The Consequences of New Information Infrastructures

The Consequences of New Information Infrastructures

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1622-6.ch009


This chapter builds on the discussion in Chapter 8 by exploring the dynamics of social participation in the development of new information infrastructures. Specifically, this chapter focuses on the consequences of social participation and ‘free choice’ – if indeed individuals are free, i.e. without any external influence – into different types of interaction offered by new information infrastructures. The WikiLeaks information infrastructure is used as an example to set the ground for examining how new information infrastructures generate a number of consequences for the ‘freedom’ of individual users, and for those seeking to monitor and control infrastructure use. This discussion raises a number of ethical issues which are explored by drawing on Foucault’s notion of governmentality. The chapter concludes with some implications for further research on the ethical governance of information infrastructure development.
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Recent developments in Web-based technologies, the increasing bandwidth, and the shift toward more compact and efficient (online) media production and delivery channels have given way to new information infrastructures that transcend various business contexts into the social domain as central hubs of communication and entertainment. These new developments have been referred to as Web 2.0, which enable the participative and modular building of virtual applications, whilst mashing-up data and functionality from a number of different sources (Grossman, 2006; O’Reily, 2005).

These developments have brought information and communication power that was previously the preserve of corporations within the reach of every motivated individual. In 2006, Time magazine’s Person of the Year was ‘You,’ ‘Me,’ ‘Everyone’ (Grossman, 2006):

And we are so ready for it. We’re ready to balance our diet of predigested news with raw feeds from Baghdad and Boston and Beijing. You can learn more about how Americans live just by looking at the backgrounds of YouTube videos—those rumpled bedrooms and toy-strewn basement rec rooms—than you could from 1,000 hours of network television. And we didn’t just watch, we also worked. Like crazy. We made Facebook profiles and Second Life avatars and reviewed books at Amazon and recorded podcasts. We blogged about our candidates losing and wrote songs about getting dumped. We camcordered bombing runs and built open-source software.

Web 2.0 is, thus, more of a cultural phenomenon that emerged from developments surrounding Web-based technologies and which pushed for collective mobilizations of people and resources. This push was exacerbated by advances in computer networking combined with powerful home computers and modern operating systems and increased streaming bandwidths. In turn, we have now moved to a new era of virtual communication whereby one can create new content which can be communicated to others in real-time.

This new generation of Web-based technologies is coupled by a new model of amassing the computing powers of distributed computers. Grid computing functions by connecting geographically remote computers into a single network to create a virtual supercomputer and in the process combining the computational power of all computers on the grid (as well as the software applications embedded therein) (Foster & Kesselman, 1999; Foster, 2002, 2003). In this way, grid computing takes advantage of idle resources as most computers use their central processing units on average only 25 percent of the time.

An exemplar of this new form of virtual creation and communication is manifested in Second Life. Second Life (SL) is built on a unique combination of grid computing and streaming technologies that allow it to constantly expand (SL website, 2008):

Second Life exists on a scalable server grid running Linux, capable of supporting thousands of simultaneous Second Life Residents. Each server represents a unique geographic region—so the world can grow infinitely in any direction, just by adding off-the-shelf Linux boxes… Second Life keeps evolving, even when you’re gone—while you’re sleeping, your neighbor can build a new house, a castle, or something you never would have imagined.

The uniqueness of SL comes from the combination of grid computing with real-time, three dimensional streaming technology allowing all content (e.g. objects, textures, audio, video, and motion) to be streamed to personal computers around the globe in real-time at broadband bandwidths. Further, as the above quote from the SL website suggests, by building on a scalable grid server and by giving the opportunity to SL residents to create their own content, SL is constantly at a moment of singularity whereby the (virtual) world expands ex nihilo; there are no predetermined boundaries- rather space is filled as it is being created (Ondrejka, 2007). In this context, SL wants everyone to become their own creator (SL website, 2008):

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