We humans have been busydevising ever more complex ways to interact with each other.
From physical mimicry, to oral narrationand singing, to books, movies, TV, and now—as
so many have been quick to point out—to so-called"new" media. Termed "new folk culture"
by Harvard law professor YochaiBenkler and "participatory culture" by media
scholar Henry Jenkins, digital circulation of everyday expression is being celebrated
by analysts as the new normal of a networked society. But is it really new? Or has the age
of durable media and commercial broadcasts only been an awkward silence in the long
chatter of human history? If so, that silence is now being broken by a digital roar.
We can hear it in everything from homemade YouTube videos of ourselves playing
guitar licks to advice in online forums about how to treat sick kids. But this
raucous condition is really only a return to our normal state of being: humans
connecting by informally circulating their communication to create webs of signification.
And with this happy return, old questions re-emerge. How do we judge "expert" and "amateur"
expression in this network free-for-all? Who is disempowered and empowered by such judgments?
Today, we can again place the highest value on our own individual expression--but
with that power,comes significant responsibility. Through individual choices to trust
one another, we can knit a global community from the threads of a network already
far too vast for any one of us to comprehend by ourselves.