Hyperlinked Society

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Book: The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age. Joseph Turow and Lokman Tsui, Editors. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press and University of Michigan Library, 2008.

URL = http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=nmw;;idno=5680986.0001.001


Joseph Turow:

"In 2006, a New York Times Magazine article suggested that the link may be one of the most important inventions of the last fifty years. For links are not only ubiquitous; they are the basic forces that relate creative works to one another for fun, fame, or fortune. Through links, individuals and organizations nominate what ideas and actors should be heard and with what priority. They also indicate to audiences which associations among topics are worthwhile and which are not. Various stakeholders in society recognize the political and economic value of these connections. Corporations, governments, nonprofits and individual media users often work to privilege certain ideas over others by creating and highlighting certain links and not others. The fact that the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site, for example, highlights links to reports with certain approaches to privacy protection and not to others not only reflects the commission’s political views but may also bolster those views by pointing the public toward certain ideas at the expense of others. Through these sorts of activities, linking affects the overall size and shape of the public sphere.

Any discussion of how to promote a healthy society offline as well as online must therefore pay close attention to links. The aim should be to facilitate the widest possible sharing of varied, reliably sourced information in order to encourage specialized groups and society as a whole to confront their past and present in relation to the future. With a cornucopia of new media technologies and millions of Web sites and blogs, it would be easy to assume this goal is imminent. Yet a wide range of critics has lamented that this is not in fact the case. Some claim that both mainstream and nonestablishment sectors of the digital media target people who already agree with them, by producing content that reinforces, rather than challenges, their shared points of view. Other critics claim that media users themselves show little inclination toward diverse ideas. On the contrary, they tend to use the Web to confirm their own worldviews—for example, by going to political blogs with which they sympathize politically or even by ignoring news on the Web and on TV altogether.

How should we understand these claims that linking is not living up to its possibilities? What evidence do we have for them? What are the political, economic, and social factors that guide linking in mainstream media firms and among individual actors such as bloggers and wikipedians? What should we expect audiences to know about links? What do they know, and what do they want? And, finally, what new research approaches Page 5are needed to (1) track the various considerations that drive the creation of particular links and not others, (2) map the various vectors of knowledge and power that digital connections establish, and (3) understand how people interact with the connection possibilities that call out to them in various media?

The essays in this collection engage these questions and others in their attempts to understand the social meaning of the hyperlink. The project started as a conference called “The Hyperlinked Society” that I convened at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication on Friday, June 9, 2006. With the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Annenberg Public Policy Center, about two hundred people from around the United States as well as Canada, China, the Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Germany, and England came together to address the social implications of instant digital linking. The guiding assumption of the meeting was that we need cross-disciplinary thinking to do justice to this multifaceted subject. Our panelists therefore included renowned news, entertainment, and marketing executives; information architects; bloggers; cartographers; audience analysts; and communication researchers. The audience, also quite accomplished, participated enthusiastically." (http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=nmw;idno=5680986.0001.001;rgn=div1;view=text;cc=nmw;node=5680986.0001.001%3A2)