The first piece of reading for this week was “The Political Power of Social Media” written by Clay Shirky. This particular article was quite refreshing after reading Steven Johnson’s book “Future Perfect.” In Shirky’s article he discusses many of the same issues and positive aspects of social media, but unlike Johnson, admits the limitations that is has. I particularly liked how Shirky provided real life examples where social media can be affectively implemented, and examples where it has tried and failed. Similar to many article we have previously read, Shirky discusses how social media is a fantastic tool for organizing political movements. Prior to this article I had never heard of a public sphere, which is an area is social life where diverse members can come together to discuss societal problems. This is, more or less, a peer network as Johnson explained. I like how Shirky admits that social media is merely a means for mobilizing and uniting large groups of people. He admits that it has limits and that real change takes time, and not just a protest in the street. I agree that social media is simply a tool that allows for a more efficient means of organization. They allow for citizens who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice to speak directly to congress and those in charge of political change. I think for this very reason that social media enhances the political enthusiasm in the United States. I find when I am sitting in a class, particularly a large lecture, I do not participate or raise my hand because I am never called upon nor do I feel as if my opinion matters as it is dwarfed by hundreds of other students. That is how I feel a large number of American’s feel when it comes to voting and issues. Social media allows citizens to feel that there opinion and there vote actually makes a difference. As a result, I am a major proponent of social media and internet freedom. I think we have a structurally sound enough government that we do not need to worry about serious revolt as Shirky mentions is happening in China and Russia. We as Americans have found a happy medium between revolt and change, and that is how we use social media in a positive manner. A particular example I can think of is when President Obama held his open forum and answered questions from the internet that were ranked highest based upon public voting. At the top of the list was marijuana reform, which is often a shady subject because many states are not sure whether it is a state law or federal law. Despite Obama not answering the question, the marijuana community, which is often resented and felt left out, got its questions previewed on one of the largest stages. This is just one of hundred of examples where social media allows for otherwise ignored citizens to have a voice.

Another aspect of Shirky’s article that I enjoyed is the notion that social media allows for unorganized groups to coordinate and unite known as “shared awareness.” Similarly to Johnson, Shirky explains they are successful because they are diverse, decentralized groups rather than members of a hierarchy. In terms of China, the movement consisted mainly of mothers who had lost children to the earthquake. I found it interesting the dilemma that social media caused the Chinese government. Since the movement was growing so quickly and on a national stage, they had only two options: to respond and conduct reform, or respond in a way that would alarm more citizens. It is instances such as these where social movements are most effective. They are not going to alter the constitution or make major adjustments, but they can shed light on injustices and force the government to act.

The second article we read which I also found informative was “What should the digital public sphere do?” By Johnathan Stray. This article delves into an in depth look at what exactly the public sphere provides. Stray explains the public sphere should provide important information for people, whenever they want it. In a sense, he believes it should mirror Wikipedia where people can access it at anytime and find out information pertaining to their particular concern. Once we receive this information, we find other like-minded individuals with the same concern and discuss possible actions. Within these public spheres, information is shared and continuously developed and recreated. It is, like I said, similar to Wikipedia or a google doc where all the members of the public sphere can edit it. Public spheres allow for much more diverse people and a diverse culture. If I am an expert in early American history and want to know about Chinese government, I can research or ask one of the members of the sphere about information. As a result, our culture and society is continuously developing and growing. I think public spheres allow for a larger platform for development. If we watch the news, we as citizens are all learning the same information. If we are reaching out to members of our public sphere, we are exposed to several different opinions and news stories we otherwise would not be. As a result, we become much more diverse and open-minded, which can only better us as Americans. Public spheres unite people who have the same concern who work together to common ends. A democratic doctor and a republican lawyer, who do not see eye to eye on presidential politics, can unite under the common goal of restoring the local little league field in their neighborhood. Public spheres are useful in diversifying groups and unifying them for a common goal.
The Lo(n)g Revolution: the Blogosphere as an alternative Public Sphere?
Article seemed a bit wordy and lost me at times. The main idea and theme that I took away from it was a public sphere is more or less a town meeting online. Members present their ideas and concerns to one another and those who agree take sides and produce discussion. Notaro presents the question, does more people mean more democracy? And I believe the answer to this question is yes. The Internet provides a platform for like-minded individuals to connect and share ideas. When individuals who previously felt left out find that there are people who think like them, they will feel more involved. The more people that become involved, the more ideas that are generated and the more our government benefits. In this past election, less than half of the American citizens voted. I believe a major cause of this is because they feel as if their one vote does not make a difference. Public spheres enhance networks and link people together, similarly to Ron Paul. I think back to Fred’s story of how he started voting for Ron Paul and I think public spheres can recreate this. Fred had previously not heard of Paul until he was exposed to him by a friend. When Fred hear the issues Paul discussed, he was instantly drawn to him. The more people that get involved with voting and the more opinions we have, the more diverse country we will have. People always complain about the two-party system, and I think public spheres can be an answer to adding a third party.
Notaro also discusses in length the role blogs play and how they provide an alternative to the public sphere. In essence, blogs embody the idea of the public sphere. People voice their opinion on their blog, and if readers agree, they share the blog and continue to visit. Blogs provide a platform for information to be passed along among communities and an outlet for constant conversation and debate. They allow for anyone with an Internet connection to enter the conversation and breaks down the barrier between private and public sectors. It makes the writers and viewers feel as if they are truly making a change. I think candidates and politicians need to start utilizing blogs more effectively. Their campaign teams can monitor blogs daily and see what issues are being heavily discussed. As a result, they will be well prepped for future debates and know what the public wants to hear. It is instances such as these where blogs provide a voice for the public who previously were neglected. I think anything that breed’s debate and interaction to our governments is good. When people are on blogs they are not talking face-to-face so they are not afraid to speak their minds. As a result, the discussions are very spirited and bring out the best in people.

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