Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tim Wu: Who Controls the Master Switch?

It is an underacknowledged truism that, just as you are what you eat, how and what you think depends on what information you are exposed to. How do you hear the voice of political leaders? Whose pain do you feel? And where do your aspirations, your dreams of good living, come from? All of these are products of the information environment.

My effort to consider this process is also an effort to understand the practical realities of free speech, as opposed to its theoretical life. We can sometimes think that the study of the First Amendment is the same as the study of free speech, but in fact it forms just a tiny part of the picture. Americans idealize what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the "marketplace of ideas," a space where every member of society is, by right, free to peddle his creed. Yet the shape or even existence of any such marketplace depends far less on our abstract values than on the structure of the communications and culture industries. We sometimes treat the information industries as if they were like any other enterprise, but they are not, for their structure determine4s who gets heard. It is in this context that Fred Friendly, onetime CBS news president, made it clear that before any question of free speech comes the question of "who controls the master switch." (13)

Cory Doctorow's Review of Timothy Wu's The Master Switch

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