The Power of the Web and Media User

We are humans.

We are consumers.

We are digital citizens.

As a result of new media and enabling technologies, humans can incorporate new abilities into all areas of our lives. New spaces and services have been built, but we, the users, are also responsible for their continued success. The inventors define what is allowed, but we define how their resource is used now and will be used in the future. In describing digital literacy, Howard Rheingold explains this participatory tenet with: “We who use the web have an opportunity to wield the architecture of participation to defend our freedom to create and consume digital media according to our own agendas.” While the services may be built based on what they believe we will like and benefit from, it is our challenge to become an active agent in all of these processes.

The power of the humans consuming digital media is further explored in Cluetrain’s 95 theses. It is repeated again and again, that the people are the market. Whenever the people are ignored, the product and company will suffer. On the other hand, when users are acknowledged as humans, better outcomes can be actualized.  One way the world has answered this call to action is in the fields of user experience and user-centered research. These departments continuously acknowledge a people-first approach that the author insists is a prerequisite for success in the modern world.

An examination of the growth of media providers, such as Netflix, also supports the idea that our actions online matter greatly, and they represent who we are beyond what we like to watch on TV. Rheingold explains that while the technological advancement is still in an early phase of spreading, this is the prime opportunity for users to exert their influence. He speaks generally for any new technology, but for a streaming service, things like how we search for shows, how much time we spend browsing, and which shows we binge watch are all metrics they could use to make decisions. These seemingly unimportant actions are under our control. They are a path for us to help the provider help us better. Beyond a lengthy product review, our computer interaction speaks volumes on what our preferences are.

If a person does not have interest in intentionally influencing the market, they can continue to be a passive user. Rheingold optimistically hopes for more from us. He explains that we are already contributing to the evolution of these technologies, even if we are not consciously aware of it. If we can open our minds to the possibilities of engaging differently, or mindfully, our efforts will be rewarded. The benefits of developing an improved sense of awareness as an online user begin with personal empowerment, success, and power. Beyond improvements to the self, a global effect of better communities and increased digital literacy surely would make these ideas worthy of reflection.

Keeping in mind the insights of Rheingold, I can track how my online presence and use of web technologies has impacted not only my life but all who are in my communities. I thought of the effects of spending a typical day involving work on a computer, which is only interrupted by an hour of interacting on a phone, and then is followed by a number of hours consuming media on TV before the day is done. Screen time limits may be a necessary prescription in the future, but for now it may be that we simply acknowledge times when we could use a little more balance. Overall, if we look at our own use and the ways to encourage each other to think more about it, the rise of technology and the web can remain a period in our history that afforded us more than it harmed us.

Posted on September 20, 2020, in Social Media and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. You commented about how Rheinhold wrote that we are still in the early stages of technological advancement. Net Smart was published in 2012 and I wonder if he would still consider us being in the early stages. If we are, I wonder how much further we can spread, or if we are closing in on a plateau. While the world has widely adopted streaming services as the main source for consuming entertainment, I wonder if any new technology could edge in on their market-share any time soon.

    • A very good point: streaming has been around a decade, and the platforms have not added a different “TV or movie watching experience,” which might make them vulnerable to alternate reality/ virtual reality, and whatever else is developed and ready to launch. (I am less familiar with what is considered “new” technology now). I had not thought about reaching a plateau, but it is a point worth exploring. We might not be able to predict how the future generations will demarcate this period, but it is at least clear that streaming services have likely reached a point where no method of selecting movies and TV or subscription model or anything else is advancing at the rate they were when streaming was first launched. Personally, I think we are around 5 years until we move away from physical devices altogether. The Emmys with many flat screens covering the wall floor to ceiling is a move toward visual displays blending into the wall. I think smart walls could be next, if they don’t already exist, while virtual reality technology becomes more helpful than simply being a luxury entertainment item.

  2. Interesting ideas brought forward here, Liz! You wrote, “He [Rheingold] explains that we are already contributing to the evolution of these technologies, even if we are not consciously aware of it. If we can open our minds to the possibilities of engaging differently, or mindfully, our efforts will be rewarded.”

    I can follow that so far as how my usage habits and any other form of engagement might influence that technology, but did you pick up on any suggestions as to how users can demand bigger changes? Like how the company treats its workers or handles fake information spread on its platforms, for example? I’m thinking about recent attempts like the July 2020 boycott of Facebook by advertisers in an effort to get Facebook to #stophateforprofit or the blackout of the music industry earlier in June of this year to call attention to and reflect on their own part in violence against people of color. Can the consumer have a real voice at that level?

  3. “The benefits of developing an improved sense of awareness as an online user begin with personal empowerment, success, and power. Beyond improvements to the self, a global effect of better communities and increased digital literacy surely would make these ideas worthy of reflection.”

    This summer, I changed from a passive user to an active member of a podcast community. One of my favorite podcasts, ‘Wonderful’, is hosted by Griffin and Rachel McElroy. I follow Rachel McElroy on Instragram. One day, she posted a really rude comment that a user had left in Wonderful’s iTune reviews. The review included personal attacks and disparaging remarks about a segment of the show (Poetry Corner).

    Within a few hours of the post, I and many other had left positive comments on the Instagram post. I also went to iTunes and left a positive review of the show, and specifically mentioned how much I enjoyed the Poetry Corner segment. We as a podcast community banded together to publicly support the thing we love, and it felt great!

    link to the Instagram post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CEaAZBhJo56/?hl=en

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