John Dewey wrote 2.5 human generations ago (in 1927) about what we now find so valuable in digital peer to peer systems of communication that enable better freedom of Expression, Transparency, and Collaboration. Dewey’s writing was in response to Walter Lippmann who wrote cynically about the “Phantom Public” and in that era of broadcast-top-down-one-way-media on the rise it’s no wonder Dewey offered that the public was just temporarily “eclipsed.”
Today, not only are we the Public able to return, but we now have technology systems for constant rewriting of social code, laws, relations, power dynamics. Jay Rosen’s aphorism hits on this, that the publics are “the people formerly known as the audience.” The struggles that lead to Lippmann’s cynicism are far from behind us, the concentration of power has also increased in our digital networked era, and we the Public will need all the smarts and collaboration we can muster to remove the constant obstructions and restrictions continually put in our paths.
“There can be no public without full publicity in respect to all consequences which concern it. Whatever obstructs and restricts publicity, limits and distorts public opinion and checks and distorts thinking on social affairs. Without freedom of expression, not even methods of social inquiry can be developed. For tools can be evolved and perfected only in operation; in application to observing, reporting and organizing actual subject-matter; and this application cannot occur save through free and systematic communication.”
– John Dewey, The Public & its Problems, 1927
(Image: RHoK Nairobi, Kenya, photo by whiteafrican)