A Response to Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks
I buy Benkler’s argument for the internet marriage of increased autonomy with increased socialization.
The internet differentiated itself from other forms of media in one main way: social access. In Reality is Broken, McGonigal attempts to argue for socialization being enhanced by gamification. She has good points, pointing out video games and social media games as ways friends and family members connect. After reading Benkler, however, I can better articulate where I found McGonigal’s argument to falls short.
Although McGonigal’s arguments are valid for gamification increasing socialization, it should be pointed out that the majority of her examples include internet use. Video games, such as World of Warcraft, can connect players to online communities and social media games, such as Farmville, are often found on leading internet websites.
Benkler points believes the internet has not taken away from our social interactions, but it enhances them. I am fascinated by this complexity of this study. The internet “thickens” our relationships while also “loosening traditional hierarchy” (Benkler 357). I also find it interesting that individuals decrease their television watching as they increase their internet use, and internet use has “no reported effect on time spent with family,” (Benkler 362).
I think I am more inclined to accept Benkler’s theory of socialization over McGonigal’s, because it has less to do with escapism. Although McGonigal denies games as escapism, I find this a difficult argument to make. Games present us with unnecessary tasks. Although we feel accomplished when we complete tasks in games, they do do directly effect our “real” world according to McGonigal. So while online gaming communities may help individuals to not feel so alone, I can’t make myself see them as equating social media communication regarding the “reality” McGonigal describes as broken.
The internet does improve our reality through social media, however. In my own life, I keep in touch with friends from childhood, high school, college, family, etc. on Facebook. Without this social networking site, there would be a significant cut in the amount of friends I communicate with on a regular basis. Also, job networking has changed dramatically with sites such as LinkedIn. Discussions can start in groups between complete strangers, and valuable resources can be found this easily. This is significant, because it shows how the internet significantly effects our reality. Human to computer relation can directly lead to increased human to human interaction.
There has been a significant increase in the use of social media sites by older demographics in the past year. This is a humorous example.