Rob Watson

Oct 192014
 
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Last week we introduced the idea of mediation and the function of media as a symbolic process of meaningful interactions. We used processed food as an analogy. This week I wanted to extend the idea of media as a technology so that we can build-up a picture of, as Jones and Hafner consider, how technologies have the capacity to change what we can do; what we can communicate; how we can relate to other people; what we can think, and perhaps even who we can be. I’ve thrown in some music videos that I like as a way of demonstrating how media and media technology change over time and reveal in the ‘rear-view-mirror’ the concerns we’ve had as different times in the past.

According to Jones and Hafner, a medium is “a material or abstract artefact used to communicate between things or people” (p.196). Mediation therefore is “the process of communicating between one thing or person and another using media” (p.196). And as such a “medium is something that stands in between two things or people and facilitates interaction between them…all interaction – and indeed all human action – is in some way mediated” (p.2)

The derivation of the term can tell us something about the way that we think of the concept of mediations. In Latin the word mediare means to ‘to go between’, and medium is a substance of phenomenon that provides those things that are in the ‘middle’. In tis sense we can also think of mediation as an intervention, something that comes between us as agents and the world, providing us with the [reality - (symbol) - viewer ] distinction.

Jones and Hafner explain how all social actions are mediated through cultural tools, and that some of those tools are technological (e.g. computers, telephones, wristwatches) and some are psychological (e.g. languages, counting systems). What is important to think about in relation to these tools, is that they all have applied affordances and constraints (i.e. they make some things easier and other things more difficult). This will be a theme that will run across the module, to think about the way that different forms of media give us the affordance to do things, while simultaneously constraining some of the things that we have so far been able to do.

So, we can summarise our starting points thus: mediation is a social process that is enabled through symbolic tools; mediation is the process through which we make sense of the world and each other; mediation is something that stands in between us and the world; media affords us the capability to engage and understand the world.

When we look at the mediation tools and techniques that we are using, and particularly when we look at the way that social media functions, we probably want to note the high degree of creativity that is inherent in their operations and the meanings that we get from them. This is because the way that tools make some things easier and other things more difficult influences what we can do, but does not determine what we can do.

We use tools in creative ways to adapt them to new situations or new goals, and sometimes, these tools can be used together so that it is easier to do something that each individual tool constrains. For example, in the 1980s music television gave rise to the pop video. We saw the techniques and style of television and film making come together to form a new art form based around the pop song. These videos established a tradition of creativity and self-awareness about the communication process, and have retained their characteristic inventiveness ever since.

According to Thomas De Zengotita “mediation means dealing with reality through something else…mediation refers to arts and artefacts that represent, that communicate – but also, and especially, to their effects on the way we experience the world, and ourselves in it” (De Zengotita, 2005, p.8). Nick Lacey adds that “technology is the medium through which a text is communicated and it clearly mediates between sender and receiver…[Therefore] cameras mediate reality by re-presenting it. How this is done, however, is determined by conventions which are obviously created by people” (Lacey, 1998, p.221).

We live, it can be argued, in a world where so much of everyday life is mediated. In which the ‘circulation of meaning’ (Silverstone, 1999, p.13) can be understood as a process of participation in the production and consumption of media. This process involves the constant transformation and circulation of meanings on the basis that we are all mediators acting in this process, crossing the thresholds of representing the world and our experiences of it. As Andrew Tolson suggests, the “way media structure our experience” (Tolson, 1996, ix): gives rise to a sense of media saturation and interpenetration into our everyday lives which means that the mediated world is our world.

If we are thinking about the process of mediation, then, we also have to consider that we do not just use the mediation tools functionally, but we are creative in the outlook and approaches we employ media for. This involves taking artefacts and objects and re-making them, and using technical devices to enhance and amplify our ability to communicate and mediate. We therefore circulate meanings in and through our daily routines and practices, and as such our understanding of the world and of each other is structure by experience of media and through our symbolic interactions.

So, if we keep in mind that “new media are constructed on the foundations of the old.” And that they “do not emerge fully fledged or perfectly formed” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 20). We can seek out the was that, as Bolter and Grusin suggest mediation (remediation) works in “both directions” as “users of older media such as film and television can seek to appropriate and refashion digital graphics, just as digital graphics artists refashion film and television” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 48). According to Bolter & Grusin, “it would seem, then, that all mediation is remeditation. We are not claiming this as an a priori truth, but rather arguing that at this extended historical moment, all current media function as remediators and that remediation offers us a means of interpreting the work of earlier media as well. Our culture conceives of each medium or constellation of media as it responds to, redeploys, competes with, and reforms other media” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 55).

