The cycle of information poverty needs to be broken. Adults, one of our most valuable natural resources, are quickly floating to their brain deaths on a stew of TV news, muzak and radio car-commercial voices. Do you have what it takes to save them? Blog away young soldiers; the infrastructure is in place for dismantling the information welfare state as we know it.

Zack Denfeld

From cradle to grave, we are bombarded with slick, sexy, pre-packaged media to take care of all our information needs. Where is the incentive to work and create one’s own media?

As citizens, we have allowed commercial interests to live nearly rent free on our airwaves and don’t ask for these organizations to work for us in return. This is the most sickening handout in our society. Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike try to protect helpless corporations from being taken advantage of by overzealous citizens.

The small requests for public interest and civic programming is thwarted by putting public service announcements on late at night and calling cartoons educational. Low-power FM stations are shut down because they threaten the “safety” of corporate stations. If ever there were a welfare state that needed dismantling, it is the corporate-controlled media that pervades and oozes around our entire lives.

Our TV news wastes time covering the pseudo-events that their vertically integrated brethren manufacture. Nepotism at its finest. Commercial media delivers you the viewer to the advertiser, but if you the viewer don’t have purchasing power or aren’t a voracious consumer, there is no reason to pander to the topics you want to see covered. Commercial radio plays about 1 percent of the music ever recorded. We can’t even do musical diversity in this country!

The information-rich, and those with strong information drives, have spent the last century creating their own alternative forms of electronic media, but for those stuck in the information ghettos of the commercial airwaves, it may be hard to break their dependence on narrow corporate media and start working on information of their own.

Too many Americans consume a very narrow band of media and produce very little of their own information in return. There are alternatives, and the web has helped, but the cycle of information poverty is only perpetuated by the continued subsidies that corporate media receives. Large media conglomerates take up almost all of the airwaves, and the visual space of our info-geography with billboards of all sizes. On top of all that, commercial interests steal our best cultural ideas and sell them back to us!

How many people have a diet of information limited to 24-hour news stations, sitcoms and commercials? When you travel the web, do you take the same paths over and over? Where is the town green in data space?

The history of the word “prosumer” points to this major conflict in our society. Some trace the lineage of the word back to the conjunction of producer and consumer. A possibility for our burgeoning information “economy” is the average citizen having research interests and producing as well as consuming information using ubiquitous digital technologies recording technologies, pervasive computing, and yes, a collection of new high-tech electronic consumables that should be created to increase the ability of citizens to speak freely.

The problem with this view is that socially distributed research and journalism works best as a gift economy, as seen in the blogging craze, something market-driven media can co-opt but not reproduce. Good information and good journalism are positive externalities, and it is clear by our totally spineless mainstream media to ask and report on tough questions that the market can’t handle it.

On the other hand some people believe that prosumer is a combination of the words professional and consumer. This definition of prosumer is someone who is an amateur in a field like photography or video, but has enough skills that they want “professional level” features in their tools. However, there is also a more insidious view of this definition: The digital revolution has only sped up the process of planned obsolesce. (Pro)fessional con(sumers) spent much of the 1990s continuously updating computers that they were using as glorified word processors, or as video game consumers and not even distributing their work. The information welfare state perpetuates information poverty by encouraging electronics consumers to continuously upgrade on newer, faster and sexier equipment instead of focusing on how equipment can be best designed and implemented to produce and distribute personal media and not just consume information resources.

I am heartened by the citizens’ movements that have extended the long history of independent media into a national network of movie, video and web media. How can we dismantle the information welfare state and promote an information society that values citizen research and media-making, as well as make time for citizens to do so? How do we make it cool to media DoItYourself even if you have three kids and a mortgage? How do we stop giving handouts to commercial interests and break the cycle of information poverty that plagues our society, helping people lift themselves out of the info-ghettos of commercial airwaves?


Denfeld can be reached at zcd@umich.edu

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *