Statement of Problem

Rationale and Research Questions





     The Internet has revolutionized the communications world like nothing before it.  It has world-wide broadcasting capability, provides a mechanism for information dissemination, and provides a medium for collaboration and interaction between both individuals and groups that are not geographically dependent (Leiner, Cerf, Clark, Kahn, Kleinrock, Lynch, Postel, Roberts, & Wolff, 1998). 
       Prior to 1992, the Internet was a research vehicle used primarily by a small community of academics. Since that time, it has doubled in size every 12-18 months. In spite of system complexity, significant learning curves and cost, its popularity grows. The purposes and potential of the Internet is mind-boggling. It offers vast amounts of specific information but its popularity goes beyond this. It offers everything the telephone, the telegraph, and the television offer plus the thrill of being connected. "There is the thrill of plugging into an almost universal entity, a sense that one can access virtually anything, can communicate effortlessly with other people across space and time" (Gackenbach, Guthrie, & Karpen, 1998). 
       This project will investigate the purpose and effectiveness of current military use of web sites as they apply to web communication. To do this, research will detail the current use of military sites through a survey of current Department of Defense webmasters regarding their opinion of purpose and control by DoD of those sites. Information from this research can be used to further study the use of the web by the military and to obtain a better understanding of what effective web sites include.
History of the Internet
       The development of the Internet was a response to a strategic problem posed to the American think tank, the Rand Corporation, during the Cold War of the 1960's. How could the government keep informed and maintain order in the United States after a nuclear war, if conventional communications technologies were all destroyed?  The answer was to create a networked system with no central control--one that was so redundant--it would not matter if part of it were destroyed. Every node on the Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPANET) would be equal to every other node in its ability to send, relay and receive messages. Messages would be constructed as a number of coded and addressed packages that would be sent to their destination by any route.
       This concept suited the military mandate, but was an engineering nightmare for AT&T. Telephone switching technology had dedicated circuitry designed to carry only analogue signals so the Department of Defense took the project to university researchers where an Internet Protocol (IP) was developed that allowed computers to connect to the network. Gateway computers would translate data from users into a Net language for sending and retranslate the message back for receiving. Since the early users were academics, their goal was to develop a network for free and publicly shared information. Eventually, the university traffic was so heavy that the military moved to a new network (Military Network) (Gackenbach & Ellerman, 1998).
      By 1986, Usenet (Unix User Network-connected computers of students and faculty) was so large that administrators proposed seven hierarchies of use: computers, miscellaneous, news, recreation, science, society and talk.  "The last of the groups, `talk' was designed as a repository for all the unsavory, salacious, politically incorrect and socially psychotic newsgroups that had appeared like banana slugs among the Usenet flora” (Roland, 1997).  This was the first attempt at censorship because it enabled administrators to manage or censor the talk and resulted in the "Great Renaming" (Gackenbach, & Ellerman, 1998).  Subversion tactics were used and alternate routing was created.  It became obvious to network administrators that they had no real control over the content of the medium. 
       The World Wide Web (WWW) began in March of 1989 due to the creation of universal standards by European researchers. This technology created hypertext linking. Any word or phrase in a message could be highlighted so that the coding behind it creates a link. This hi-tech indexing systems allows for surfing the web for information (Roland, 1997). Links coupled with browsers and search engines turned the Internet into a mass medium. By 1990, the Internet was truly open to the general public for business and pleasure. The individual had a voice.  Unlike radio and television, now ordinary people could construct their own homepages, and announce their existence on the Web. On the Internet, people could say what they wanted to at any time and be heard. The invention of WWW and free browser technology precluded corporate or government domination, or censorship (Roland, 1997).
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
       McLuhan (1967) said, “The medium is the message,” and this appears to be the case with the Internet. This “message” of the Internet can be determined by the change of scale or pace it introduces into human affairs. Web communication can be likened to the railway system, which did not introduce movement or transportation as people knew it, but accelerated previous human functions and created new cities, work and leisure activities through this acceleration (McLuhan, 1967).
       According to Gackenbach et al. (1998) this acceleration of web communication is the connecting of all individual computers into “one large world-wide computer.”  With the multi-media and virtual reality, people do not have to live, meet, or work face to face to develop significant social relationships.
