40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2013
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.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2013
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.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2013
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. The public was better informed in the past than it is now, and is better informed in other industrialized democracies than it is in the USA, and yet in both cases this superior information failed to prevent the conquest of the media markets by conglomerates--or succumbing to a more US-style pop culture (1). He doesn't spend any time on the models of media control that he admires, except to heap uncritical admiration on them.
The book, frustratingly, doesn't answer any interesting questions: why did the US news media and publishing sector develop in such a perverse way? Yes, he describes the perverse way itself, but how did that of Europe and Japan escape this fate? Actually, what sort of ownership and control arrangement does the mass media have in those countries, and how did it evolve? How does it avoid obvious pitfalls?
On p.206, he finally gets around to describing something he regards favorably: public media in other countries. It's an astonishing allocation of space: hundreds of pages complaining about everything the reader is likely to be familiar with, then a couple of pages on something McChesney approves of. But he spends almost no time at all on the system of media enterprise in Europe (2), spending barely two hundred words on ANY aspect of European media before relentlessly rattling off all the studies proving the US media establishment is really awful.
Enclosed in this badly disappointing book are two things I felt were valuable (hence, 3 stars instead of two). One was chapters 4-5 (pp.96-171), which has a lot of value. This is dominated by a jaundiced (and accurate) discussion of the climate of opinion of the 1990s, when the Internet was privatized, and the ultimately successful business models that conquered the Internet. With respect to this single last item, I don't know of ay other one-stop source. The other was the endnotes, which include valuable information of much greater interest to me than the main text was. A lot of his resources are articles in _Wired_ or legal postings, mostly available online.
*Robert W. McChesney & Ben Scott (ed). Our Unfree Press: 100 Years of Radical Media Criticism, The New Press (2004)
*Robert W. McChesney & John Nichols, The Death and Life of American Journalism, Nation Books (2011)
*Tim Wu, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, Vintage (2011)
*Tom Frank, One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy, Anchor (2001)
*Petros Iosifidis, Global Media and Communication Policy, Palgrave Macmillan (2011)
(1) To clarify: journalism of the past, especially pre-1890, he believes was very good; and journalism (as well as everything else) is better in other countries than here. Somehow, the bad always conquers the good in stories like this; pop culture and the news media of European countries has become more like that of the USA. McChesney doesn't mention the latter trend, but it's undeniable.
(2) On p.201, McChesney lavishes praise on _The Guardian_, a British online newspaper which he regards as the best in the English language. But he does so in the context of explaining how it is suffering from extreme difficulty paying its bills, and may be compelled to cease operations in in 3-5 years. On p.211, after supplying practically no information at all about media systems that work, he remarks, "The point is not to romanticize other democratic nations or put them on a pedestal." Evidently not.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2013
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2013
If we knew better, we'd all be suspicious, if not fearful of unregulated, concentrated power. In commerce and business theory, when just a few companies come to dominate a given field -- energy, media, air transportation, you name it -- it's called an oligopoly. We should always be on high alert when governments allow such circumstances to come about, let alone thrive. In Robert W. McChesney's "Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning The Internet Against Democracy", the author ably, and eloquently, dissects all the disturbing history about how the internet, and the digital powers that be (read oligopoly), are undermining the free, frequent and varied expression we think our democracy should celebrate and protect.
Like the proverbial canary in a mineshaft, McChesney's latest book analyzes and underlines all the dangers, now and into the future, when oligopolistic forces threaten, via technology and sustained lobbying, the basic tenets and rights of our democracy, not to mention offering a poor example to far less scrupulous foreign governments bent on 24-7-365 digital control.
Read this book!
A concerned citizen
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2013
If your daily routine took you from one homegrown organic garden to another, bypassing vast fields choked with pesticides, you might feel pretty good about the current state of agriculture.
If your daily routine takes you from one noncommercial progressive website to another, you might feel pretty good about the current state of the Internet.
But while mass media have supplied endless raptures about a digital revolution, corporate power has seized the Internet -- and the anti-democratic grip is tightening every day.
"Most assessments of the Internet fail to ground it in political economy; they fail to understand the importance of capitalism in shaping and, for lack of a better term, domesticating the Internet," says Robert W. McChesney in his illuminating new book, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy.
Plenty of commentators loudly celebrate the Internet. Some are vocal skeptics. "Both camps, with a few exceptions, have a single, deep, and often fatal flaw that severely compromises the value of their work," McChesney writes. "That flaw, simply put, is ignorance about really existing capitalism and an underappreciation of how capitalism dominates social life. . . . Both camps miss the way capitalism defines our times and sets the terms for understanding not only the Internet, but most everything else of a social nature, including politics, in our society."
And he adds: "The profit motive, commercialism, public relations, marketing, and advertising -- all defining features of contemporary corporate capitalism -- are foundational to any assessment of how the Internet has developed and is likely to develop."
