Blogfired: Andrew Nachison

Andrew Nachison, Director of the Media Center, a Reston, Virginia think tank that studies the intersection of media, technology and society, at the American Press Institute


I look at blogs in terms of society. Blogs are one piece of a revolution that is taking place enabled by technology, which is giving individuals the power to create, select, distribute and discuss information and ideas in a way that was never before available.

Our media diet in the past was filtered by institutions – newspapers, TV, magazines – and political discourse (was filtered) the same way, but ordinary people have not just many more sources of information available to them, but a vastly expanded capacity to create and distribute and circumvent institutions. On a practical level (institutions) package, on another they filter, deciding which information is more important and relevant. They can also play a vetting role, fact-checking for instance.

There are potentially enormous benefits that can be derived from a free and open society in which everyone has the capacity to contribute ideas and information to the public discourse. Democracy and freedom can be stifled when institutions exert inordinate control over information. Freedom of expression is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What are the rights and responsibilities of employment? Carrying firearms is legal but most workplaces prohibit it. When you get down to the level of corporate speech, the more interesting debate is with those companies who want to restrict the blogging of employees in ways that have nothing to do with that company.

Employers don’t have universal and blanket authority to restrict what people do outside of the workspace. People have these tools at their fingertips and that gets at the disruption of power. There is more equity in the power relationship

My instinct is we are in the very beginning of a transformation and I think what we’re going to see take place is that society will adopt behaviors and standards that reflect the changed relationship. What we’re seeing is tension and I see it as about power. People who had power are uncomfortable with the shift and I think society will become comfortable with it and standards and policies will be adopted.

On the media side we’re going to continue to see proliferation of communications of all forms. I think what it will mean for society eventually is greater transparency globally for all institutions, including media. A lot of this is happening now. I’m very excited about what is happening and I choose to be optimistic. We do face challenges of information overload, though. Just having it out there doesn’t mean people are better off, so many tune it out. There has been a technological arms race and a backlash. There have been technological responses, like censorship in China (shutting off access to the Internet). Employers struggling with the same challenge shut down employer access to Internet, put up firewalls, limit instant messaging. There are very coherent plausible arguments regarding productivity and company secrets but at the end of the day it’s a conflict.

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