Welcome to the revolution. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will require you to responsibly engage in the evolution of the massive interactive media landscape.
Online interactive multi-platform media has changed the way we consume, create and disseminate information. New media platforms and tools are developed daily. More people have access to publish and participate in information architecture than ever before.
People formerly known as “the audience” have annihilated the linear flow of information. They are now creators of content; governments, institutions, corporations and legacy media conglomerates are losing control of shaping our reality. Individuals are connected to massive interpersonal virtual networks, which often lead to face-to-face relationships.
This media revolution is not without challenges. We now worry about identity and privacy in ways we never conceived before. We struggle to organize the massive amount of information we’re exposed to, and filter out credible content from the noise. The people formerly known as the audience have yet to realize the power they now share over shaping reality for the masses.
All of this begs the question: Does online interactive multi-platform media make information and society more democratic? If so, is this good or bad?
I decided to include my online social media networks on Twitter and Facebook in my research and recently asked their opinion on whether or not online interactive media makes information and society more democratic. Overnight I collected nearly 50 replies to my inquiry.
One commenter responded, "It certainly does democratize information. I have stopped watching news for the most part - and absolutely stopped watching the local News at 9. Political campaigns, citizen journalism, consumerism, reviews, meeting people, creation of ads and creative ideas - all open, conversational, searchable and free."
The Internet has become a space where information runs free. In the book Cyber-Culture Pierre Levy sees the World Wide Web as an open, flexible, and dynamic information environment, which allows human beings to develop a new orientation to knowledge, and thereby, engage in a more interactive, community-based-, democratic world of mutual sharing and empowerment. The Internet provides virtual meeting places that expand social networks, create new possibilities for knowledge, and provide for a sharing of perspectives worldwide (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008).
In order to understand what this means and why its important to making information and society more democratic, it helps to know how media has evolved. Mark Poster published a landmark book, The Second Media Age, which heralded a new period in which interactive technologies and network communications, particularly the Internet, would transform society. This theory challenges the way we consider media as "mass" communication to instead consider that it is an expansive variety of media and can be quit broad or very personal in scope. New Media theory reevaluates media use, showing that if can be individualized information, and acquisition to interaction. It also renewed interest in characteristics of the dissemination of media and broadcast media (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008).
New Media theory breaks the evolution of media into two ages. The first media age was said to be characterized by 1) centralized production (one to many); 2) one-way communication; 3) state control, for the most part; 4) the reproduction of social stratification and inequity through the media; 5) fragmented mass audiences; and 6) the shaping of social consciousness (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008).
The first media age was more on the critical side of the epistemological continuum. Institutions, and dominant ideologies communicated reality to the media. The media then communicated that reality to segmented audiences, in a one-to-many linear model. Audiences based their idea of reality off of the messages they received from the media, as dictated by institutions and dominant ideology, thereby shaping social consciousness.
In this age, citizens had little power to influence the media and institutions, save a rare letter to the editor making it into the newspaper, or discussions with friends about bad service from a company, or bad even bad decisions in government.
The second media age is more on the practical side of the epistemological continuum. It's more democratic; information flows two ways, and is more individualized. We have more opportunities to disseminate messages from the media and interact with our interpersonal networks to decide how what we're hearing measures up to our reality, and the reality of those we interact with online, and in face to face interactions.
The second media age is described as: 1) decentralized; 2) two way; 3) beyond state control; 4) democratizing; 5) promoting individual consciousness; and 6) individually orientated (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008).
In this age, people are informed about the new health care law and lawsuit from a variety of sources; the government, businesses, institutions, media, and their virtual and physical interpersonal networks. According to New Media Theory, you have the ability to educate them with what you know, and possibly influence their opinion. You and they have a say in shaping reality. You share, interact and create various forms of media, mixing, matching, recycling, and innovating. People are participating in this process of information creation and sharing at an unprecedented level.
To illustrate what this looks like, I’ll use a recent example from my online community. I received an email via Facebook from Daniella, a fellow student at BSU, who was upset about an article she read that a friend had posted to Facebook. It was the night that President Obama signed the health care reform bill into law. People were posting links to CSPAN so that folks could watch the debate in the Senate live. They posted news articles, podcasts, opinion polls, blogs and various other forms of media that gave information or weighed in on the Health Care debate.
