As Markus Prior points out in his excellent 2007 book Post-Broadcast Democracy, today’s environment of information abundance splits the public into a small cohort of news junkies, who know everything there is to know about politics, and a much larger contingent of entertainment fans, who know the names of the latest YouTube celebrities and their favorite lolcats, but not of their home senators. “Although it is comforting to know that [viewers] finally get to watch what they always wanted to watch,” Prior writes, “their newfound freedom may hurt both their own interests and the collective good.” That is the case of those South Korean Internet users, who helped to spread panic that harmed their country’s diplomatic standing.
Shirky, of course, would never talk about viewers’ interests: that is not populist-speak. Populists prefer to make normative claims about the need to break up the traditional media without specifying how we should nurture responsible citizenship and promote good public policy in their absence. This just happens, apparently.
(Image by Flickr user Shortfin)