Almost a year ago, Elizabeth Coleman, the president of Bennington College, gave a talk that challenged listeners to reconsider their views on the Liberal Arts. The current educational structure, Coleman argued, did not force students to engage in community-based thinking; specifically, students were not asked to question the types of worlds that they could be making, much less what types of worlds they should be making.
Given this perspective, Lawrence Lessig’s discussion of “is-ism” and cyberspace seems more apt (and also appears as a symptom of a larger issue). In Code 2.0, Lessig argues that a majority of the population accepts the Internet as it is, complete with all of its limitations and frustrations. Accepting the situation, we make the best of our surroundings and fail to consider that the current state of cyberspace might not be the best of all possible worlds. Importantly, Lessig advances the idea that the man-made structure of cyberspace shapes its functionality (a theme echoed in Biology as well); Lessig’s statement implies that we can change the nature of cyberspace if we alter the underlying foundational code.
Lessig’s also contrasts the US Constitution with the regulatory forces that govern cyberspace, noting differences in amendment processes between the two. While the Federal process contains checks and balances that aim to prevent abuse of power, the rules that govern cyberspace are somewhat more fluid. In short, average citizens could have more opportunities to effect change because they can more directly affect the structure of these online spaces.
Going back to Coleman’s point regarding civic involvement, one can foresee potential problems ahead for Americans if they continue to be relatively complacent with the regulation of cyberspace. With Internet usage being integrated firmly into citizens’ lives, it seems obvious that we should care about issues of regulation, content, and access but, unfortunately, we may simply may not have been taught to think along these lines.
In Diffusion of Innovation, Everett Rogers discusses the concept of “diffusion” as a subset of communication in order to highlight how communities acquire knowledge. Rogers’s opening chapter provides the reader with anecdotes to illustrate various strategies for this process, simultaneously providing a vivid reference point for readers while hinting at the complex array of factors that can affect the spread of ideas.
Undoubtedly building upon foundational theory created by Rogers, figures such as Richard Dawkins and Malcolm Gladwell have ruminated on the spread of messages. Using the preexisting schema of Evolutionary Biology, Dawkins likened information to genes (in the process, creating the term “memes”) in order to describe his theories regarding transmission and replication. Dawkins essentially argued that the fittest (in an evolutionary sense) ideas would go on to propagate in society, mirroring the activity of organisms. Gladwell, on the other hand, has incorporated Rogers’s model of adopters into his book The Tipping Point, describing the stages of diffusion in terms of people. Although Gladwell also goes on to describe individuals’ roles as agents of change, he continues to work under the philosophical framework provided by Rogers.
Daniel Czitrom’s Media and the American Mind addresses communication in a different manner, referencing media theorist Marshall McLuhan in its subtitle. McLuhan famously introduced the notion that “the medium is the message,” referring to the concept that the mode of communication has an inextricable relation to the content being provided. Although first coined in the 1960s, McLuhan’s thinking can still be applied to modern culture struggles to integrate the increased number of available media channels (e.g., traditional broadcast, podcasts, blogs and vlogs, etc.) afforded by advances in technology. Additionally, transmedia presentations of content (e.g., webisodes for Battlestar Galactica and Heroes or the narrative of The Matrix) challenge viewers and producers to reconsider established notions of media’s impact.