Facebook and Twitter were both teaming with people talking about it, debating what it meant, and trying to figure our what to do about it. The article Daniella was upset over was a news article explaining that Idaho was preparing to sue the federal government over the new health care law on the basis it was against States rights to demand every citizen purchase health care.
Her email asked me, "Can we do something about this? Spread the word? Have a protest? I'm extremely shocked by this and I feel like something needs to be done." She posted a link to an article in her email.
I have only met Daniella once in person; we met because she used to date one of my employees. We rarely talk online, so I was surprised that she reached out to me on Facebook, but happy to offer my opinion on what she could do.
I wrote her a rather lengthy reply outlining different action items I thought she might try. I encouraged her to be informed on the issues she wishes to protest by organizing a public discussion with experts who can provide context about how health care reform and the lawsuit will impact citizens. I advised her to reach out the community and find allies who would want to organize with her. I pointed out various forms of media she can use to reach the community, the government and the media and explained how she could make this process interactive, to involve the most amount of people as possible.
I then posted her email, (which included a link to the article about the lawsuit) along with my reply to my blog and asked my social network to weigh in on her thoughts and my response. I tagged local politicians, journalists, activist, business owners and students in the blog – people I thought would give a broad perspective on the issue, or might be interested in helping the student organize.
The blog on Facebook accumulated 15 replies from my social network, some in support of the lawsuit and others shared the Daniella;s concerns. Some talked about how the new health care law was unconstitutional, others pointed out how dominate culture was afraid of this bill because it would mean more marginalized people would be healthy, and therefore, better able to participate in our democracy. Some clarified what the bill would and wouldn’t do. Others offered to help the student organize an informational debate, and if needed, a protest. A few posted links to various forms of media that offered more information about the health care law and the lawsuit.
In addition to my Facebook community, I also asked my Twitter community to see if there were folks who wanted to help this student organize. One local online media outlet, Idaho Reporter responded, informing me that the American Association of Retired Persons was strongly opposed to the lawsuit and may be interested in organizing something with the student. Idaho Reporter asked that if I learn that this student is able to organize a protest that I tell them because they could, "use the news tip."
Daniella emailed me back that evening and said she would begin the process of educating herself more on the issues so that she could determine what to do next. She wrote me again a few days later to say she had networked with fellow students and professors and was excited to be taking action on addressing her concerns. The experience of interacting with her online community about a news article she read online empowered her to take action.
I believe this series of events illustrates how interactive multi-platform media is making information and society more democratic. In the first media age this student may have read the article in the newspaper, and never been exposed to as many views on the issue through the discussions that took place on Facebook. She might not have been as easily connected to fellow activists, the media, etc., to ensure her voice was heard. She may not have felt access to the resources she needs to take action were so readily available, some were just one "friend request" away.
According to New Media theory, the second media age may provide openness and flexibility of use, but it can also lead to confusion and chaos. Although it has an abundant amount of information, it lacks structure and order, and can lead to division and separation (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008).
I witnessed examples of this that night on Facebook and Twitter as well. People posting blogs claiming Armageddon had begun, and calling President Obama the anti-Christ. One person commented on a question I posted about the health care reform saying that they hoped the people that vote for it die. On the whole, I’d guess that the information and rhetoric on Facebook over the new health care law about 30% credible information, and 70% unconstructive rhetoric. So if interactive multi-platform media does indeed make information and society more democratic, one has to wonder if that is a good or bad thing, given those numbers.
According to New Media theory, in the first media age, reality is dictated to the audience by institutions and the media. The second media age promotes more individual conciseness, access to alternative opinions, more interaction - the audience has more say in what reality is. We share the drivers seat with governments, corporations, and institutions in shaping reality.
