Why I Love Benkler: My Top 10 List


Yochai Benkler

The Benkler article (http://www.benkler.org/Benkler_Wealth_Of_Networks_Chapter_10.pdf) was a favorite reading last year and in subsequent courses, I’ve come back to it again and again (have to love that cut and paste when doing the reference).  I think he nails key concepts about the internet, our interactions with the web, how and why people use the web as they do in their relationships and how it affects our ties with one another.

So here are my top 10 reasons for loving Benkler and his usefulness as a guide and reference in communications studies:

10. The ways in which we socialize and social software are evolving together to offer ‘richer contexts for forging new relationships’ (p. 376). All kinds of human relationships that we couldn’t have before are now possible.

9.   These new relationships don’t replace our older relationships. In fact, we communicate more and not less with our family and friends and geographically co-located neighbors.

8.   We use “Internet-based social connections” to thicken our pre-existing relationships (p. 376).

7.   The image of a ‘pastoral community’ as the ideal is the wrong image of how we interact as social creatures. “We are a networked society now” (p. 376).

6.   This abundance of interactions isn’t going to degenerate into a state of anomie because we naturally employ strong filters.

5.   “People do what they can, not what they cannot.” When a new way of communicating becomes available, “people will communicate with each other in ways and amounts that they could not before” (p. 372).

4.   The needs of the group as a group are different from those of individuals and social software is being designed with the group in mind.

3.   “(The Internet) offers one-to-one, one-to-few, one-to-many and many-to-many communications capabilities, more diverse…than any medium for social communication that preceded it, including – on the dimensions of distance, asynchronicity and many-to-many capabilities – even that richest of media: face-to-face communications.” (p. 370).

2.   “Communication is constitutive of social relations. We cannot have relationships except by communicating with others” (p. 369).

And my personal and frequently quoted favorite when I want to cast doubt on someone predicting the end of the world as we know it…

1. In the 1990s, two views of the Internet prevailed – that it would destroy human relationships or that it would create a utopia. Benkler points out that research suggests that neither view was completely right, but that “it was the dystopian view that got it especially wrong” (p. 356, 357).


3 Responses to “Why I Love Benkler: My Top 10 List”

  1. Judith, I love that you made this chapter so succinct. He covers a lot, but you certainly pulled out some of the best. Point #2 especially. No one forges any ties by being a hermit! And, point #4 ties in well with the Shirky reading from today whereby he says “a group of people interacting with one another will exhibit behaviors that cannot be predicted by examining the individuals in isolation,” (http://shirky.com/writings/group_politics.html) something so true, yet oft forgotten.

  2. 2 KateInAlberta

    Judith, great post! Very well summarized, as Crystal points out, hitting the key points succinctly. Nice touch including the photo 😉

    • Thank you. I find his work foundational – it’s a rare paper that his insights don’t add something.

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