Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can citizen journalism unshackle us from structure, restore a sense of autonomy?

I am reading Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain's book titled The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it (Yale University Press, 2008; download free via Creative Commons).

Strange. It is making me think of citizen journalism.

Mr. Zittrain narrates on pages 127-28:
The Dutch city of Drachten has undertaken an unusual experiment in traffic management. The roads serving forty-five thousand people are "verkeersbordvrij": free of nearly all road signs. Drachten is one of several European test sites for a traffic planning approach called "unsafe is safe." The city has removed its traffic signs, parking meters, and even parking spaces. The only rules are that drivers should yeild to those on their right at an intersection, and that parked cars blocking others will be towed.

The result so far is counterintuitive: a dramatic improvement in vehicular safety. Without signs to obey mechanically (or, as studies have shown, disobey seventy percent of the time), people are forced to drive more mindfully -- operating their cars with more care and attention to the surrounding circumstances. They communicate more with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers using hand signals and eye contact. They see other drivers rather than other cars . . . "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles."
It's a fine argument.

I am no anarchist but I can see that the nature of rules is to preclude the individual's thoughtfulness of others. The presumption of disorder questions the individual's inherent chivalry; consequently, it can drain social capital.

Similarly, the alphabet restricts our thinking to our command of it, the structure of news reporting impedes our free appreciation of an event, and so on.

My point is that in this context, citizen journalism offers a whiff of fresh air.

Perhaps the unrestricted, market-oriented offerings of citizen journalists will free the individual of the straitjacket of standardization in journalistic practice.

Perhaps the unrestricted, market-oriented offerings of citizen journalists will help the individual recover a measure of libertarian autonomy.


So is citizen journalism some sort of panacea? Hardly. To quote Mr. Zittrain again (p. 216):
The constraints . . . [will] now come not only from the well-organized governments or firms of Privacy 1.0, but from a few people generatively drawing upon the labors of many to greatly impact rights otherwise guaranteed by a legal system.
Also see: Citizen journalism will complement "public media 2.0," says white paper
And: Pulitzers, a humbling experience for Internet journalists
And: Dan Gillmor: Be skeptical of everything, but not equally
Finally: A sustainable model emerges: Use collective intelligence but fact-check with journalists

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