Digital Media

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Tragedy of the Commons
Garrett Hardin

By failing to regulate the commons, Hardin seems to say, the public will inevitably exhaust its resources. The Internet could be considered a commons. It is largely unregulated and anyone can set up an e-mail address or blog or even their own Web site. In fact, there are so many people online and so much information on the Web that it can sometimes be overwhelming if you don't know exactly what you're loooking for. I have learned about so many Web sites in class and from friends that I would not have even known existed on my own. How are we supposed to keep up with the latest and greatest sites? Will we eventually be bombarded with so much information that we won't be able to keep up with all the sites we want to visit (I think I'm already there). Actually, I don't think this is the problem so much as when certain sites become so enmeshed in the culture that newer sites will have a harder time finding an audience.

This is the real threat to democracy on the Internet. If only a few "channels" have the majority of the audience, then it will be difficult to get out divergent viewpoints. This is not something that I see happening in the near future, but something that could happen with the right conditions. Now, however, there seem to be plenty of outlets for individuals to communicate and plenty of people willing to read their thoughts, which never ceases to amaze me. I think some people have way too much time on their hands.

I think having so much information available to the public online is good for the democratic process. The public can access many public records without leaving their home computer. I'm not sure where Hardin's "tragedy" of the commons fits into eDemocracy. Perhaps if people are seeking to maximize their own benefit they will create sites online that are not useful, and even harmful, to the public good. For instance, a common complaint among e-mail recipients is the amount on unsolicited e-mail, or "spam," that they have in their inbox. Often this spam is advertising porn sites or viagra or something else that society at large may not approve of. Without any regulation, spam could make e-mail nearly useless. Government regulations now require all e-mail mass-mailed messages to include instructions for unsubscribing. There have also been a number of prosecutions of spammers, which have likely made some would-be spammers more wary. E-mail providers also help with spam filters and junk-mail boxes for sorting through spam.


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