The conversation the Net enables

by on March 19, 2008

I love these opening lines in Jose Antonio Vargas’s article this morning about the vigorous online conversation that has been taking place about race, Barack Obama, and the controversy regarding past remarks made by his friend, Rev. Jeremiah Wright:

In the church of the Internet, call him the preacher heard all around our YouTubing world, where believers not only watch the videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s controversial and racially charged sermons but also edit them, comment on them, pass them around. And make them their own.

Wright’s homilies — including the one where he says “God damn America” — have taken on a new life, opening up a conversation so kaleidoscopic only the vastness of the Internet has room for it. It’s about race, Sen. Barack Obama, the presidential campaign, us.

Think about that line for a moment: “opening up a conversation so kaleidoscopic only the vastness of the Internet has room for it.” In a few of my recent essays about the annual State of the News Media report as well as Andrew Keen’s rants against “amateur” media, I have argued that we should appreciate just how much better our deliberative democracy is today thanks to the Internet, new media technologies, and user-generated content. Some critics bemoan the fact that we no longer have a handful of media intermediaries moderating or filtering that conversation, but this Obama-Wright issue provides us with a wonderful case study about why that thinking is so utterly misguided. As Vargas suggests, a conversation about race and politics is a conversation about us as a people; as a society. Shouldn’t, therefore, “we the people” all be able to have our voices heard in that conversation in one way or another? The Internet enables that, and we are better off for it. Thirty years ago, 3 big networks and a few newspapers would have determined the confines and duration of this discussion. Today, we do.

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