studies: A Reader, ed. Paul Marris and Sue Thornham (New
York: New York University Press, 2000), 92-98, at 92. For a
useful application of Habermas, see Mark Poster, "Cyberdemocracy;
The Internet and the Public Sphere," in Reading Digital
Culture, ed. David Trend (London: Blackwell, 2001), 259-271.
For a useful account of the debates surrounding Habermas's public
sphere concept in contemporary media theory, see Lisa Cartwright
and Marissa Sturken, Practices of Looking: An Introduction
to Visual Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
Pippa Norris, Digital Divide: Civic Engagement; Information
Poverty and the Internet Worldwide (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2001); Benjamin M. Compaigne, The Digital
Divide (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001); Brian Kahin and James
Keller, eds., Public Access to the Internet (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1995); Alondra Nelson, Thu Linh Thu, and Alicia Headlam
Hines, eds., Technocolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life
(New York: New York University Press, 2001); and Beth E.
Kolko, Lisa Nakamura, and Gilbert B. Rodman, eds., Race in
Digital Space (New York: Routledge, 2000). On struggles
to overcome the gender gap in access to these technologies,
see Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein, eds., Cyberfeminism:
Connectivity, Critique, and Creativity (Sydney: Spinifex,
1999); and Lynn Cherney and Elizabeth Reba Weise, eds., Wired
Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace (Seattle:
This question of how we inculcate civic virtues into our children
is a recurring question in the literature on democracy: See,
for example; David Buckingham, The Making of Citizens: Young
People, News and Politics (New York: Routledge, 2000); and
Don Tappscott, Growing up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999). For historical antecedents of
this question, see Henry Jenkins, "'No Matter How Small':
The Democratic Imagination of Doctor Seuss," in Hop
on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture, ed.
Henry Jenkins, Tara McPherson, and Jane Shattuc (Durham: Duke
University Press, 2002), 189-210.
Julian Dibbel, My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual
World (New York: Owl, 1999).
For an overview of these debates, see Steven G. Jones, Cybersociety:
Computer-Mediated Communication and Community (Thousand
Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1995); and Peter Ludlow, ed., High Noon
on the Electronic Frontier: Conceptual Issues in Cyberspace
(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996).
Cass Sunstein, Republic.com (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 2001). For critical responses to the book, see Boston
Review (June 2001).
Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on
the Electronic Frontier (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), 8.
Lawrence K. Grossman and Newton Minnow, A Digital Gift to
the Nation: Fulfilling the Promise of the Digital and Internet
Age (New York: Century Foundation, 2001).
For examples of a wide range of perspectives on these questions,
see David Trend, ed., Reading Digital Culture (London:
Blackwell, 2001); and Andrew Herman and Thomas Swiss, eds.,
The World Wide Web and Contemporary Cultural Theory (New
York: Routledge, 2000).
George Gilder, Telecosm: How Infinite Bandwidth Will Revolutionize
Our World (New York: Free Press, 2000), and Life after Television
(New York: W. W. Norton, 1994).
For one perspective on these political realignments, see Virginia
Postrel, The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict
over Creativity, Enterprise and Progress (New York: Touchstone,
Frederick Turner, "From Counterculture to Cyberculture:
How Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog Brought
Us Wired Magazine," Ph.D. diss., Department of Communication,
University of California, San Diego (forthcoming). See also
Thomas Streeter, "That Deep Romantic Chasm: Libertarianism,
Neoliberalism and the Computer Culture," in Communication,
Citizenship, and Social Policy: Re-thinking the Limits of the
Welfare State, ed. Andrew Calabrese and Jean-Claude Burgelman
(London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 49-64.
For background on this advertisement, see Ted Friedman, "Apple's
1984: The Introduction of the Macintosh in the Cultural History
of Personal Computers" (1997), available online at http://www.duke.edu/~tlove/mac.htm.
Robert McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication
Politics in Dubious Times (New York: New Press, 2000).
Hans Magnus Enzensberger, "Constituents of a Theory of
the Media," in Media Studies: A Reader, ed. Paul
Marris and Sue Thornham (New York: New York University Press,
2000), 68-91, at 69-70.
Thomas Streeter, "Blue Skies and Strange Bedfellows: The
Discourse on Cable Television," in The Revolution Wasn't
Televised: Sixties Television and Social Conflict, ed. Lynn
Spigel and Michael Curtin (New York: Routledge, 1997), 221-242.
Steven Duncombe, Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics
of Alternative Culture (London: Verso, 1997).
For an overview of the cyberpunk movement, see Larry McCaffrey,
ed., Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook for Cyberpunk
and Postmodern Science Fiction (Durham: Duke University
Mark Dery, Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping
in the Empire of Signs (Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, 1993).
For elaboration on the concept of culture jamming, see also
Gareth Branwyn, Jamming the Media: A Citizen's Guide for Reclaiming
the Tools of Communication (San Francisco: Chronicle, 1997);
and David Cox, "Notes on Culture Jamming" (2000),
available online at http://www.sniggle.net/Manifesti/notes.php.