vonRonda Hauben 06.07.2013

Netizen Journalism and the New News

Exploring the impact of the net and the netizen on journalism and toward a more participatory form of citizenship.

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July 6, 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Hauben’s first posting of his paper, “The Net and Netizens: the Impact the Net Has on People’s Lives.”(1) The original title of the paper when it was posted online on July 6, 1993 was “Common Sense: the Net and Netizens.”(2) Michael chose to use the name of Thomas Paine’s important book “Common Sense” in honor of the important role that Paine’s book had on providing an ideological framework for the American Revolution.

In his paper, Michael opened with the words, “Welcome to the 21st Century. You are a Netizen (Net Citizen) and you exist as a citizen of the world thanks to the global connectivity that the Net gives you.”

Remember Michael wrote this in 1993, before the Internet had spread and impacted the world as it has today. But he recognized the significant effect that the evolving Internet and the empowerment of the citizen it made possible, would have on the 21st century.

“We are seeing a revitalization of society,” Michael wrote, “The frameworks are being redesigned from the bottom up. A new more democratic world is becoming possible.”

Today these words describing the Internet and its potential are recognized by many as an appropriate description. But 20 years ago they represented a visionary prediction for the future.

“The old model of distribution of information is from the central Network Broadcasting Company to everyone else,” wrote Michael.

With the new paradigm, however, “a person has the ability to broadcast his or her ideas and questions around the world and people respond,” Michael observed. “The computer networks form a new grassroots connection that allows the excluded sections of society to have a voice.”

In 2013, netizens are seeing the coming to fruition of these predictions from 20 years ago, as the people of Egypt, Turkey and Brazil, just to name the most recent upheavals, express their discontent with those in power in their countries. By expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo, they are demonstrating that a new more democratic model for society is needed. And among the netizens online there is an awareness that a new more democratic process is possible because of the Net.

Michael recognized that the Net as a new media represented something “unprecedented.”

“Previous grassroots media,” he wrote, “have existed for much smaller sized selections of people.”

Though the world he saw becoming a possibility when he was writing in 1993 was not yet a reality, by documenting the potential for this future, Michael helped to support the fight for it to emerge and spread.

Along with a vision for the grandeur and all emcompassing nature of the Net and Netizens in Michael’s paper, he proposed an essential mechanism for implementing the vision. This mechanism was the importance of a broad ranging discussion involving many people and a broad ranging spectrum of information and opinions provided by netizens.

“The reader can train himself to figure out the accurate information from the breadth of opinions. The Net can be a helpful medium to understand the world. Only by seeing all points of view can anyone attempt to figure out their position on a topic,” wrote Michael.

“Information is no longer a fixed commodity or source on the Nets,” Michael recognized. “It is constantly being added to and improved collectively. The Net is a grand intellectual and social commune in the spirit of the collectivity from the origins of human society….Each user contributes to the whole intellectual and social value and possibilities of the net.”

These quotes are all from Part I of the longer paper Michael posted on July 6, 1993. They represent the inclusive process that is demonstrated in the rest of the paper based on the many contributions from netizens that Michael received in response to several sets of questions he sent out online.

At the end of the paper, Michael proposed that, “Despite the problems for the people of the world, the Net provides a powerful way of peaceful assembly. Peaceful assembly allows for people to take control over their lives rather than control being in the hands of others. This power has to be honored and protected,” wrote Michael. He continued, “Any medium or tool that helps people to hold or gain power is something that is special and has to be protected.” (See “The Computer as Democratizer” (3))

Michael’s paper quickly spread around the world. One netizen in Greece, a Professor at a Greek University, saw Michael a little while after the paper appeared, and told Michael that the paper had gotten to him in Greece and he welcomed reading it. Via email Michael received a number of responses from netizens in different countries expressing support for the vision represented by the paper. Also, when the paper appeared, there was debate and discussion online expressing agreements and disagreements with the ideas in the paper.

Though sadly Michael is not able to see the impact that his work and the concept of netizen continue to have in the world today, it is a fitting tribute for netizens to continue to support the vision and implement it. July 6 1993 is a day to be celebrated and remembered and the paper, “Common Sense: The Net and Netizens” first posted in several parts in 1993 represents an important event in the development and spread of a vision for the future of the Net and Netizen.

Notes

1.The “Net and Netizens: the Impact the Net has on People’s Lives” introduced the concept of netizen. The article was first posted on July 6, 1993. A copy of the original posting is available in the collected works of Michael Hauben. The url is:

http://www.ais.org/~hauben/Michael_Hauben/Collected_Works/Posts/

The article then became the first chapter of the book “Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet.”

http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120

2.http://www.ais.org/~hauben/Michael_Hauben/Collected_Works/Posts/1993_Common_Sense_Usenet_Posts/Common_Sense1.txt

3.http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/

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