Jurgen Habermas and the Mess of a ‘Digital Public Sphere’

Let’s pretend for a minute that Jurgen Habermas’ view of an ideal political-public sphere exists. I say ‘pretend’ because, well, there’s still quite a bit of debate as to whether a space exists where individuals can discuss affairs of politics, business or anything. If we’re defining rational-critical discourse mainly by its structural difference from  discourse monopolized by the state, that seems to imply there’s an ideal area where private citizens can converse outside the direct power of the state (Habermas’ private homes, the salons of the private citizen, and so on).

It’s obviously a stretch to assume the actions of the Court and the Church had no direct influence on the discussions of private citizens – England loved to issue censorship rule after censorship rule precisely because they had influence over these kinds of citizen communications. For quite some time, very little printed or discussed matter passed by eyes or ears in London or Paris without the tacit consent of the crown. It’s good to be the King.

Enter the Internet, where it appears some conversations can go on outside the purview of some governments, as evidenced by Egyptian protest organizers in 2011 and Belarusian social media renegades in 2006.

There seems to be some legitimacy here. Let’s break out our ‘Public Sphere Checklist’ and see how the social networks of 2011 stack up against Habermas’ two most important public sphere requirements: Equality and Inclusivity.

Equality of Status and Inclusivity

On the face of it, social networks make people equal. But let’s look a little bit more. Much like the social clubs Habermas waxes poetic over, social networks come with hidden and not-so-hidden requirements for entry.

Owning a computer may not be a notable achievement for most Americans, but what about countries where Internet cafés are the dominant form of access? Given most of the world works all day to achieve some brief respite from misery, the majority of the developing world spends most of their time excluded from the conversation. Consistent, dense social networks like those of Egypt are generally due factors outside the natural allure of social networks, mainly an already wealthy state with educated citizens. Keep in mind, Egypt sat on a fence until lawyers, engineers and young, jobless professionals with personal Internet connections joined in.

Not only is most of the world excluded from participation in the Web’s marketplace of ideas, few movements attract much attention even if they take the serious risks of getting online. The megaphone of social media is given to few, your Kutchers and assorted lesser Kardashians in the developed world key among them.

Look at how Libyans struggled to connect even their own unhappy population before NATO shored up Internet infrastructure by bombing the ever-loving hell out of troops advancing on Libya’s major arteries of inbound and outbound communication.

For the majority of the world, gaining basic access to reliable Internet is a significant hardship while mobile application development company vacancies, so typical in the rest of the world, are as rare as hen’s teeth. Even then, being included in the elite group of “those who are heard” is harder still. Are you rallying for the patriots of the Burmese Civil War? Check midway through the New York Times, behind an article about Newt Gingrich’s “family values.”  They even have a Facebook page, with all of 9,000 supporters. All else being equal, it simply isn’t. Continue reading Jurgen Habermas and the Mess of a ‘Digital Public Sphere’

How Virtual Worlds Are Evolving and Supporting Players with Disabilities

Virtual worlds can profoundly
impact both our personal
sense of self
and the ideals of a wider community, but how is the
Metaverse affecting younger generations? A thought-provoking report by
Gizmodo reveals that our perceptions of who we are may be evolving with
our exposure to new technology.

I've
written a few articles about virtual world accessibility by those with
disabilities, but I've never taken as deep a look as I'd like at the
potentially liberating aspect of virtual worlds on those with severe
mobility limitations. 

Though far from perfect, virtual
worlds are evolving for those with disabilities, and changing the
perceptions of may others when it comes to playing a game with an
able-bodied avatar controlled by a physically disabled player. Let's
take a look at some interesting examples of this virtual-real crossover.

Continue reading How Virtual Worlds Are Evolving and Supporting Players with Disabilities

China, Zynga and the Growing Clout of Digital Communication

Honda-factory-riot-police-006 I began Pixels and Policy as a way of exploring my thoughts
about digital communication as a potentially transformative medium on the
global stage. Around the same time as I began writing Pixels and Policy, way
back in August 2009, tens of thousands of brave citizen activists in Iran stood
up to a regime universally regarded as brutally repressive, violent and theocratic.
Within days of Iran’s
rigged election, the governing powers enacted strict limitations on the flow of
information.

Though much of their fight took place in city streets and town
squares, the rest of the world came to know Iranian protest figures like Neda Agha-Soltan
and Mir-Hossein Moussavi chiefly through their creative use of digital
communication sources as a platform for civic protest. Western news outlets couldn’t
get enough of how the pro-democracy “Green Revolution” mobilized disparate groups
of protesters through online social media like Twitter. Less reported was their
widespread use of virtual social media like Second Life and Facebook, where
communication could carry on unencumbered by the heavy hand of Iranian security
forces.

