Models of Communication:
Broadcast/Centralized vs. Internet/Distributed

Stewart Dickson
Copyright 2000

Here are the reasons we must pay attention to the Internet.

In the top half of the following image is the "old" model of electronic media. It is comprised of a small number of expensive broadcast-only devices (A), which transmit signals through Free Air (actually, a Federally- Administered limited publicly-owned resource, known as the Standard Broadcast transmission frequency spectrum) to a large number of low-cost receive-only devices (B). (C) is our friend, the Military-Industrial Complex. (D) is centralized media production.

Some attributes of this model:

  1. The information property is centralized due to the cost of broadcast.
  2. Once it is broadcast, the intellectual content is essentially lost -- unless captured by home-based analog devices (VCR). But the coding of the intellectual information is essentially opaque and inaccessible.
  3. The electronic media culture is closed, elitist and entirely self-referential -- the only thing it has to compare itself to is itself.
  4. The measure of public response to the media is vague and inaccurate -- to its own advantage!
  5. It is a hierarchical, top-down model.

Schematic diagram showing broadcast versus point-to-point communication

The second model, in the lower half of the attached image, is the Internet. This is a flat network of (reasonably) low-cost desktop stations which not only receive, but can create and transmit electronic media.

The Internet is literally a world-wide web: at the limit it is a network of wires run from house-to-house, which spans the globe. In the perfect world, each person owns and supports his(her) network node and half of the wires running from his or her house.

Some attributes of this model:

  1. The information property is distributed.
  2. The intellectual content is always available, recoverable, and directly accessible to analysis by computer-aided methods and by autonomous computer agents.
  3. The electronic media culture is open to EGALITARIAN critism.
  4. The measure of public response to the media is as accurate as the available computer-based analytical tools -- I have great faith in the ability of these tools to show us things about our culture which have the potential to radically affect out culture.
  5. It is a flat, grass-roots model.

Komrades! The Internet is is the stuff Peoples' Revolutions are made of! If we cannot take control of the television station, we can usurp its power by becoming our own television station!

We must pay attention to and immerse ourselves in this new culture. It is the future. We must be there if we want to know what is coming. It is happening too fast to know in any other way.