Commercialism and the Internet

The word “capital” seems to be coming up a lot lately in our readings; cultural capital, digital capital, social capital.  A spin-off of the word capital is capitalism.  Capitalism is linked to commerce by virtue of capital; in the sense I use it here, meaning money.  Commerce is what motivates the capitalist.  The word commercial is a derivative of the word “commerce.”  I would like to simplify, for the sake of argument, that there are basically three things happening on the internet today: research, socializing, and commercialism.  Until recently I had not thought much about the commercialism part of activity happening on the internet; and then I read Matthew Hindman’s article about the democratization of the internet.

I think I have been very naive about the function and use of the internet.  I was under the impression that the internet was a fantastic information resource and that it was not a commercial enterprise.  How stupid was that thinking!  Even the suffix of web addresses, .com, states the function of much of the internet: commercial.  I think that we need to keep this fact in mind as we peruse the internet for information, resources, and as facilitators of our students’ education.

The overriding theme in the reading of late, Seiter and Hindman for example, seems to be capitalism: capitalism is at the heart of our American economy.  Capitalism is a driving force of the internet and the powerful capitalists who run large corporations that produce all the things we consume are wielding influence and control over what internet consumers see on the internet.  This insight was made by Hindman:

Because of the infrastructure of the Internet, then, not all choices are equal. Some sites consistently rise to the top of Yahoo!’s and Google’s search results; some sites never get indexed by search engines at all. The visibility of political content on the Internet follows winners-take-all patterns, with profound implications for political voice. (Hindman 16)

I think the implications of Hindman’s comment here is huge.  We already are faced with the fact that our internet searches are being recorded as we make them by the search engines that provide us with the ability to search in the first place.  So, it is not only the political sphere that is impacted by the influence of capitalists: everyone who uses the internet is influenced by the commercial interests that drive the internet.  This is a notion that frightens me and at the same time makes me aware that I have to take charge of how I use the internet: not only personally, but with my students as well.

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