In this sense, and according to Roger Silverstone, “mediation in this sense is less determined, more open, more singular, more shared, more vulnerable, perhaps to abuse” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 15). For some the process of mediation is a way of corrupting the intentions of the author, whereas for others, the meanings that are circulated and recirculated by the audiences of a text or a media product are to be celebrated. We might ask: is remediation an act of abuse or a creative appropriation?

As Jones and Hafner point out the “process of mediation, then, is not just a matter of media controlling people or people controlling media. It is a matter of the tension between what technology wants us to do and what we want to do with it, between the limitations it imposes on us and our ability to get around these limitations by ‘hacking’ it” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 101). This is hacking in it’s positive sense. In the sense that we can take media artefacts and we can repurpose them and use them in different contexts and make new meanings with them.

In the 1970s and 1980s an aesthetic and literary movement was popular in social theory, postmodernism. One of the most widely used concepts was that of Hyperreality, which can be thought of the process or the state of meaning which is caught in a feedback-loop on itself. Umberto Eco’s famous ‘Faith in Fakes’ or ‘Travels in Hyperreality. There is a story which has been used many times to open up these ideas, and is related again by Bolter & Grusin.

“Walt Disney once gave Billy Graham a tour of his park.  When Graham observed that Disneyland was a mere fantasy, Disney is supposed to have replied: ‘You know the fantasy isn’t here/ This is very real… The park is reality. The people are natural here; they’re having a good time; they’re communicating. This is what people really are. The fantasy is – out there, outside the gates of Disneyland, where people have hatreds and people have prejudices. It’s not really real’ (cited by Bryman 1995, 169-170)” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 171).

Postmodernists spent a lot of time discussing and thinking about the process of mediation, and how there is a function of media that is circular, in the sense that media does not relate to the real world, but instead related and remediates ideas about media itself. So, ‘in the early 1970s Jean Baudrillard [a famous postmodern thinker] defined mass media as ‘speech without response’.”  These days, according to Lovnick, “messages only exist if they are indexed by search engines, retweeted with shortened URLs, forwarded through emails and RSS feeds, liked at Facebook, recommended through Digg or, we must not forget, commented on the page itself. Media without response seem to be unthinkable’ (Lovink, 2011).

As Bolter and Grusin explain “Baudrillard (1983) has contended that (American) television is preoccupied with itself as a medium and only pretends to be offering events as they happen: that television is a cultural device for covering up the absence of the real. The shock value of Baudrillard’s claim rests on an old-fashioned premise that there should be a strict separation between the medium and the reality and that therefore media should be transparent to reality. Baudrillard expects us still to believe that the Renaissance logic of transparency is the norm from which our culture has diverged” (Bolter & Grusin, 2001, p. 194).

The process of mediation and remediation poses some interesting problems for us then. In what way do we face the future? Are we looking at the rear view mirror as Marshall McLuhan suggests? In which case repurposing media and meanings is essential to moving on? If remediation works both ways, and we refashion the media in response to the media, then this becomes an open and contested process with no fixed points of reference. So, while the technology imposes limits, it is entirely possible with the right know-how for us to break or ‘hack’ those boundaries. Hyperreality, therefore, is the sense that the ‘real’ has stopped making sense, and only images make sense. Welcome to the Desert of the Real.

So what does this mean when it has become common for people to engage in this transformative process of remediation as part of our every-day practices and lived experiences? What happens when this process of transformation becomes the reason that media is produced and circulated? As Daniel Chandler suggests: ‘in using any medium, to some extent we serve its ‘purposes’ as well as it serving ours. When we engage with media we both act and are acted upon, use and are used’ (Chandler, 1995). People, therefore, can have very different responses to media transformation

In which they are left feeling either in or out of control.

