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The Socioeconomic, And Political Influence Of The Internet And The Wikipedia

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Gabriel Toth-Fejel

Friday, February 29, 2008

J 201 - m,w,-8:30am

The Socioeconomic, and Political Influence of the Internet and the Wikipedia

In the 1960's, the looming threat of nuclear war influenced the realization of the significance and feeble nature of contemporary American communications. The policy's of the National Communication System had become embarrassingly outdated; they left the United Sates particularly vulnerable to the plausible threat of nuclear attack, connecting major cities with one feeble hard-line. The current communication system became a matter of national security. The US government began efforts to avoid such a scenario, researching viable systems of national communication that could remain functional in the event of a catastrophe.

Thus, the Internet began as a unique method to transfer information indirectly on a network through multiple sources. Internet sponsorship, initially restricted to federal research, education, and government operations, shifted to commercial funding in the mid-1990's, expanded the potential for public domain, and created what is commonly known as The World Wide Web.

Similar to other comparable advances in communication technology such as the television, the Internet enhanced information distribution and broadened the manor in which it was circulated. The sheer magnitude of shared and consumed information available made the network incomparably comprehensive to any prior media outlet. The United States Supreme Court stated that the Internet "refers to the global information infrastructure at the broadest lever" (Klotz, 2). Thus, the enormous sum of information exchange provided the Internet with universal qualities and made it the most efficient medium to facilitate Mass Communication.

The Wikipedia is a mass media outlet that models the Internet's most fundamental philosophy of sharing information. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, stated, "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge"(Wikipedia.com). Uniquely, this reference site considers information synonymous to knowledge, faithfully advocating its universal application. This medium takes form as a "multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project...written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world" (Wiki.Donate.com). Essentially, any of the 729 million humans with Internet access can contribute to the largest record of human information to date. In order for Wikipedia's knowledge to be universal, their estimated 9,000,000 articles were communally written in over 250 languages to ensure the information could be utilized globally. With hundreds of thousands of visitors viewing, editing, and producing contemporary web articles every day, the Wikipedia has proven to be an unexpected social, economic, and political influence.

The Internet alone has created an entirely new societal environment that has facilitated seemingly unlimited networking potential. Various communication possibilities attract millions of people every day to exploit the autonomous qualities that the World Wide Web uniquely offers.

The Wikipedia distributes information with the specific intent of social change. Interestingly, the encyclopedia is considered more valuable in areas of heightened social inequality. An Egyptian student, when unexpectedly introduced to Jimmy Wales, asserted,

"Its more important for developing countries than it is developed countries because there is a gap and this gap is purely knowledge. Its not money, its not politics...its knowledge. If we have the knowledge and we know how to use it than we can fill the gap"(Wiki.Donate.com).

It was the Wikipedia's belief that free information had the ability to address the main issue attributed to social inequalities, ignorance. Thus, knowledge was considered as the most effective tool to mend societal inconsistencies. Providing resources for the even the most disadvantaged people, the Wikipedia experimented with the empowering concept of self-education. Essentially, this information reference taught the world how to teach itself. Though simply raise funds for the disadvantaged might have been easier, the creators of the Wikipedia knew that knowledge was paramount.

Paradoxically, Internet access and its information outlets have potential to further social Inequalities. Although information derived from the Internet may truly infer a democratic consensus, many believe it to be a societal hindrance. Ironically, the availability of information directly divides people on the basis of the inherently unequal factors of as socio-economics and race.

Those who gain from Internet access automatically marginalize those who cannot. Non-access is viewed as "socially corrosive" because it consequentially limits social, economic, and political opportunity. "As the economy becomes more information oriented, those who do not have access to information will be marginalized and put at a greater economic disadvantage (a process referred to as cyberbalkanization)" (Katz, Pg. 8). Knowledge simply cannot influence those who would benefit most due to the technologically demanding nature of the medium. Societies most deprived citizens, overcome by the struggle to survive, likely view Internet access as an unaffordable luxury and lack the expertise to utilize its potential.

Conversely, the Internet's communal aspects might be capable of positively shaping politics. James Kats, author of Social Consequences of Internet Use, suggested that information technology has "woven a rich tapestry of friendship, personal information and community among people of all nations, orientations, ethnic groups, and economic classes"(Katz and Rice xix). The medium's overwhelming amount of public involvement creates an environment inherent to forming communities. Regardless of its application, the Internet both unites and divides people in areas of common interest. According to Katz, such involvement "can generate benefits at two levels, individually and collectively." Individually, people utilize the Internet for entertainment, financial gain, and influence. "People spend time, money, effort, and psychological commitment to acquire a broad range of benefits" ( Katz, Pg. 4). Collectively, involvement refers to "organized interaction between motivated participants" and it is though to "generate resources and influences" more efficiently

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