Nearly one year on from my first article about Iran, both
Pixels and Policy and the digital communication landscape have changed
markedly. Without noticing it at the time, Pixels and Policy moved from serving
as a space for compelling original analysis of digital communication on the
world stage to serving as a sort of sub-par news aggregator for virtual worlds.
Pixels and Policy also became uninteresting to read along the way, as my
interactions with readers illuminated. Now I hope to correct course and get Pixels and Policy back to what it once was and should be.

Continue reading China, Zynga and the Growing Clout of Digital Communication

PBS Frontline to Take a Deep Look at the Social and Cultural Impact of Virtual Worlds

PBS Frontline is one of the few mainstream news sources really taking a look at how virtual worlds are changing our politics, policy and culture. They've looked at everything from the rise of religious organizations in worlds like Second Life to the development of a digital-age telecommuting workforce, and each area of study has advanced the discussion on virtual worlds as a permanent fixture in our lives.

Now, on February 2nd, PBS will take a look at its broadest and most interesting topic so far. In a special event called Life on the Digital Frontier, Frontline takes a look at the many ways online interaction and virtual environments are changing our culture and social norms.

Read on to check out the program's trailer and find out more.

Continue reading PBS Frontline to Take a Deep Look at the Social and Cultural Impact of Virtual Worlds

Is the Linden Dollar a Ticking Time Bomb?

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Pixels and Policy reader and virtual world enthusiast Doubledown Tandino left a thought-provoking comment on our article about the lack of competition in the virtual world. Tandino made the argument that attaching a dollar value to Linden Dollars is really a work of fiction:

Linden Lab…says [the exchange rate] is $260L to
$1 USD every day…so it is. and the world believes it. It is fortunate
that the bubble hasn't burst on the fictitious economy.


It's an intriguing argument, so Pixels and Policy decided to take a look at the confidence behind the currency. Is Second Life's economy just irrational exuberance?

Continue reading Is the Linden Dollar a Ticking Time Bomb?

Do Virtual World Interactions Help Growing Nations?

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A free virtual education via Internet Cafe

Pixels and Policy enjoys
covering the business and policy implications of virtual worlds, but many of
these studies, like Audi's plan to market a car through
virtual worlds
, seem distinctly rich-world pleasures.

Countries like Afghanistan,
Burma, and Pakistan struggle to meet their citizens' daily nutritional needs.
Marketing cars and having a Second Life account comes second to surviving one's
first life

Rita King of Dancing Ink
Productions and Dispatches from the Imagination Age has done some
pioneering work in the study of virtual worlds and developing nations. Her work
on using virtual worlds to understand Islam
should be required reading for budding policymakers in universities
nationwide.

Are developing worlds present
in the virtual world? Can the citizens of repressive regimes like Burma express
themselves in the Metaverse without fear of reprisal? There's one way to find
out — connect with some wired Pakistanis and see what they have to say.

Continue reading Do Virtual World Interactions Help Growing Nations?

Second Life Hosts 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

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In one of our first articles, Pixels and Policy took a look at how virtual worlds can play an important role in community interaction by providing a cheap, accessible forum for discussion.

Now Second Life activists are strengthening our argument as they participate in the Rutgers University "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence" campaign.

Pixels and Policy takes a look at how gender activism is thriving in the Metaverse.

Continue reading Second Life Hosts 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Virtual Worlds, Physical Disability, and Evolving Perception

Virtual worlds can profoundly impact both our personal sense of self and the ideals of a wider community, but how is the Metaverse affecting younger generations?

A thought-provoking report by Gizmodo reveals that our perceptions of who we are may be evolving with our exposure to new technology.

Pixels and Policy takes a look at whether future generations will debate the philosophy of the virtual world.

Continue reading Virtual Worlds, Physical Disability, and Evolving Perception

Religious Leaders Gather to Discuss Faith in Virtual Worlds

Virtual church The virtual world is a haven for countless community-building activities, and now an assembly of religious leaders is gathering in Chicago to discuss how to expand the role of faith in the Metaverse.

Last month we discussed the expansion of virtual religion in Second Life, and now it appears the fascination with the virtual faith is expanding into traditional religious circles.

Pixels and Policy investigates why next year's religious summit on virtual worlds could take the Metaverse in a divine direction.

Continue reading Religious Leaders Gather to Discuss Faith in Virtual Worlds

Can Virtual Worlds Promote Social Activism?

Haiti If you're one of FarmVille's 60 million active players, you've probably seen the option to invest your farm bucks into some truly special sprouts.

Zynga, the owner of addictive Facebook games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, launched the "Sweet Seeds for Haiti" with the goal of lifting hundreds of impoverished Haitian families from destitution. It may just be working.

By channeling the power of its hundreds of millions of active players across multiple browser-based games, Zynga hopes to be the first major success story in the field of "virtual awareness." Pixels and Policy investigates.

Continue reading Can Virtual Worlds Promote Social Activism?