Context Book Review: Globalization and Internet Freedom

This is a review of the book Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom by Rebecca Mackinnon

During the last semester in the Master’s of Library and Information Science program, I gave myself a secondary mission: to learn about how information professionals can contribute to global communities through international collaboration. When choosing a novel for the context book review assignment, Consent of the Networked stood out amongst the list of titles for two reasons. First, the title included the word “worldwide,” which indicated that it would definitely discuss issues at the international level. Secondly, I was intrigued by the idea that there could be a struggle for internet freedom even in the United States.

This book definitely did not disappoint! Mackinnon highlights the various ways that the internet and globalization have both positive and negative consequences on our political and social freedoms. Networks in countries including China, South Korea, Egypt, Tunisia, and India are just a few of the networks that are affected by government censorship. In fact, what if I told you that the networks in the United States are also largely controlled and monitored by our government? Would that worry you? Comfort you? How as information professionals does our continued connectedness via the internet inform the way we assist patron communities? Consent of the Networked allowed me to better answer these questions for myself.

Mackinnon organized the book into five parts. The first two parts consider the rise of the internet and the balance of power between the people and their governments. Parts three and four enumerate issues of censorship, privacy, corporate corruption, and technological inequality. Finally, part five describes how we approach internet freedom in order to combat these various issues. Rather than break down each part, in this review I will focus on the points that stood out for me as an information professional.

Librarians are definitely thwarted by the larger populations’ understanding of relevancy. Information resources are more readily available because of digitization and the amount of information out there is growing exponentially every day. In so many ways, the internet has become the ultimate tool for exercising freedom and meting out justice. However, as Mackinnon points out, the fast-paced progress of technology and the World Wide Web “lull” users into complacency. Mackinnon refers to Vaidhyanathan’s book The Googlization of Everything and the concept of “techno-fundamentalism.” Rampant use of Google services has made users blind to the manipulation of major corporations. Users believe that Google can answer any question they might have, and so, do not recognize the relevance of librarians as guides or mediators to information.

Everyone believes they can help themselves because of good ol’ trusty Google.

However, the answers Google provides might not always be the best or most accurate answer. Mackinnon refers to a book titled The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. Users, whether by choice or no, are easily manipulated by Google and other major corporations. Google influences the answers that show up at the top of the search result list. Information taken from their searches and their social networks are given to advertising companies. Unknowingly or knowingly, users consent to curated content. It has become the norm for people to avoid content that does not align with their political or social beliefs. Not only does this allow for isolationist ideology, but it distorts facts and causes discord.

Librarians and information professionals are trained to approach information unbiasedly. The skills we are learning in the MLIS program are in service of information seekers everywhere. Our role is to assist in creating global networks and communities that allow for reciprocal learning. Net neutrality may be a long way off, but the continued work of librarians and information professionals is critical to the struggle for internet freedom.

The internet plays a significant role in modern activism and government accountability. Unfortunately, TV media outlets that are widely ingested by millions of people are still a main source of information. The media, like major internet providers and searching services, are bought by corporations. They vie for the center stage, and have their own agendas to increase their audience and influence their viewers. More than ever before, the internet, more specifically social media, is the megaphone for organizations all over the world. People who are underrepresented or misrepresented in the media have the opportunity to speak up about the controversial issues directly affecting their lives on a platform that can reach as many, if not more, followers as major news media.

In less democratic countries, governments can often use the internet to their political advantage. Freedom of expression is not as highly valued; political and religious dissent is controlled with aggressive censoring of the internet and web searches. However, the same Mackinnon cites an example from 2004 during the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Information about unfair arrests and unimaginable torture conducted by Mubarak’s police force spread through the Egyptian blogger grapevine, a grapevine filled with intellectual, technologically-savvy writers who were passionate about ending Mubarak’s corruption. Evidence of their real-world protests and online writings were soon discovered by the police. Egyptian government attempted to shut down these sites and arrested many of the revolutionary bloggers. However, Mubarak underestimated the power and vastness of the bloggers’ reach. The bloggers who were not captured quickly spread news of the arrests, which were being covered up by Mubarak. Circulation of the government’s corruption incited more internet users to speak out. Facebook groups were created and protests were organized. Other injustices incurred which gave rise to more activist groups.

 

There is one hiccup in absolute freedom of expression. How do we approach vulgar, destructive, violent content on the internet? Anonymity allows people to speak more freely than ever before. The internet can expose children to terrible horrors that should not be so easily accessed. There needs to be a balance in place. Some censorship seems necessary, but how do we stop the government from overstepping.

If you give ‘em an inch, they take a mile!

The answer is to become more involved in the netizen commons. A “netizen,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “a user of the Internet, especially a habitual or keen one.” Librarians should make netizenship a primary objective of their job. Becoming and creating a robust netizen community will better prepare us to create netizen-driven institutions. Issues concerning censorship, internet and website standards, and the future of the World Wide Web will be deliberated upon by groups, small and large, that will help us advance in the information tidal wave.