       Goetzel (1998) compares the current intrernet to the mind of a young child, and sees the future bringing maturity to this infantile mind. 
“Over the next decade, I believe we will see the evolution of the Net into a full-fledged, largely atonomous, globally distributed intelligence system.  As this occurs we will see this Internet artificial intelligence (AI) network wind itself further and further into human affairs, yielding a synergetic, symbiotic global intelligent system, incorporating machine and human intelligence into a single continuum of thought--a human--digital global brain.” 
       Goetzel (1998) adds that the change to come can be compared to the discovery of tools, language, or even civilization.  According to Goetzel (1998), those who are young today will be the first generation ever to witness a major change in collective humanity. It will lead to artificial intelligence (AI), which Goetzel (1998) states can only come out of a large, complex, self-organizing system.
        According to Goetzel (1998), special programming is not the catalyst, but rather the special "core twist" of intelligence. A complex system, skilled at recognizing patterns in its environment, can turn inward and recognize patterns in itself, creating circles and spirals of constructive self-recognition. The core of intelligence cannot be imitated, but emerges from the statistical chaos of a large system whose parts are working independently. 
       In determining a communication perspective for the Internet, this research looks at Chaos, Uses and Gratification, and Agenda Setting theories as a means of weaving together the intricacies of this information medium.
       With increasingly complex systems, the synergistic collective behavior of the components of the Internet, gives rise to increasingly sophisticated results. The science of complexity has emerged from several disciplines to include mathematics, physics, biology, and climatology. It is coined Chaos Theory and according to Russell (1995), “complex systems have three basic characteristics: 1) quantity and diversity-the system contains a large number of different elements: 2) organization-the many components are organized into various interrelated structures: and, 3) connectivity-the components are connected through physical links, energy interchanges, or some form of a communications link.”
       According to Gackenbach, et al. (1998), Chaos Theory can be applied to the study of the Internet in that it has both elements required by the theory: complex architecture and behavior. Complex architecture and behavior create two main impacts: great descriptive power, and the liability of proper management and programming. When comparing the workings of the Internet to the workings of the human brain, it can be seen how Chaos Theory, and other theories interface, and how the Internet's connectivity and interactive properties provide a new and powerful communication responsibility. The brains flow of attention manifests from neural nets which become hardwired by self-programming from what we learn from teachers, parents, media, environment, etc. The flow of electronic information in the Internet evolves from modeling our usage, our interests, and most basically, our flow of attention. Both neural and electronic nets can know anything. Just as the brain grows when it is exposed to new information, the Internet grows and evolves to greater levels of organization (Gackenbach, et al., 1998).
        However, proponents of Chaos theory would point out that "as it (the Internet) grows, it becomes more adept at reflecting, representing and extending our patterns of attention, and thus becomes a more powerful tool. This increased capability extends our experience and power, thus changes our experience and thereby our attention patterns (Gackenbach, et al., 1998). 
       Uses and Gratification theory says the consumer is an active and discriminating user of the media (Littlejohn, 1996). This theory was first published in 1944 by Paul Lazarsfeld and states that the focus of using the media changed the audience, or consumer, from being inactive participants to active participants by having the choice of what media the user selects for gratification (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997). The consumer is assumed to be goal-oriented, and is responsible for choosing the specific medium that will meet a need at a certain point in time (Littlejohn, 1996). Depending on the media that is chosen, the consumer can then choose ways to gratify these needs from the options of that particular medium.
 Through further research of uses and gratifications, theorists developed three main objectives. Infante, et al. (1997) explains that researchers wanted to know how consumers use the media to gratify specific needs, what were the underlying motives for the specific media use, and what were the positive and negative consequences of choosing that specific media use for personal needs. According to Rubin (1984), two types of television viewers were identified; instrumental and ritualized (as cited in Infante, et al., 1997). 
      The ritualized viewer uses the television medium primarily out of habit. This medium is used more frequently, and also used as a form of diversion (Infante, et al., 1997). The instrumental viewers use the television medium mainly for information. These users are more goal-oriented and selective than the ritualized user (Infante, et al., 1997).
