As the Internet has revolutionized the sending and receiving of information, it has likewise changed the ways we interact with each other. How either of these factors will affect the social landscape in the long run has yet to be determined.
Some commentators have suggested that the information revolution is driving a wider political, economic, and social revolution in advanced nations. As a result of their generally optimistic view of changes associated with the computer revolution, they have been dubbed computopians. They tout the democratic potential of computer- mediated communication by referencing the actual design or the network. Through this network, communicative interaction, democratic participation, and a sense of community are facilitated.
Computopians also believe that new technology will bring an end to many of the problems associated with industrial society. Pollution will become a thing of the past. Income disparities will disappear along with monotonous factory work as we all become white-collar “knowledge workers” in a merit-based economy. Leisure time will increase as computer-controlled machines do more of our work. It will become more difficult for governments and corporations to conceal information from ordinary citizens as information becomes more freely and openly available.
The computopians, however, are pitted against the dystopians, who say that while computer-based technologies have the potential to bring tremendous benefits to mankind, there is nothing inherent in these technologies that makes this inevitable, Rather than viewing the Internet merely as a tool, dystopians emphasize the potential of the medium to affect communication in such a way as to irreparably alter the practices and spaces of communication that had previously nurtured democracy. Dystopians predict that democracy will deteriorate as the social fabric of society becomes fragmented and people become more isolated.
In further building their cases, dystopians refer to the increasing convergence of media technologies as an indicator of a trend toward
media oligopoly. One prominent critic, Robert McChesney, says that the most striking development of the 1990s was the emergence of a global media market dominated by large corporations. Far from information becoming more freely available, he says, it is increasingly being monopolized for commercial purposes. Dystopians point to this global information divide as evidence that the world predicted by computopiuns has failed to materialize.
Computopiuns reply that, as with newspapers and television, it will take time for new technologies to filter down to the rest of the world's population, but that when they do, information and wealth disparities will decrease. In the meantime, say the computopians, the Interne t- the vanguard of the information society - is boosting the power of the ordinary citizen in relation to corporations and governments. Technology, which has gone hand in hand with democracy throughout modern history, from the printing press to the World Wide Web, has its own motivational power and will march steadily on despite attempts to control it.