Does interactive multi-platform media give us the ability to dictate reality to dominate culture and institutions, or does it give them more tools to assimilate us into its reality? One man shared his observations about how the health care law was being marketed to the masses by some leadership in America. He said, "The leadership of our country who are in opposition to this bill have never had to worry about health insurance. They have tapped into a base of people with health and other issues and have demonized Obama, liberals, progressives, underrepresented groups, etc. and generated hate and confusion."
bell hooks's would say that we must take responsibility for combating that message. In her Critique of Media, hooks advocates for the use of communication to disrupt and eradicate the ideology of domination - what she refers to as white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
For hooks, media is not the one to blame for our oppression. We are. Even those individuals who are marginalized or oppressed; in fact, they have even more of a responsibility to challenge oppression and bring about "the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds" (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008).
Daniella’s exchange with me would indicate she felt oppressed. She felt powerless. "It isn't fair for us residents living in the state of Idaho, to have absolutely no say about the law against this health reform. I was never informed that I had an option to sign against this, and now because of it, Idaho now has the possibility of not attaining health insurance? When was this signed and how come none of us had a say in this?”
Daniella also expressed that she wanted to do something about it. Because of interactive multi-platform media, Daniella now has access greater access to the resources she needs in order to get answers to her questions and let the government know what action she wants to take. She indicated that she feels empowered by the knowledge that there are others in her virtual and real interpersonal network that feel like her, and also want to take action.
hooks wants us to take responsibility for our oppression, and, like Daniella, take action. She wants us to challenge our assumption. She wants us to question the reality and face the oppression that marginalized groups internalize because it is projected to us incessantly by the media. In other words, she wants us to engage in decolonization, which involves critical, analytic, and strategic creation of alternative models of non-dominate reality; hooks proposes two forms of decolonization - critique and invention (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008).
I believe a platform in which we can evaluate our assumptions, question dominant culture, and plant and nourish possible alternatives is in the new interactive multi-platform media landscape, and the networks we create as we build them. We can reject the reality that is forced upon us, like Daniella and those who are organizing now with her (that she met on Facebook) are doing.
To hooks, critique is crucial because of the pervasiveness of the media: "the politics of domination inform the way the vast majority of images we consume are constructed and marketed." When television is on, whites "are always with us, their voices, values and beliefs echoing in our brains. It is the constant presence of the colonizing mindset passively consumed that undermines our capacity to resist" (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008).
One blog commenter on Daniella's letter touched on this concept as he addressed his feelings about the new health care law, and why many in the elite class oppose it.
"Lets go beyond the rhetoric and be honest...this bill means more health among people from marginalized groups, which means they will be able to participate more, which means we are moving to a more representative government...which will mean people who look like, worship like, think like, shoot like, and F*CK like Dick Cheney and George Bush don't get to make all the decisions from everyone."
The second key to decolonization, according to hooks, is invention of non-dominating cultural forms. The primary means for creating such forms is through enactment, or living and acting as non-dominating and non-exploitative ways in ones own life. hooks wants us to examine our individual media choices, and lifestyle. She believes decolonization is a thoroughly personal and personalizing process enacted in everyday life (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008).
This is what I think social media provides us. The opportunity to escape what institutions, the government and the media tell us is beautiful, moral, successful, normal, etc., and build networks of people with whom we can identify, without having to completely assimilate. Through our online interpersonal networks we can locate and communicate with a vast diversity of people, who engage and share information and perspectives.
As one member of my Facebook community pointed out it, "[social media] challenges my sense of place in the world, open my eyes to other perspectives, challenge my world view, etc. And for sure it has increased my awareness of news/events."
New Media Theory tells us that we help shape reality. Bell hooks Critique of Media says we are not only can, and do contribute to reality, but we must do so in a way that frees us from oppression, both obvious and unexamined. Because of this, I believe interactive mulit-platform media does indeed democratize information and help shape society. And this can be a good or bad thing, depending on how audience puts this power to use.
As I stated earlier, the online interactive multi-platform media revolution is not without challenges. Our role is to be informed, active and engaged so that we are better able to shape reality and participate in a meaningful way.
In my view, Daniella accepted her part in the new media revolution and the responsibility that comes with it when she said, “I need to become more educated on this issue to really know what is going on. I want to educate others and myself about the legalities of this reform. I want to hear both sides and understand why they are defending [their perspectives]."
The question remains, will we all?
Littlejohn, Stephen W., and Karen A. Foss. Theories of Human Communication. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2008. Print.