Ben Compaine, author of Who Owns the Media?, analogizes citizens media to the frontier, as in Frederick Jackson Turner's The Frontier In American History (Peercasting as the New Western Frontier).
[I]n 1893 [Turner] presented his view that the key component to the unique American character of democracy was the settlement of the American West. That is, the availability of vast stretches of free land away from the initial settlements of the East Coast provided a safety value for those who were dissatisfied with their circumstances. The seemingly endless western frontier offered anyone an opportunity to acquire a farm and become an independent member of society. Free land thus tended to relieve poverty in the Eastern cities while on the frontier it fostered greater economic equality.
What does this have to do with the media? Heres what: Though it may be a tad premature, in the equally unlimited expanses of information available through the Internet and its related ecosystem I see the makings of a similar safety value for expression and communication. Today it is Blogs, Live365 streaming radio and Podcasts. Tomorrow it is likely to be the video version of streaming radio and Vodcasting [PDF]. Better than a soapbox at Hyde Park Corner, reaching further than leaflets handed out in Times Square, more user-controlled than letters to the editor, peercasting may be for the Information Age what free land was for the late Agricultural/early Industrial Age....
Most Americans did not head West, though all knew that they could. The free land of the American West enabled those who were most motivated and most dissatisfied with the opportunities where they were to have hope. They did not see themselves as being stuck. Not every city slicker who headed West prospered. But it was the opportunity that helped shape them and the spirit of this country for over two centuries. And todays dissatified or motivated knew that, for the first time, they too will be heard.
Blogging and podding and vodding or whatever else these formats might be called should not be viewed as a veneer or a Potemkin Village of phantom access to the world stage. The move to the Western frontier was real. Similarly this digital outlet that gives voice to the leafleteer, corner orator or anyone with a point of view or a story to be told is real and meaningful. We saw in Howard Deans meteoric rise the power of the Internet is getting the word out and in raising money. It happened for the most part under the radar of the mainstream media.
In the next decades peercasting will be become the norm to one degree or another. It will not replace mass media but will add a significant dimension to what and how the media is viewed. And, I believe, peercasting will have an overall positive effect on the American -- and no reason why not the rest of the worlds experience with the expanded boundaries of this new frontier. I think thats how Frederick Jackson Turner would describe it.
I've copied a significant chunk of Compaine's posting (go read the rest!) because I think he has really hit on something important. There is really a lot going on here, just as there was in Turner's original frontier thesis.
We've often heard the internet analogized to the Wild West, but I've never really liked the metaphor of place. In many ways, I think it is misleading. Here, I believe, is the better metaphor: frontier. A frontier isn't a place, it is a process. Ever-changing, ever-growing, never tamed, the frontier is always just at the edge of "civilization". You can't pin down the frontier because as soon as you do, it has moved on.
The American frontier shaped people and institutions; it formulated a unique American character. I think citizens media may do something similar, though this time it won't be as restricted geographically. What changes, if any, might this new frontier have on the American character? How might the concept of "frontier" impact other nations?
If the internet is a frontier, it is an incredibly fast moving one. Where parts of the American frontier took years to settle, internet frontiers are settled much quicker. What effect does this have on the frontier thesis?
By the time Turner wrote his famous thesis, the frontier had officially closed. Will an electronic frontier close? How might we seek to prevent it?
Does the open source movement also play a role in this frontier? I would think so, yes.
Lots of questions, I know, but I now have a lot to think about and chew over. I leave this post with a passage Turner quoted from Peck's New Guide to the West:
Generally, in all the western settlements, three classes, like the waves of the ocean, have rolled one after the other. First comes the pioneer, who depends for the subsistence of his family chiefly upon the natural growth of vegetation, called the "range," and the proceeds of hunting. His implements of agriculture are rude, chiefly of his own make, and his efforts directed mainly to a crop of corn and a "truck patch." The last is a rude garden for growing cabbage, beans, corn for roasting ears, cucumbers, and potatoes. A log cabin, and, occasionally, a stable and corn-crib, and a field of a dozen acres, the timber girdled or "deadened," and fenced, are enough for his occupancy. It is quite immaterial whether he ever becomes the owner of the soil. He is the occupant for the time being, pays no rent, and feels as independent as the " lord of the manor." With a horse, cow, and one or two breeders of swine, he strikes into the woods with his family, and becomes the founder of a new county, or perhaps state. He builds his cabin, gathers around him a few other families of similar tastes and habits, and occupies till the range is somewhat subdued, and hunting a little precarious, or, which is more frequently the case, till the neighbors crowd around, roads, bridges, and fields annoy him, and he lacks elbow room. The preëmption law enables him to dispose of his cabin and cornfield to the next class of emigrants; and, to employ his own figures, he "breaks for the high timber," "clears out for the New Purchase," or migrates to Arkansas or Texas, to work the same process over.
The next class of emigrants purchase the lands, add field to field, clear out the roads, throw rough bridges over the streams, put up hewn log houses with glass windows and brick or stone chimneys, occasionally plant orchards, build mills, school-houses, court-houses, etc., and exhibit the picture and forms of plain, frugal, civilized life.
Another wave rolls on. The men of capital and enterprise come. The settler is ready to sell out and take the advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man of capital and enterprise in turn. The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen. Broad-cloths, silks, leghorns, crepes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue. Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.
A portion of the two first classes remain stationary amidst the general movement, improve their habits and condition, and rise in the scale of society.