If there is any newness associated with the development of digital media then can be found in this extension of the ability to experience new forms of remediation, particularly those associated with social networking and our ability to remediate our own lives on a greater scale than ever before.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_type=&search_query=first+wedding+dance&aq=0&oq=first+we

  • Creativity – a ‘surprise first wedding dance’ becomes an elaborate ‘surprise wedding entrance dance’ as a live event and recorded ‘music video’.
  • Mediation.
  • The video was uploaded to YouTube a month after the wedding to share with relatives who couldn’t be there.
  • Within a week, the video had been viewed 10m times.
  • The copyrighted track used in the video is ‘Forever’ by Chris Brown.
  • The track began as a jingle for Doublemint chewing gum and then a product placement music video
  • Prior to the Heinz’s wedding, Brown had been charged with assault of his then girlfriend, Rihanna
  • Two days after the wedding, Brown pleaded guilty to the charge
  • Sony monetized the  video with ads and links to buy the track which re-entered the charts

“Once uploaded to YouTube, however, the Heinz’s video became an object that could be commercially exploited by the‐rights holder, while denying the couple any right to direct commercial benefit from their own creativity. A piece of music that began as a musical ‘hook’ for a chewing gum commercial became the soundtrack to a mediated DIY musical wedding ceremony, which itself became a ‘music video’ working for the profit of a media corporation. Around the grey, largely untested legal area of fair use, practice is actually unfair and iniquitous in terms of the power relationship it institutes, whereby commercial culture exploits sharing culture using prohibitive copyright law – a practice that YouTube supports and implements with enthusiasm” (Clay, 2011, pp.223-224).

“Mediation is so pervasive that mediated reality is our reality and we are ‘mediated selves’ who are being encouraged to learn how to use new media and experience the participation culture of electronically-mediated communication (De Zengotita, 2005).

There is simply more and more media vying for your attention. “Ask yourself,” suggests De Zengotita, “is there anything you do that remains essentially unmediated, anything you don’t experience reflexively through some commodified representation of it? Birth? Marriage? Death?”(De Zengotita, 2005, p.9). With the tools and services of network media you can now mediate your life’s performance and share it with others

Essential questions to consider are:

  • How much control do we have over the process of remediation?
  • Digital media affords us the ability to re-echo and remediate like never before.
  • We make sense of who we are through a process of ongoing mediation.
  • Is anything not mediated these days?
  • How do we use the tools of mediation in our daily lives?

To sum up, we live complexly with traditional and digital media operating continuously in a mediated world where there are some significant shifts towards self-mediation as part of the effects of networks for social media. So much of our lives are experienced second-hand through media, and now increasingly as a form of production as well as traditional consumption. Therefore, it should be possible to think about and analyse our everyday lives as products of a process of mediation, thereby recognising the affordances and constraints of your cultural tools make possible or deny, and how we use them to extend ourselves, and facilitate social interaction?

References:

Chandler, D. (1995) Processes of Mediation [WWW] Available from: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/short/process.html [Accessed 06/10/06].

Clay A. (2011) ‘Blocking, Tracking, and Monetizing: YouTube Copyright Control and the ‘Downfall Parody’,  in Lovink, G. and Somers Miles, R. (eds.) Video Vortex Reader II. Institute of Network Cultures: Amsterdam.

De Zengotita, T. (2005) Mediated: How the Media Shape Your World. London: Bloomsbury.

Jones, R. and Hafner, C. (2012) Understanding Digital Literacies: A Practical Introduction. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Lacey, N. (1998) Image and Representation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rheingold, H. (2012) Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge Mass. and London: MIT Press.

Silverstone, R. (1999) Why Study the Media?. London: Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, Sage.

Tolson, A. (1996) Mediations. London: Arnold.

 

 

 

 

Oct 182014
 
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In this week’s TECH3022 Lecture I wanted to introduce some concepts that would help us to situate the role of participation in the function of social and collaborative media. Our discussions are looking at developing our understanding about social media, and the way it has the potential to encourage civic or grassroots media engagement. I wanted to highlight some ideas, therefore, that have been associated with the way that public sphere has been used as a way to explain how civic discussion is understood. Coupled with this I also wanted to introduce the idea of hegemony and the critique of dominant ideas within society, and how they are controlled by ruling elites. To do this I wanted to introduce some examples drawn from DIY and alternative media, as well as thinking about the relevance of community media.

It is useful to keep in mind that despite what many voices in the mass media might want us to believe, it’s entirely possible to imagine alternative ways of communicating with media that aren’t dominated by corporate control and the dominant social discourses that define Western society. This challenge to the dominant monoculture of ideas and thinking in Western capitalism can be examined, on a number of levels. Either from the point of view of social movements and historical forces that might be argued to shape society, or, by paying attention to the daily life practices of ordinary people working on the day-to-day functions of living and interacting. In the context of social media we should remember, as Henry Jenkins points out, that “what people collectively and individually decide to do with [new media] technologies as professionals and as audiences, and what kinds of culture people produce and spread in and around these tools, is still being determined” (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013, p. xiii).

