Monthly Archives: April 2011

Big Politics – The Fate of the State

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In looking at State 2.0 and challenges to government, Paul Mason’s ‘Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere‘ struck me as an interesting commentary on the tension between new and social media and government discourse.

We have heard and seen many instances where social media such as Facebook and Twitter have played a crucial role in organising riots and protests. Charles Hirschkind examines the situation in Egypt and the role of social media: “The seeds of this spectacular mobilization had been sown as far back as the early 2000s and had been carefully cultivated by activists from across the political spectrum, many of these working online via Facebook, twitter, and within the Egyptian blogosphere. Working within these media, activists began to forge a new political language, one that cut across the institutional barriers that had until then polarized Egypt’s political terrain, between more Islamicly-oriented currents (most prominent among them, the Muslim Brotherhood) and secular-liberal ones.” (Hirchkind 2011)

Hirschkind identifies new methods through media as ‘forg[ing] a new political language’ separate to the already existing discourse. Mason examines the social and the political, and and claims that these new methods that are used mainly by young people create a danger of a growing divide between the young tech-savvy, new media-using generation and “the values and language of the state” (Mason 2011).

Basically, young people are engaging in politics through network technologies, but not in the traditional mainstream politics. Mason suggests that young people can’t tune in to mainstream politics, and likewise officials and older generations are not yet in the loop with network technologies. The popular suggestion that young people are apathetic to politics is in a way disproved, but also strengthened for they are involving themselves, but not in the usual way.

Perhaps it’s the notion of power that overcomes any apathy that is attributed to younger generations. “Young people believe the issues are no longer class and economics but simply power: they are clever to the point of expertise in knowing how to mess up hierarchies and see the various “revolutions” in their own lives as part of an “exodus” from oppression, not – as previous generations did – as a “diversion into the personal”” (Mason 2011)

But I think Mason makes a really interesting point; how do we get these two generations to interact with each other properly? Mason questions whether social network methods could be employed by ‘opponents’ or the other side of the argument. “Also we have yet to see what happens to all this social networking if a state ever seriously pulls the plug on the technology: switches the mobile network off, censors the internet, cyber-attacks the protesters.” (Mason 2011)

What would happen if the state took away our freedom and power to organise ourselves and interact with each other? The power would be out of our hands and back into the institutions people resist, the apathy would be back and a feeling of helplessness would replace the empowerment we experience  now.

References:

Mason, Paul (2011) ‘Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere’, Idle Scrawls BBC, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2011/02/twenty_reasons_why_its_kicking.html>

Hirschkind, Charles (2011) ‘From the Blogosphere to the Street: The Role of Social Media in the Egyptian Uprising’,  Jadaliyya<http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/599/from-the-blogosphere-to-the-street_the-role-of-social-media-in-the-egyptian-uprising>

Too much information!

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Motion to change the meaning of “media” to paradox creator. Because not for the first time in this media course have we been presented with the idea that media creates, negotiates, or manipulates conflicting possibilities. This week consisted of a look at the relationship between data and media, media enables data to be transmitted more easily but also opens up the doors to information overload.

So much information, how are we supposed to know what to take in? Howard Rheingold, in his mini-course on infotention, talks about it as a matter of attention; where do we focus our attention on. He has coined the term ‘infotention’ to describe “the psycho-social-techno skill/tools we all need to find our way online today, a mind-machine combination of brain-powered attention skills with computer-powered information filters.” (Rheingold 2011) We need to filter information with our own brain, but we are also fortunate to have computer-powered filters who do it for us.

Rheingold speaks of digital media as “tools” meant to “magnify our capabilities” in extracting information. Paul Edwards in ‘A Vast Machine’, also iterates a similar point. “You build new tools, gain new perspectives, and discover what you still don’t know,” (Edwards 2010) Even a Google search, filters out all the websites that are irrelevant to what we are looking for, and there are many of them!

Edwards uses the term ‘data friction’ for a vital part of filtering information and data. Journalists have the task of sorting through the material they gather from research in books, internet, interviews, events etc. They have to do this quickly and accurately, but this also gives them the power of presenting to readers the reality that they want to present. Edward uses the case study of climate change to illustrate the idea that the story changes when our perspective of it changes.

Therefore it’s important that we consider how our brain is filtering the information we see and what tools we’re using to assist us. But it’s particularly important to realise that the information we receive has also been filtered by someone else before us, and we’re getting someone else’s version of truth. Conspiracy alert! Okay, it’s probably not always the case, but it’s definitely something to consider.