All media are not the same: different media have different biases. Some tend to empower centralized, top-down authorities while weakening the periphery, while others tend to empower those who were formerly on the edges. Some reinforce the status quo, while others tend to dissemble it.

Media play an increasingly essential role in shaping our perceptions of the world and our interactions with it. Almost instantaneous exchange of digitized information enables new forms of community, experience, commerce and information gathering. Rising from the ashes of television and other centralized media networks that only allow one-way communication is the distributed, decentralized, peer-to-peer network that is the backbone of interactive media. Traditional mass media is shrinking, and along with it, the various forms of control exercised by those who dominate it. The internet and the interactive media that it enables give the human beings living at its countless nodes the chance to be more than passive consumers of information. They can also be the creators of information. More and more, those of us participating in interactive media are having a conversation with others. With this increased discourse comes a new and significant set of interactions between the many nodes in the network. This greater number of interactions will bring about unforeseen social, political, and economic patterns and effects that are not the result of any deliberate design.

We can understand media as coming in two basic types: non-interactive and interactive. Non-interactive or broadcast media, including television, movies, radio, newspapers, magazines, books and some websites, only enable one-to-many, non-interactive information dissemination and at a relatively slow pace of communication. Interactive media, including weblogs, chat, email, telephone, web applications and games enable one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-one information exchange in virtually real-time.

Non-interactive broadcast media, with their accompanying centralization of control over production and distribution of information, empower their owners. These owners recognize that the control of information enables the control of people since political power is the hands of those that command news and information. As Ben Bagdikian writes, these information controllers have "the power to disclose or conceal, to announce some parts and not others, to hold back until opportunistic moments, to predetermine the interpretation of what is revealed. Leaders of democracies no less than medicine men, shamans, kings, and dictators are jealous of their power over ideas, as eager to control information as they are to control armies." (1) As passive consumers of information, broadcast media's audience has no avenue for feedback or for the expression of disagreement.

In contrast, many voices can participate in the conversations made possible by interactive media. With information flowing not only from the top down but from the bottom up and from side to side, the power imbalance inherent in the broadcast media system that was so prominent in the 20th century is eroded more and more. Increasingly there is a dialogue between media participants who used to be strictly characterized as either information producers or information consumers. Since interactive media enable access to countless information sources, they have a democratizing effect for their users. The new network structure enables non-hierarchical discourse, allowing a multitude of voices and opinions to be heard and challenging the traditional linear structures of communication. This democratization of media and information flow greatly empowers those who choose to participate in the exchange. We no longer need to hope and pray that media will address the issues we care about, because we can address them ourselves with ever increasing convenience.

This ability to communicate with others quickly, directly, inexpensively and anonymously-whether using text, speech, image, audio, video, or animation-revolutionizes how we can create, experience and maintain non-local human relationships. New kinds of non-traditional communities are able to be created and fostered. The rapidity of information exchange and social networking capability is utilized to communicate in new and varied ways.

The linear increase in the volume of two-way communication will produce non-linear changes in the systems that most significantly affect our behavior. This new world of increased interaction with others, with whom a given user may or may not share a common geographic location, age group, gender (or other classification that has traditionally been a basis for interaction) will have positive, negative, and, most significantly, completely unpredictable effects. The multiplication of information and interaction channels will result in the proliferation of emergent social, political and economic sub-systems. These systems will alter the landscape of our daily life in critical ways. Just as technological changes such as the plow enabled us to group ourselves into cities and radically alter our ways of life in a manner we could never have predicted, so will the changes in media and information flows cause us to undergo yet another major transformation that will radically alter how we experience each other and the world around us.

1. Bagdikian, Ben. The Media Monopoly. Boston: Beacon Press, 1983.
© 2008 David Yates