The documentary Us Now (2009) is a fascinating look at the power of mass communication.
The documentary shows us different groups of strangers who have been bought together over the internet and through mass communication.
There is a group of online young mum’s who exchange child tips with each other and eventually we are shown a group of these women meeting up in the real world. One of the members of this group, Lorayn Brown, speaks about the loss of community in the real world, where there may have been community spirit years ago she alleges this has now disappeared somewhat, and the best way she can see to reinvigorate this kind of community and spirit is through the internet.
Online acquaintances turning into real world friendships is becoming more common these days, another example shown in the documentary is that of couch surfers, people who use a website while traveling to connect with other users who are willing to have travelers crash on their couch. Us Now (2009) speaks about the trust involved in these situation. Placing your trust with a complete stranger is hard for anyone to do, but couch surfers asks this of its users in return for free accommodation. A feedback forum on most websites does negate the problem a little bit, as someone who was a terrible guest may receive harsh criticism warning other users not to let them stay or vice versa, if a host acts inappropriately people can put out a warning via feedback.
Rheingold discusses this concept of online communities in his work Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2012) in particular chapter 4 titled ‘Social-digital know-how: The arts and sciences of Collective Intelligence’ (2012). Rheingold discusses the differences between real communities and online ones and he alleges that these differences come down to whether or not the members of the communities actually care about each other (Rheingold 2012).
Care is shown in the online groups in the documentary, in particular the online mum’s group, when Lorayn explains that if bad advice is given by one mum on the group other mums will immediately point out that this is not the right advice to follow. This shows that the members care for each other in the real world; they want to provide each other with good advice and help each other out.
Another factor that Us Now (2009) discusses is the threat mass communication poses to the government and public services. Mass communication makes a sort of ‘gift economy’ a substantial reality. Sharing the knowledge you have with others is a small price to pay to be able to obtain the knowledge many others might have and may be willing to share with you. Websites like Mozilla Firefox and Linux, free softwares available for download, demonstrate the power of these online communities and the altruistic actions they can exhibit which can result in benefits for many. While Microsoft spend billions of dollars to create its software, Linux offers free downloads to anyone who wants it. This type of action threatens the status quo.