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Howard Rheingold Disappointed by Jurgen Habermas

Howard Rheingold attended a Jurgen Habermas lecture recently and walked away very disappointed. For the uninitiated Habermas’s concept of the public sphere is part of the philosophical underpinnings of the public journalism movement. Habermas also deeply affected Rheingold, who writes in his blog post:

When I wrote The Virtual Community in 1992, the most important question to me was whether or not the advent of many-to-many communication via the Internet would lead to stronger or weaker democracies, more or less personal liberty, which led me to the work of Jurgen Habermas on what he called “the public sphere.”

As it turns out Rheingold has still not resolved that question and after the lecture at Stanford, he asked Habermas:

…what he thought of the future and health of the public sphere, now that the broadcast era he wrote about has been supplanted by an infosphere in which so many people use the infosphere to express political opinion. 

Rheingold says of Habermas’s response:

He blew me off! 

Rheingold was most distressed that Habermas didn’t seem to understand the digital revolution, and should have said that young scholars should be continuing his earlier work and its  relevancy to the age of the internet because Rheingold writes:

unless we know, and know soon, whether or not the web as it is developing can revitalize the public sphere, all other philosophical conversations may be mooted by the rise of disinfotainment, disinformocracy  and the actual emergence of the simulation that we don’t recognize as a simulation described by Baudrillard.

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