Concerns about the online world often fixate on cutting-edge digital tech. But, as McChesney points out, "the criticism of out-of-control technology is in large part a critique of out-of-control commercialism. The loneliness, alienation, and unhappiness sometimes ascribed to the Internet are also associated with a marketplace gone wild."
Discourse about the Internet often proceeds as if digital technology has some kind of mind or will of its own. It does not.
For the most part, what has gone terribly wrong in digital realms is not about the technology. I often think of what Herbert Marcuse wrote in his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man: "The traditional notion of the `neutrality' of technology can no longer be maintained. Technology as such cannot be isolated from the use to which it is put; the technological society is a system of domination which operates already in the concept and construction of techniques."
Marcuse saw the technological as fully enmeshed with the political in advanced industrial society, "the latest stage in the realization of a specific historical project -- namely, the experience, transformation, and organization of nature as the mere stuff of domination." He warned that the system's productivity and growth potential contained "technical progress within the framework of domination."
Fifty years later, McChesney's book points out: "The Internet and the broader digital revolution are not inexorably determined by technology; they are shaped by how society elects to develop them. . . . In really existing capitalism, the kind Americans actually experience, wealthy individuals and large corporations have immense political power that undermines the principles of democracy. Nowhere is this truer than in communication policy making."
Huge corporations are now running roughshod over the Internet. At the illusion-shattering core of Digital Disconnect are a pair of chapters on what corporate power has already done to the Internet -- the relentless commercialism that stalks every human online, gathering massive amounts of information to target people with ads; the decimation of privacy; the data mining and surveillance; the direct cooperation of Internet service providers, search engine companies, telecomm firms and other money-driven behemoths with the U.S. military and "national security" state; the ruthless insatiable drive, led by Apple, Google, Microsoft and other digital giants, to maximize profits.
In his new book, McChesney cogently lays out grim Internet realities. (Full disclosure: he's on the board of directors of an organization I founded, the Institute for Public Accuracy.) Compared to Digital Disconnect, the standard media critiques of the Internet are fairy tales.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2013
This important book is mandatory reading for anyone concerned about the future of digital media and democracy. McChesney convincingly shows how the internet’s promise for democratic renewal has been thwarted by government-enabled corporate exploitation. He lays bare how the celebrated openness of new digital media and its capacity for sustainable journalism are imperiled by the savage logic of unregulated capitalism.
Thorough and measured, McChesney brings a level of scholarly rigor too often lacking in this space. His writing is engaging, entertaining, and clear – not overly technical or trivial like much commentary about the internet. Critically, he shows how the internet crisis is at heart a political economic problem—one that will require grassroots activism and policy interventions to remedy. He provides us with the analytical tools to look beyond the hype and work toward real structural reform in our digital media system. Above all, McChesney offers a vision for a more democratic future. Indeed, he encourages us to demand it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2013
Robert W. McChesney, DIGITAL DISCONNECT
I have read McChesney's DIGITAL DISCONNECT with great eagerness and am not at all disappointed. His singular importance as a scholar in the area of mass communications is, in my view, unchallenged. This is his arguably his most important book, immensely readable and entertaining. Buy this book and you won't be disappointed!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2013
This is an excellent book on an extremely important topic. The book is very appropriately titled, as it demonstrates in devastating detail that there is a massive disconnect between the promises (and image) of the internet and the real purposes for which it is being deployed. Rather than offering the means by which an engaged citizenry can become informed about the central issues of the day and gain autonomy through technology, McChesney shows how the internet has instead become a vehicle for advancing the commercial interests of highly concentrated economic power. As he did with Rich Media, Poor Democracy, McChesney uses a political economy approach not only to get at the inner workings of the internet, but also to place it in the context of today's capitalist economy and to illustrate the profound threat it poses to democracy. More than just helping to exacerbate an already grotesquely unequal distribution of socio-economic power, the internet - as it's currently constituted - is enabling a handful of enormously powerful corporate conglomerates to penetrate our lives to an unprecedented and frightening degree. Indeed, after reading this book, you'll never look at "smart phones," Facebook, Amazon, or a host of other wired technologies and platforms the same way. Whether you're someone who is simply looking to become a more wary consumer or are seeking the analytical tools needed to understand the threat that today's internet poses to democracy and to fight for a better alternative, this book is essential reading.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2013
One of the greatest challenges of our times is the need for a vibrant democracy in which the digital enables the project of human freedom. When the digital is captured by corporations, capital and the market, it looses this potential and becomes yet another avenue for the generation of private profit. Based on a compelling analysis and grounded in a very telling reading of contemporary political economy, McChesney reminds us of the stakes involved in the digital and the need for citizens to reclaim the digital. What makes this book extra special is that the analysis is complemented with a clear framework for action that will result in the democratisation of the digital.A must read.