      When discussing the Internet as a medium, these two types of television viewers can also be compared to Internet users. Although it has yet to be proven, an “instrumental” Internet user may be described as someone who uses the world wide web as a main source of information. It could include not only news, but also banking services, shopping on-line, and getting medical information. The “ritualized” user of the Internet may have a hard time when resources such as email or list server services are not available on demand. However, because of its infancy, these cannot be concrete statements until further research is conducted on Internet usage.
While exposure to the Internet initially may be a result of coincidence or of mere curiosity about new technologies, continuous usage of the Internet and web sites will likely disappear without great rewards or gratification of the consumer (Eighmey, 1997). A recent pilot study compared the studies of television programming and the audience rewards and gratifications to the user rewards and gratifications of commercial web sites (Eighmey, 1997). The study found that the benefits were similar between television and web sites, and that there were great benefits to the Internet user because of the interactive capabilities. According to Eighmey (1997), Internet users were also attracted to information that is time period commensurate with the value of that information. 
      Because the uses and gratifications theory allows for a more active communicator, the audience, or consumer, also then must make sense of its content (Rubin & Windahl, 1986).  What does this mean to the media? The agenda-setting theory now becomes a concern for the consumer. The mass media sets the agenda of what the public is to think about, but does not tell the public what opinions to hold (Brosius & Weimann, 1996). 
Agenda setting determines what issues are important and why others are not; how and when the news will be reported to the public; how is the public is influenced by the media agendas; and, does it affect public policy (Dearing & Rogers, 1996). Media agenda-setting encompasses every influence that affects the media’s content (Reese, 1991). By limiting and prioritizing important issues, the media does have a powerful and pervasive effect, no matter how indirect, on public opinion  (Reese, 1991).
      Agenda-setting theory says the media purposely influences the consumer's attitudes and agendas. On the Internet, the individual has the potential of immediately reacting to a message and contributing to the effects of the message through interaction. Many times the individual is the beginning and the end of the communication cycle (Littlejohn, 1996). 
      Based on the perspectives of Chaos, Uses and Gratifications, and Agenda-setting theory, this research stands to make the following assumptions: 
      Uses and gratifiactions theory states that the public or consumer uses the media to satisfy certain needs and which ever medium they choose to get reach that goal has served its purpose. This research assumes that the consumer will use the Internet to satisfy its needs through this new technology, an extension of media. Although, according to the agenda-setting theory, it really doesn’t matter which medium is used, the public will be fed only what the media wants to feed the public. The public will think about what the media sets into play. It does not, however, mean that the media tries to manipulate what the public’s opinions and attitudes will be. That is strictly up to the consumer. The assumption of this research is that the Internet will play a similar role by placing on its web sites what it wants the consumer to think about and/or shop for, etc.
       Another assumption of this research is that the complex architecture and behavior theorized in the Chaos Theory could be utilized in military web communication through agenda-setting practices. In this manner, web masters determine what information will be posted and therefore presented to the public. The public then determines what perception they hold of the military through the information presented.
       A fourth assumption is that due to the complexities of the Internet explained by the Chaos theory, web masters need to focus information to the instrumental user, but still be appealing to the ritualized user as explained through the perspective of the uses and gratifications theory.
The Why of the Internet
       The uniqueness of the Internet and the capacity to send information through a medium that attracts virtually everyone with access, has captured the attention of the government and corporate America in a way that no other media has been able to. In his 1993 proposal on reengineering through information technology, Gore stated that the government and private sector corporations must join together to improve the nation’s information infrastructure. Government officials carry more of this responsibility because it is government that produces the systems and determines the policy for their use (Gore, 1993). 
       This consolidation of government and private information technology can be obtained through the example of France’s Minitel System. It was developed in the early 1980’s as a telephone system, which the U.S. telecommunications sector has also adopted. In the system of information, the federal government, as a potential customer, could assist the private sector in stimulating development in information systems (Gore, 1993).
       Gore (1993) also explains that access by the private citizen to the government will reduce the complexities of the government system that is in place for the citizens. According to Gore (1993), this reduction in complexity can be accomplished by government, and private corporation partnerships, in order to implement ideas on information technology for the future. Since 1993, government policy makers have determined its purpose for the Internet and world wide web within the infrastructure of the DoD (Hamre, 1998).
