The low cost of video production and the increase in available channels gave rise to countless tabloid television shows. Like their print counterparts, these programs broadcast stories that more established news agencies would have held back--which in turn gave rise to a whole new set of journalistic standards and an unleashing of alternative news sources and outlets. Tabloid and Internet journalists were the first to publish everything from Clinton's trysts with Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky to Prince Charles's dirty phone calls with Camilla Parker Bowles. Time and Newsweek have simply struggled to keep up with the rising tide.
Internet discussion groups and bulletin boards gave us a new forum in which to discuss the information that was important to us. Online, we could access the latest word on new AIDS or cancer treatments, and then question our doctors (or our stingy HMOs) about a course of treatment. Even if all we intended to do was shop, the Internet gave us the ability to conduct instant price and feature comparisons, and to talk to others about a product before we bought it.
Meanwhile, young computer hackers had gotten their hands on the control panel of our electronic society. Bank records and other personal data that formerly were accessible only to credit bureaus and loan officers were now within the reach of any skilled fourteen-year-old. As a result, our privacy finally became an issue to be discussed publicly. We became aware of how information about us was being gathered, bought, and sold without our consent, and we supported activists, organizations, and candidates who promised to enact policies to prevent this invasion.
The Internet made us more aware of the process by which news and public relations are created and disseminated. As we gained access to press releases and corporate data, we have witnessed firsthand how public relations experts are allowed to write the evening news. In the early nineties, there was a participant of an electronic bulletin board who would post the transcripts of local news shows and then compare them, word for word, with the prepared press releases of the companies or individuals concerned. The results were embarrassingly similar, with whole paragraphs lifted directly from press release to newscaster's script.
As the coercive effects of mainstream media became more self-evident, media awareness led to a revival of cultural literacy. Our ability to see through the shameless greed of televangelists changed the way we related to the ritual surrounding the collection plate. Our ability to deconstruct the political process as it took place on TV gave rise to independent, homespun candidates like Ross Perot and Jerry Brown, whose campaigns promised direct access and accountability.
In the meantime, television programs like "Beavis and Butt-head" and "The Simpsons" were deconstructing the rest of the mediaspace for our children. With Bart as their role model, the generation growing up in the last decade has maintained a guarded relationship to the media and marketing techniques that have fooled their parents. While his dad, Homer, was suckered by every beer promotion, Bart struggled to maintain his skateboarder's aloofness and dexterity. Through Bart, our kids learned to remain moving targets.
As a happy witness to what was taking place in our culture, I began to write books celebrating our liberation through the tools of new media. Cyberia applauded the scientists, hackers, and spiritualists who were determined to design a better society with these new tools. The technological revolution seemed to me a populist renaissance through which real people would wake from centuries of heartless manipulation. Hierarchy and social control soon would be things of the past as every individual came to realize his or her role in the unfolding of civilization. I saw my vision confirmed as the Internet rose in popularity, and as the once-ridiculed nerds of Silicon Valley began to engineer the communications infrastructure for the world's business community. The Internet would not fade into obscurity like CB radio. It was here to stay. Our culture was hardwiring itself together.
Reprinted from Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Douglas Rushkoff. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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