[NOTEBOOK]Net plays a role in democracy

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[NOTEBOOK]Net plays a role in democracy

Some time ago, I met a CD producer. After having produced and imported classical music discs at a large recording company for a long time, he established his own small label. His company introduced a series of works by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Peter Schubert and Johannes Brahms played by Russian cellist Daniil Shafran, which were received favorably by music lovers.
Shafran has been less known to us because he remained in his home country even though his abilities exceeded Mstislav Rostropovich, who left the Soviet Union for the West. I congratulated the producer on his successful start, but he reacted unexpectedly: Although he has searched warehouses of Russian CD companies and found some rare releases of Shafran’s recordings, he could hardly make ends meet.
I asked him in disbelief whether that was true and his answer was more surprising: He said the market for music CDs was drying up. He said it was difficult to sell CDs because of the economic recession and the trend toward downloading music off the Internet.
Although it has been only 10 years since the Internet came into wide use, things have changed tremendously. Changes that are equal to a revolution are under way in the service industry.
As computer-mediated information, games, entertainment, shopping, education, media and administration become possible, modes and contents of service are being changed.
In the past, society was government- and business-centered, where living was impossible without visiting government agencies, schools and shops directly. In the present, however, it is being turned into a consumer-oriented society in which a lot of work is done on the computer. This is a lifestyle revolution achieved by two-way communication and mass communication through computers.
Most noteworthy is that the Internet, which has only absorbed so far, has begun to produce. More Internet users are not content to be shuttered up in the cyber world, indulging in pornography or enjoying games, but they also show interest in the issues of the offline world and take an active part in them.
For example, Internet users have recently voiced their opinion loudly to change the design of the vehicle license plates, saying that their design is tacky, so the government finally had to accept their opinion.
In another case, when a 500-million-won project to publish a directory of pro-Japanese Koreans was abandoned after budget deliberations in the National Assembly, Internet users proposed a fund-raising campaign and accomplished their goal in just 11 days.
These cases show that citizens can demonstrate their collective power on the Internet. In the past, only newspapers and broadcasters could confront the government publicly and put pressure on the Assembly. But now civic groups assert that they can go a step further to reform politics through campaigns in the April elections.
There are as many as 26 million domestic Internet users, and there is no place that the Internet cannot reach. Internet users’ participation in social issues will only increase as time goes by.
This brings expectations that such participation through the Internet will ultimately change the backward culture in every sector of our society, including politics, and expand our democracy substantially.
But its foundation seems still unstable. We need to take a pause and reflect on the Internet culture. It is highly likely that cyberspace could lead to an exclusive society. Internet users can make rude remarks under the cover of anonymity, and then log off easily if they don’t want to stay online any longer. They can form their own group cultures, and such insular groups are prone to be extremist and destructive.
Because of concerns about such extreme partiality, people criticize Internet campaigns that lobby for or against particular candidates as character assassination attempts.
In acknowledging others and being willing to engage in dialogue, there will be a circle in which our collective intellect becomes alive in the online world and the influence of civil society increases in the off-line world.
Internet users should take the lead in creating a mature online culture where various discussions, such as how to create a system of real-name financial transactions, can be conducted. They should also make efforts to broaden their scope of participation in society to include issues such as the environment, poverty, human rights and globalization.
The Internet is no longer a special technical tool but a world in itself. We should endeavor to make freedom and responsibility work in that world as well.

* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Deok-nyung
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