How Democratic Do We Really Want the Internet Anyway?

I posted my print project proposal last week, which I’m sure everyone read and enjoyed thoroughly. Anyway, as I think about the questions regarding whether the Internet has fostered elitist and institutional groups rather than egalitarian and democratic groups, I have to wonder: How democratic do we really want the Internet anyway?

In a democracy, the majority rules. Well, that means if people aren’t using a site anymore, like GeoCities, it’s just going to disappear. What if the people aren’t interested in historian-generated websites? Should we just give up and leave the Internet to those capitalist successes? We talked this week about planning a website and the need for developing an audience and trying to determine what people we want to gear our work toward. The problem is, we don’t want to filter important historical information just to make our websites more user-friendly for the general public, do we?

If historians are going to gear their digital offerings in the tradition way – directing information toward an academic audience – are we not destined ourselves to creating a solely elitist network of our own?

Of course, this all relates to another important question: Can a structure be both elitist and democratic at the same time? Perhaps this all relates to the type of republican-democracy we have in the United States today?

What do you think?

2 Replies to “How Democratic Do We Really Want the Internet Anyway?”

  1. This is a good question, Dennis. The Internet is "democratic" in a lower sense: it's literally made by demos, the people. The Internet can range from boring corporate sites that aren't read for anything but utilitarian reasons to something insane like 4chan that prides itself on its total anarchy and anonymity-driven democracy: when there is not only no elitism based on status, but no elitism based on username. Every user is "Anonymous."

    Academics live on their name, and a social structure like Anonymous is the exact opposite of the academic structure. Even something like Wikipedia, where amateurs and scholars are put on equal footing, rankles the academic mindset. There will inevitably have to be a compromise, but I have, as yet, no idea where that line will be.

    1. Do you think that compromise would be met simply in requiring some form of identification that prevents "anonymous" posting? Of course, once everyone's identity is known, that enables elites to silence (or at least ignore) those without the "proper" credentials.

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