Chris Anderson's The Long Tail

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Chris Anderson's The Long Tail

Chris Anderson's The Long Tail


Few twentieth-century institutions have influenced Americans as much as the mass media. Especially since World War II, television, radio, and more recently the Internet have encroached into the lives of people from all classes and walks of life. The media generate an increasing wealth of information and services daily. In their purest form, the media provide the populace with the information it needs to function as a democracy. Matthew P. McAllister, in his book The Commercialization of American Culture, observes that “a well-developed media system, informing and teaching its citizens, helps democracy move toward its ideal state.” (Bajomi, 2001)

In addition to informing the populace, this boundless store of information provokes controversy. Many people object to the quality of much of the material found in the media—especially violent and sexually explicit material. These critics respond by supporting legislation that places limits on media content. Some laws forbid the production and distribution of material deemed obscene or indecent. (Mattelart, 1998)Many people are adamantly opposed to placing restrictions on media content, claiming that these restrictions violate the right to free speech. (Bond, 2001)

Freedom of speech has become an indelible part of Western culture. In the United States it is unlikely that the Constitution would have been ratified if it did not contain the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Originally, the “press” meant primarily newspapers, books, magazines, and eventually motion pictures, but the term has since come to refer to radio, television, and the Internet as well. (Curran, 2000)

In the modern age there are numerous problems with determining what speech is harmful and with deciding how the harm can be effectively reduced without unnecessarily restricting free speech. The tension between the public's right to free speech and the government's right to regulate harmful speech is thus a central issue in debates over the mass media. Two current topics in which this tension is particularly pronounced are the debate over pornography on the Internet and violence on television.

The Internet is a particularly difficult technology to monitor because, unlike radio, television, and newspapers, the information is not generated from a limited number of outlets, but from a galaxy of websites and research engines. As a result, it has become nearly impossible to monitor Internet information from the point of origin. Anyone can access sites, including pornographic ones, easily and privately. Those who wish to restrict pornographic Internet sites either support technological methods, like Internet filtering software, or legislation requiring service providers to monitor and limit pornography. Walter S. Baer, a communications and information policy specialist at RAND, writes that “government laws and regulations should encourage technical and other means to enable us to determine what kinds of information we let into our homes.” Many people, like Baer, believe that technological solutions are better than legislative ones because they preserve the freedom of ...
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