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Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy Hardcover – March 5, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Advance Praise for Digital Disconnect:

"Once again, McChesney stands at the crossroads of media dysfunction and the denial of democracy, illuminating the complex issues involved and identifying a path forward to try to repair the damage. Here's hoping the rest of us have the good sense to listen this time."
—Eric Alterman, professor of English and journalism, Brooklyn College, CUNY

“McChesney penetrates to the heart of the issue: Change the System/Change the Internet. Both/And—not Either/Or. Indispensable reading as we lay groundwork for the coming great movement to reclaim America.”
—Gar Alperovitz, author of What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, and professor of political economy, University of Maryland

“A provocative and far-reaching account of how capitalism has shaped the Internet in the United States. . . . a valuable addition to the literature on the digital age.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Too often discussions about the democratic potential of the digital revolution treat the Internet and related communication technologies as if they existed in a vacuum. Digital Disconnect disabuses us of this notion, making a convincing case that one can only understand these technologies and how they are used through the lens of political economy, and that the capitalist political economy in which they are currently embedded in the United States is anathema to a truly democratic information environment.”
—Michael X. DelliCarpini, dean, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

“A major new work by one of the nation’s leading analysts of media... . Steering between the treacherous Scylla and Charbydis of Internet boosters and skeptics, McChesney shows how the economic context of the digital environment is making the difference between an open and democratic internet, and one which is manipulated for private gain. A hard-to-put-down, meticulously researched must-read.”
—Juliet Schor, author of True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans Are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scale,High-Satisfaction Economy

“If you’re concerned about democracy or the direction of the Internet, this is the book for you! With a panoramic sweep and profound insights, McChesney rings the alarm bells, showing clearly how capitalism is swallowing up the promise of the Internet. No one knows this field better than McChesney, and with this book he has reached the pinnacle.”
—Matthew Rothschild, editor, The Progressive

“Over the past twenty years, the world has experienced both a profound communications revolution delivered by the internet and an equally profound rise in economic inequality and instability delivered by neoliberal capitalism. Digital Disconnect explores the connections between these epoch-defining trends with clarity, depth, originality, and verve. Robert W. McChesney advances a strong case that achieving the potential of the internet as a force for good requires nothing less than unshackling it from the capitalist social order now defining its trajectory.”
—Robert Pollin, professor of economics and co-director, Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), University of Massachusetts-Amherst

About the Author

Robert W. McChesney is the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of several books on the media, including the award-winning Rich Media, Poor Democracy and Communication Revolution, and a co-editor (with Victor Pickard) of Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights. He lives in Champaign, Illinois.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595588671
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595588678
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #171,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Schiffrin on March 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I've already read this book twice and assigned parts of it to my students. In fact, it would be possible to teach an entire course around Digital Disconnect as it provides a thorough and learned look at the effect the internet has on the media climate and why we should be terribly afraid. The historical chapters explain how the likes of google and Microsoft stack up against Standard Oil and the large trusts of the 19th and 20th century and how we got where we are today. Like Susan Crawford, McChesney argues that lack of government regulation encouraged the growth of large corporations that now dominate the online world. This has terrible implications for privacy, civil liberties, free speech and free thought. My students said in class that the book was scary and an eye opener and has changed the way they view the web.

McChesney draws on the writings of Evgeny Morozov, Susan Crawford, Rebecca MacKinnon and many other thinkers who explain the policy implications of what our internet has become. Rooted in a political economy interpretation and grounded in work done by Columbia's Richard John and other journalism historians, McChesney's brings together history of journalism, a profound understanding of communications scholarship, technology and a good dose of policy expertise. The result is an essential read which is also surprisingly accessible and easy to understand. I'd recommend Digital Disconnect to my mother, my grad students or to anyone who wants to understand how the internet is changing our society and how its supporters have used our political system to benefit big business interests, here and abroad.
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Format: Hardcover
Robert McChesney is a profoundly influential public intellectual, and a prolific scholar who has waged a tireless campaign to expose how democracy is undermined by corporate capitalism’s control of the communications industry. This latest study, written with characteristic clarity and exhaustively documented, is a major contribution to the emerging field of the political economy of communications, of which McChesney is a pioneer. This important book exposes the weaknesses in contemporary studies that examine the impact of the Internet on society. McChesney argues that they avoid an analysis of how capitalism seeks to manipulate the Internet to achieve corporate ends. McChesney illuminates how corporate capitalism subverts the internet by eroding its capacity to serve as a vehicle for social activism and democratic engagement, and converts it into an instrument that stifles critical thought, cultivates social anomie and dulls individuals into seeking comfort and meaning through mindless consumption. McChesney has the rare intellectual ability to write highly accessible accounts of complex policy and political developments that threaten democracy in America. This essential book will arm activists, scholars and all you are committed to preserving democracy with the conceptual tools and knowledge to effectively challenge growing corporate manipulation of the Internet.
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Format: Hardcover
Full disclosure: the author of this book and I agree about practically everything. This is an important topic, and the book promises to fill an urgent need. But something went horribly wrong writing the book, and I'm not sure I know what. I would recommend reading Our Unfree Press: 100 Years of Radical Media Criticism (also by this author) and Tim Wu's The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.

Important topic, compelling worldview--what could go wrong? I think this book suffers from being unable to decide if it's for readers who already agree with the general premise, and want to get filled in on the details, or if it's for readers who are totally new to the issues and flabbergasted to learn that "the market" doesn't actually meet the media needs of a democratic society. If, like me, you fall in the first camp, you want more details and factual content, whereas if you fall into the second camp (or the third--ideological antipathy to his worldview), then this is just going to sound like an angry rant by a grumpy old man.

For example, he frequently reminds readers that a better world is possible, but dwells on how disgusted he is with this one. Everything, from the business model of media firms to the personal integrity of public officials, to the artistic merits of popular culture, sucks here and now.
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Format: Hardcover
McChesney's meticulously-researched book is also, surprisingly, a fast read. A real eye-opener examining the medium that dominates modern society: the Internet. McChesney poses the central questions: Will the Internet be a force for knowledge, education and a participatory democracy? Or, in the hands of a few powerful corporations, will it become merely a force for hyper-commercialism, distraction and unimaginable invasions of our privacy? McChesney exposes how the development of the Internet is increasingly being shaped by rapidly monopolizing commercial interests -- with Internet policy shaped by a federal government beholden to those interests. He outlines common-sense reforms that would allow the Internet to remain free, open and democratic . . . reforms with much public support. But he is candid about "the Elephant in the Digital Room": a corporate/government system that blocks those sensible reforms.
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