I’ve been working and researching in the field of community media quite a bit over the last ten years or so, and I’ve developed a familiarity with the way that participants in community media can find the confidence to articulate their individual voices, nurturing and developing alternative ideas and practices. Community media has the potential to offer something different for participants that is not as fixed or determined by the controlling influence of mainstream corporate media. Follow this link to listen to one of my Community Media World Podcasts.

Kevin Howley notes that “community media represent a unique site to interrogate the process of identity formation through communication technologies, and to examine the dramatic impact of social and technological change on the everyday lived experience of disparate groups within a geographically based community. Put another way, attending to the institutions, forms, and practices associated with community media provides enormous insight into the relationship between people, places, and communication technologies” (Howley, 2005, p. 38).

So, a focus on participation, and the development of social media practices that promote participation, have the potential to afford us, as Delwiche & Henderson suggest, a mechanism by which individuals and grassroots groups can challenge the domination of centralised and hierarchically organised media organisations. According to Delwiche & Henderson:

“Armed with inexpensive tools for capturing, editing, and organising, people tap into a vast ocean of real-time data and multimedia content to promote personal and political interests. Functions once monopolised by a handful of hierarchical institutions (e.g. newspapers, television stations, and universities) have been usurped by independent publishers, video-sharing sites, collaboratively sustained knowledge banks, and fan-generated entertainment” (Delwiche & Henderson, 2013, p. 3).

This notion of a usurping function for community and collaborative media is echoed by Howley, when he explains how an “emphasis on ‘social-political policies’ is instructive insofar as it highlights the constructed and contested character of media systems. In other words, rather than view these systems as the natural or inevitable outgrowth of any given technology, this perspective illuminates the social, political, economic, and cultural dynamics involved in creating a media system” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

Howley goes on to give an example and suggests that, “for instance, radio broadcasting operates in terms of a hierarchical, one-way flow of information between media producers and media audiences. This centralised form of message production and distribution positions audiences as relatively passive consumers of media messages. And yet, there is nothing inherent in broadcast technology that precludes decentralised communication between message producers and received. Indeed, in its early days, radio was a vibrant, participatory, and decidedly two-way medium of popular communication” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

If we keep in mind that the choices that have been made to regulate broadcasting and media services in Western societies come from a particular set of ideological conventions and ideas, then we can start to examine how the process of organisation shapes and structures our wider expectations about media democracy. As Howley points out,  “terrestrial radio broadcasting, as we know it today, developed as a result of explicit policies – rules and regulations covering every aspect of broadcasting, from technical specifications governing spectrum allocation and transmission power, to the conditions for licensing, ownership, and financial support mechanisms – that favoured well-financed private ownership or some form of state sponsorship and control” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

Therefore, and as Howley continues, “as media and cultural historians remind us, the policies and structures that set the terms of broadcasting in the first half of the past century were the result of a series of negotiations and bitter disputes over how broadcasting would be organised, regulated, and paid for. Critically, the level of public participation was constrained by a number of social, economic, and political conditions. As a result, powerful economic and political forces, representing an narrow range of interests, prevailed and established the foundation for present-day broadcast structures and regulations” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

In this respect as Howley argues, media and political theorists would be well advised to acknowledge that “community media provide a unique site to illuminate hegemonic processes,” and that “community media demonstrate not only signs of resistance and subversion but evidence of complicity and submission as well” (Howley, 2005, p. 35). In this respect, it can be argued that “Social media breaks down the control and the hierarchy between the mainstream media and the population” (Hill, 2013, p. 53). Marking out spaces and territories that can be populated with alternative voices, contrary opinions and distinctive, and clearly non-mainstream, participants.

This argument rests on some assumptions about the role and the function of alternative and community media Firstly that the levels of control exercised by corporate media actively excludes people. Secondly, that the highly structured hierarchies that are set in place to manage corporate media encourage a largely one-way flow of information, and mark clear distinctions between producers and consumers which are absolute. All of which is held in place by state organised mechanisms and regulations that are designed to hold these economic, civic and social policies in place. What community media is useful for, therefore, is to gain some insight and sense of how an alternative model might work in practice and what it might mean when encountered in the life-worlds of different participants.