Each librarian and information professional, while trained to try to remain unbiased, has their own political beliefs and social expectations. However, it has long been the duty of librarians to be protectors of the First Amendment. Governments should not maintain control by inhibiting free expression or the dissemination of information. All data should be treated as equal. Networking with librarians will allow people to wade into the overabundant pool of resources and come out with what they were looking for. It is our job as the next generation of librarians to continue protecting the first amendment by teaching patrons how to be netizens and respecting their access to information.

In conclusion, Consent of the Networked is filled with startling examples of how the internet still has a long road to its fullest potential. Obstacles along the way and shifts in ideologies will influence its trajectory. The fight for internet freedom will be strengthened by the information professionals who are trained to build communities in the virtual, local, national, and global spheres.

Additional resource: Mackinnon also discusses one concept that I had never heard before: The Panopticon Effect. I was very interested in this concept and I found a YouTube video that describes it. Check it out!

The Power of Surprise

Before and after beginning my MLIS journey in the SJSU program, there were two questions that I was continually asked when I told people I was pursuing librarianship:

  • But what do librarians even do?
  • Isn’t that job going extinct?

–As I am starting this post, I feel like I am writing an intro that has been written by so many MLIS students before me. (I know I probably have already written a post for another class like this). I think most of us have experienced confusion and concern from family and friends (sometimes passing acquaintances) about our career path.

But bear with me because I had a somewhat exhausted epiphany today.

When people would ask me these questions, my answer was sometimes vague and rambling. Other times, I would have a direct answer that was short and concise. Recently, I had gotten into the habit of using the phrase “information mediator,” but this would require further explanation. I came to the realization that perhaps the reason that I had never had the same answer is because there wasn’t a clear direction. Current information professionals and aspiring librarians must start choosing one. The readings in this class have given me an idea of where I would like to see libraries expand.

As I was reading the material for the hyperlinked library model, I continually harkened back to the Mathews (2012) article, Think Like a Startup. First off, I just want to say that I loved the style of this article. The analogies were fantastic and helped me grasp an integral part of the library movement happening right now in the information profession. I particularly enjoyed the part about building a strategic culture in the profession by making adaptation inherent in the profession. Innovate and iterate is the mantra that I am taking away from Mathews.

The readings for the hyperlinked library model furthered these concepts, and ultimately led me to my epiphany, which is:

Libraries need surprise.

Much like the students at the beginning of the other Mathews (2010) article, Unquiet Library Has High-Schoolers Geeked, people need to be surprised and coaxed into recognizing the library. Using cell phone technology during learning activities allows students to interact with their classmates and the information they are learning. These surprising changes in the library can influence changes in the classroom.

Another way that libraries could use surprise is by surprising patrons with new, innovative library design. In the article titled DOK Delft, inspirational library concepts, five concepts about innovative libraries are enumerated. The author, Jasper Visser, describes previous experiences at a museum or a library as very quiet and hushed, but at DOK Delft the colorful design and the spacious, uncluttered environment encouraged the patrons to interact with each other. Before designing the space it is imperative to conduct user research in order to create spaces that will surprise patrons by fulfilling a need they would not associate with a library.

Finally, the article, Exploring Context: The User Experience, also encourages innovation in library design and programming. Just because an idea is unexpected or uncommon does not mean that the idea is illogical and should be completely disregarded. The example that the author, Schmidt, puts forward is the concept of a library providing showers to the public. As Schmidt explains, cultural and geographical context may provide a reason to include showers in the design of a library. While this is is unusual idea in our neck of the woods, this idea could be life-changing for patrons in a different part of the world. The heart of the article is insisting that all ideas are good ideas. Innovation occurs when creativity and practicality meet. By remaining open to all ideas, the library can continue to evolve.

Bottom line, surprise will get patrons in the door. What will keep them coming back? More surprises. More change. New and creative ways to learn and access information.

The “Val” in “LibVal”

Hello! My name is Valerie. I am the creator of this blog and writer of these posts. I usually have a lot to say, but never enough to write. That being said, I thought I would write up a little write-up of myself. I was born and raised in California, and I was able to move to my California dream destination at the age of 25. I’m incredibly lucky and honored to be a member of the best community in the best state in the best country in the world.  Now that I live where I want to live forever (fingers crossed that I live forever), I think it’s safe to say that I’m a Californian through and through. I grew up in a valley (I know, typical California valley girl), and I use vernacular such as “dude,” “stoked,” and “hella.” I do try to avoid slang in my writing, but it is definitely a part of who I am.

I went to college at Sacramento State University where I studied English and Anthropology. I decided to pursue librarianship because both of my majors continuously brought me back to the library. The library has always been a place that has brought me comfort. Then when I got into college it was the place where I could focus. In this program, I have found that libraries are more than I ever imagined. There is so much potential inherent/generated/foreseen in libraries. I cannot wait to step into the field and watch it evolve.

I have many interests, but most pertain to ingesting various media-TV, movies, YouTube videos, audiobooks, ebooks, books, graphic novels, board games, videogames, and magazines. I also like to cook and bake, but most of my creations are hit or miss. I enjoy singing and I infrequently attempt to play ukulele. I have a boyfriend and a dog, and they are, by far, the two most important men in my life; we have a lot of fun together. Anyway, that’s all I can really think to say about me today. I hope that you continue reading my blog, and you find my observations enjoyable? helpful? enlightening? You decide.

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