Sunday, July 27, 2014

Interview with Habermas: "Internet and Public Sphere"

An English translation of an interview with Jürgen Habermas from June 2014 is now available at "Reset: Dialogues on Civilizations":

"Internet and Public Sphere"


Q: Is internet beneficial or unbeneficial for democracy?

A: It is neither one nor the other. After the inventions of writing and printing, digital communication represents the third great innovation on the media plane. With their introduction, these three media forms have enabled an ever growing number of people to access an ever growing mass of information. These are made to be increasingly lasting, more easily. With the last step represented by Internet we are confronted with a sort of “activation” in which readers themselves become authors. Yet, this in itself does not automatically result in progress on the level of the public sphere. Throughout the nineteenth-century – with the aid of books and mass newspapers – we witnessed the birth of national public spheres where the attention of an undefined number of people could simultaneously apply itself to the same identical problems. This however, did not depend on the technical level with which facts were multiplied, accelerated, rendered lasting. At heart, these are the same centrifugal movements that still occur today in the web. Rather, the classical public sphere stemmed from the fact that the attention of an anonymous public was “concentrated” on a few politically important questions that had to be regulated. This is what the web does not know how to produce. On the contrary, the web actually distracts and dispels. Think about, for example, the thousand portals that are born every day: for stamp collectors, for scholars of European constitutional law, for support groups of ex-alcoholics. In the mare magnum of digital noises these communicative communities are like dispersed archipelagos: there are billions of them. What these communicative spaces (closed in themselves) are lacking is an inclusive bind, the inclusive force of a public sphere highlighting what things are actually important. In order to create this “concentration”, it is first necessary to know how to choose – know and comment on – relevant contributions, information and issues. In short, even in the mare magnum of digital noise, the skills of good old journalism – as necessary today as they were yesterday – should not be lost.

The interview was published in German in "Frankfurter Rundschau" on June 14, 2014, titled "Im Sog der Gedanken". It has also been published in "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" and "Berliner Zeitung".

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