Pappacharissi addresses utopian notions of the internet bringing about true democratization. (379) But for her, it’s a debate between whether “the internet and its surrounding technologies will truly revolutionize the political sphere or whether they will be adapted to the current status quo, especially at a time when the public is demonstrating dormant political activity and developing growing cynicism towards politics.” (379-80) She makes an important distinction between public space and public sphere: “A virtual space enhances discussion; a virtual sphere enhances democracy.” (380) Which do we have?
In confronting the existence of Habermas’ public sphere, Pappacharissi then asks whether the “internet can recreate a public sphere that perhaps never was, foster several diverse public spheres, or simply become absorbed by commercial culture.” (382) Numerous factors are explored, from who has access (382) and the illusion that it’s accessible and open to all. (383) We get so much information from tv and internet, (383) so as to “supersaturate viewers with political information, and that as a result ‘this tumult creates in viewers a sense of activity rather than genuine civic involvement.” Wisely states, “Access to more information does not necessarily create more informed citizens, or lead to greater political activity….” (384) Do people really come together, or instead splinter off into tribes of like-minded folks as they do offline? And in fact, this might be more the case online as you can avoid your neighbors who might have different ideas than you. Anonymity fosters flaming and “hasty opinions rather than rational and focused discourse.” (385) Commercialization transforms it into entertainment and a means of consumption instead of discourse.
It seems we bring our offline problems to an online world. Technology is neither the problem nor our savior, as Dewey discussed. The real shift has to come in our adeptness at communication and the civic responsibility that springs from education for democracy. Without it, we never address what’s really going on. And I believe Pappacharissi’s article shows this, by outlining technology’s potential and shortcomings. The real change comes in our approach and our values. – Nick