Our Changing Relationship with the Internet
—From Media and Culture, 10e (to be published in February 2015)

Mobile devices and social media have altered our relationship with the Internet. Two trends are noteworthy: (1) Apple now makes more than five times as much money selling iPhones, iPads, and iPods and accessories as they do selling computers, and (2) the number of Facebook’s users (1.23 billion in 2014) keeps increasing. The significance of these two trends is that through our Apple devices and Facebook, we now inhabit a different kind of Internet—what some call a closed Internet, or a walled garden.18

In the world in which the small screens of smartphones are becoming the preferred medium for linking to the Internet, we typically don’t get the full, open Internet, one represented by the vast searches brought to us by Google. Instead we get a more managed Internet, brought to us by apps or platforms that carry out specific functions via the Internet. Are you looking for a nearby restaurant? Don’t search on the Internet—use this app especially designed for that purpose. And the distributors of these apps act as gatekeepers. Apple has more than 1.15 million apps in its App Store, and Apple approves every one of them. The competing Android Appstores on Google Play and Amazon have a similar number of apps (with many fewer apps in the Windows Store), but Google and Amazon exercise less control over approval of apps than Apple does.

Facebook offers a similar walled garden experience. Facebook began as a highly managed environment, only allowing those with .edu e-mail addresses. Although all are now invited to join Facebook, the interface and the user experience on the site is still highly managed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his staff. For example, if you click on a link to a news article that your friend has shared using a social reader app on Facebook, you will be prompted to add the same app—giving it permission to post your activity to your Wall—before you can access the article. In addition, Facebook has severely restricted what content can be accessed through the open Internet. Facebook has installed measures to stop search engines from indexing users’ photos, Wall posts, videos, and other data. The effect of both Apple’s devices and the Facebook interface is a clean, orderly, easy-to-use environment, but one in which we are “tethered” to the Apple App Store, or to Facebook.19

The open Internet—best represented by Google (but not its Google+ social networking service, which is more confining like Facebook) and a Web browser—promised to put the entire World Wide Web at your fingertips. On the one hand, the appeal of the Internet is its openness, its free-for-all nature. But of course, the trade-off is that the open Internet can be chaotic and unruly, and apps and other walled garden services have streamlined the cacophony of the Internet considerably for us.



….. In today’s converged world in which mobile access to digital content prevails, Microsoft and Google still remain powerful. Those two, along with Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, are the five leading companies of digital media’s rapidly changing world. All five corporations except for Facebook also operate proprietary cloud services, and encourage their customers to store all of their files in their "walled garden" for easy access across all devices. This ultimately builds brand loyalty and generates customer fees for file storage).23