Does the Internet Fundamentally Shift Power?

by Chip Griffin on February 1, 2007

Jeff Jarvis came away from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland convinced that the mighty don’t get it.  He believes they think of the Internet as all about individual action.  He argues:

The internet is more about collective action. It is about connections. It gives us the power to find each other, to join together, to coalesce around issues, ideas, products, desires, and activities as never before, leaping over all borders, real and cultural. That is the historic progression of power that we are witnessing.

But does the Internet really execute a fundamental power shift?  It’s an interesting question and I’m not sure we have an answer yet.

Keep in mind I’m not asking what the Blog Mob wants to happen or even thinks will happen, but rather what is currently happening. 

I’d say the verdict is decidedly mixed so far.  The Internet certainly provides leverage and acceleration to existing power struggles.  But the question is does the Internet change the outcome? 

For instance, Dan Rather got pummeled by the blogosphere and it arguably cost him his job.  But did the blogs cause this or merely accelerate what would have happened anyway?  Since we have no access to an alternate universe, it is impossible to say.  Would someone in the mainstream media have questioned the document authenticity?  Would it have still caught on?  I don’t know.

Certainly in the political realm there has been lots of smoke regarding the power of the so-called netroots, but precious little evidence that it really makes a difference in the outcome of elections.  Most of the candidates most prominently supported online have gone on to lose.

In the business world companies like Kryptonite have certainly had massive problems related to blogs, but again did it merely accelerate what would have been discovered anyway? 

None of this is meant in any way to diminish the influence of Internet communities and voices.  I remain a strong advocate of engaging in dialogue online — whether you are an individual, company, non-profit, government official, or pretty much anything else.  All of these groups can learn from conversations with their constituencies. 

Even if the Internet merely leverages and accelerates power shifts — while also empowering individuals — it is still important and highly relevant.  But I believe the jury is still out on whether it fundamentally shifts the power structure and creates a world of collective, rather than individual, action.

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