Response for The Wealth of Networks

6 08 2008

This is in response to Sarah’s review of Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.

I’m glad you share my disdain for Benkler’s writing style! It was a little painful at times.

I agree with you that his view of how networked societies will make radical changes in the world is bold, but I disagree that the view leans toward some utopian goal. I don’t recall reading an extensive section about how societies will settle in perfect harmony one day exist because of networks and the Internet, but, hey, I fell asleep reading the text a couple times myself. Ha!

Benkler’s observations of current events seem to ring true. It’s easy to see that radical changes are taking place. The way people interacted 10 years ago compared to today using digital and mobile communications has changed drastically. Access to technology in third-world countries is growing rapidly. The first computers some people use in remote parts of the world are smartphones. I think Benkler’s point is more that these changes in communication and technology are happening, but not necessarily how they’re being used.

You say that Benkler’s “fatal flaw” was “the idea that the networked information economy will make the world a better place and those in it more connected and aware of one another.” Can we determine if this is a flaw yet? Are we too early to determine if Benkler is foolish or prophetic? Considering he’s talking about major societal changes that we’re hardly a decade into, we are probably too early in the game to declare a winner. I also noticed that he and Chris Anderson used many of the same examples of networked societies – probably because there are too few successful examples at this point worth noting.

You’re right to say that Benkler’s observations of these changes aren’t revolutionary.  Overall, I thought Benkler made very few statements that took strong enough positions that were worth considering arguing, which was my “fatal flaw” with the book. He didn’t offer any cutting-edge statements. To your point, he talked a lot about “opportunities” for society, but never went so far as recommending a course of action that societies should take to improve the world.

I think negative reviews are difficult to write because I often veer into tangents that do not support my central arguments, but you achieved listing a consistent flow of reasons why you advise against reading Benkler. Kudos.

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