It is said that we are now entering an era of digital revolution. 'Cyberspace' has become the new place for people around the world to communicate, “surfing the internet” is no longer a novel phrase, people can 'friend' and 'unfriend' someone he or she has never met over social networks and you can chat with a monkey over the Internet for maybe half an hour without realizing the true identity of the other 'person'. One may say that aspects of cyberspace are surreal, maybe even bizarre but I think this is exactly why the digital world is so amazing.
Nowadays, “broad-based participatory media” is all around us, and I support the view espoused by Henry Jenkins in his article Contacting the Past that it is much more preferable to a “centralized system of commercial broadcasting”. Participatory media is where everyone can participate and express their ideas without discrimination, and where social networks like Google, Wikipedia, Youtube and Facebook have built up a platform for communication worldwide. On these websites, people of all ages, countries, religions and cultural backgrounds gather together to share their unique viewpoints, open up their daily lives, swap anecdotes, discuss politics with others and many other myriad aspects of their beliefs, values and opinions. Cyberspace has become a place with the most democratic of structures, where individuals are not only the receivers, but also the transmitters of news.
I am now frequent user of social networks, for instance Facebook or Renren (the most popular social website in China). However, before I became an actual user of these websites, social networks, including Internet chat tools made no sense to me. Why are so many people so fond of talking to people that I do not even know and will never know? Later, I discovered that the reason why these networks are so popular among people around the world is the degree of freedom that has been found wanting in the real world.
As Jenkins mentioned in his article, there once was a time when radios was the primary means of communication. This medium proved immensely popular as people wanted to hear voices from the opposite side of the world. They longed to get to know people with different geographical and cultural backgrounds in person, and listen to their daily conversations. At the same time, people from around the world were drawn closer. However, radio was monopolized by large broadcast networks like NBC and CBS, broadcasting regular radio programs designed to benefit the government and broadcast companies, limiting radio as a platform of free communication. As time passed, people became accustomed to being fed information, instead of expressing their own ideas.
The next media revolution was the introduction of moving picture to accompany sounds, the introduction of movies and television. Whilst these media added visual appeal they still suffered from the inherent limitation of being an essentially one way communication tool.