       According to Hamre (1998), the DoD understands the need for such a powerful medium, as the Internet, and encourages military leaders to use this tool to convey information quickly and efficiently in the areas relating to military activities, objectives, programs, and policies. At the same time, Hamre (1998) also warns that as the military uses this medium to present information to the American public, leaders must also ensure the safeguard of national security. This safeguarding procedure has led the DoD to establish specific purpose and policy guidelines for military web administrators (Hamre, 1998).
       In the private sector, companies such as Mitsubishi are setting groundrules for integrating electronic technology into everyday business. The goal of operational ease for the user is utmost, so the user can in turn communicate more clearly with the company (Mitsubishi Electric Global Home Page, 1999). According to Andelman (1996), the Internet has become an on-line universe, which is joining the ends of the universe together, through discussion on economy, politics, society, and even the weather. Commerce has been the first to use the web as a means of bridging the worldwide consumer market. The goal of the commerce department is to use the Internet as a means of stimulating economic growth (Andelman, 1996). 
       The goal of operational ease for the user and information growth for the organization, through the Internet, has been a catalyst for government web administrators when designing government web sites. As Gore (1993) stated, the government and private sector need to build from each other in the information process. In the DoD Web Administrators Policy, Hamre (1998) outlines the information posting process that attempts to make information more readily available to the user. A key goal of information posting for DoD is the identification of information that will most benefit the user through web access, and at the same time, meet the objectives of DoD.
       According to Esrock and Leichty (1998), most companies use the Internet to advance their own policies already. This is in line with current DoD guidance for military web use (Hamre, 1998). Esrock and Leichty (1998) point out that 82 percent of the corporate web sites address social responsibility issues, however, few used their web sites as a means of monitoring public opinion on the issues presented. This research shows that the Internet offers a new means of communication, but the manner in which it is used has not changed much from traditional methods of disseminating information (Esrock, & Leichty, 1998).
Governmental Obligations
      If the theories pertaining to the user of the Internet hold true, then what is the future of the Internet as an information highway connecting the public with government agencies, as well as the private sector?  Is there a limit to be placed on the amount of access agencies allow the private citizen in this open information market? With this idea of a complex medium for information, what rights does the private citizen have in order to gain access to information? 
       The idea of private citizen rights of access to the press, has been proven to be a First Amendment argument through a series of Supreme Court cases. Even in 1969, the Supreme Court determined it was necessary that the government and the private sector give the private citizen access to information, and the best way to do this at the time was through the free press (Gillmor & Barron, 1969).
       According to Gillmor and Barron (1969), information flow through the free press was an affirmative obligation of the press and government to realize their responsibility to present the contemporary life of ideas outside of the electronic media. In this sense the courts would not be powerless in preventing public facilities and the press from taking refuge in their approach to affirmative duty. This new obligation given to the government and press first determined the publics right of access to information (Gillmor & Barron, 1969).
       The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 provided that federal agencies were to publish materials such as opinion, orders and policy statements that did not contain information that needed to be kept secret from public interest (Gillmor & Barron, 1969). In 1968 this act was revamped and called the Freedom of Information Act, which specifically outlined information available to the public, and information exempt from public scrutiny. Through this Act, the press has gained access to information for public use (Gillmor & Barron, 1969). 
       Today, the Freedom of Information Act not only pertains to information documented and placed in file drawers, but also information that can be made instantly available to the public through the Internet. Hamre (1998) states that it is the American democratic process that allows citizens to know what the government is doing, and have the opportunity to respond to the government. Citizens must also be open to judge the performance of the government. Access to information using the Internet and web allows this democratic process to flow.
       According to Dorobek (1999), legislators today are still enacting policy to put even more government documents on line, such as lobbyist reports. This would create a new database available to the public for viewing. Even after the Vice President voiced concerns in 1993 that the government was not accessible to the public, many governmental agencies still fight putting information on the web. Dorobek (1999) adds that the top three government documents that citizens want to see on line are Congressional Research Service reports, Supreme Court opinions and briefs, and the State’s Daily Briefing Book. 
       Although web initiatives have been directed by top policy makers (Gore, 1993), those who enact the policy for the private citizens have fought new bills in Congress by saying it is a cost to the taxpayer that the taxpayer does not want (Dorobek, 1999). Policy makers insist the cost of maintaining these sites is too great to invoke on the private citizen. Other lawmakers insist the private citizen has a right to view their government regardless of cost (Dorobek, 1999).