Underpinning many of the ideas and thinking about the role of community and participant media is the concept of the Public Sphere:

“The concept of the public sphere, as described by Jürgen Habermas, provides a robust theoretical framework to examine the crucial link between democratic self-governance and communication. Habermas (1993) argues that the public sphere is the foundation for civil society; it is a forum for the citizenry to reach consensus on the issues and policy decisions that affect public life. In Habermas’ formulation, the public sphere is a realm, insulated from the deleterious influence of state and commercial interests, in which citizens openly and rationally discuss, debate, and deliberate upon matters of mutual and general concern to a self-governing community. Isolated or ‘bracketed’ from both state and market forces, this public sphere is the space in which a public comes to understand and define itself, articulate its needs and common concerns, and act in the collective self-interest. In short, it is a space in which a social aggregate become a public” (Howley, 2005, p. 19).

In this sense then, “the concept of the public sphere [is] in a very general and common-sense manner, as, for example, a synonym for the processes of public opinion or for the news media themselves. In its more ambitious guise.” However, as the idea of the public sphere was developed by Jürgen Habermas, and according to Peter Dahlgren, “the public sphere should be understood as an analytic category, a conceptual device which, while pointing to a specific social phenomenon can also aid us in analysing and researching the phenomenon” (Peter Dahlgren in Dahlgren & Sparks, 1991, p. 2).

Howley points out that “according to Habermas, an effective and robust public sphere depends on two conditions: the quality of discursive practices and the quantity of participation within this discourse. The first requirement calls for rational-critical debate based not on the speaker’s identity or social standing, but upon the reasoned and logical merits of an argument. The second requirement entails opening up the debate to the widest public possible and encouraging the inclusion of competing opinions and perspectives” (Howley, 2005, p. 19).

Who constitutes a ‘public’ is one of the key questions to emerge from this line of thinking. Indeed, working out who in practice is capable or given permission to be included in this sense of civic engagement is one of the fundamental critical questions we can seek to establish.  As Habermass himself suggests: “we call events and occasions ‘public’ when they are open to all, in contrast to closed or exclusive affairs” (Habermas, 1994, p. 81). And the extent to which “the private sphere of civil society [is] no longer confined to the authorities but [is] considered by the subjects as one that was properly theirs” (Habermas, 1994, p. 89) is the foundation for much of the ethical interventions that are associated with participation.

According to Howley, however, “the threat to the public sphere, as Habermas sees it, is the encroachments of the state and commercial interests into this realm. Habermas observes that as the public sphere shrinks, there is a marked increase in political apathy, a relentless pursuit of economic and material self-interests, and a rising tide of cynicism and social alienation” (Howley, 2005, p. 19). Therefore, “the concept of the public sphere has enormous relevance for the ongoing project of building and sustaining a more democratic media culture… As the nature of citizenship changes in an increasingly integrated world, the question of who deliberates has enormous implications… There is relatively scant popular participation in this deliberative process” (Howley, 2005, p. 20).

So, to recap, the public sphere is a way of understanding the role of the media in civic spaces. Participation is at the heart of what is said to constitute a healthy public sphere. Media participation formulates ‘publics’ that challenge ‘private’ interests, and therefore the public sphere cannot be thought of as free standing – it is challenged by the state and commercial interests, and therefore the he idea of the ‘citizen’ or ‘agent’ is vital to participation because it the actions of citizens that bring about change.

Across this debate it is widely asserted that “politicians whose views and policy recommendations challenge corporate interests are rarely seen or heard in the mainstream media.” And that, “conversely, those who are sympathetic to and support corporate policy tend to receive favourable coverage in the press. As a result, alternative positions on public policy and oppositional views on corporate culture are rarely publicised, let alone opened up for broad popular debate” (Howley, 2005, p. 23).

So practices do exist that point to an alternative way of thinking about and producing media. As Delwiche points out: “creative cultures flourished beneath the surface of the mainstream media; many of these cultures were nurtured and extended by mimeographed zines” (Delwich, 2013, p. 19). If, as Howley suggest, “corporate media depoliticises both the public and private spheres. In their efforts to deliver audiences to advertisers, commercial media socialise people to believe that health, happiness and the good life are to be found in the implacable, competitive, pursuit of consumer goods” (Howley, 2005, p. 24). Then alternative forms of media, such as zines elude to a different way of thinking about media and media participation, As Delwiche points out: “researchers have demonstrated that participatory cultures are characterised by commitment to access, expression, sharing, mentorship, the need to make a difference, and the desire for social connections” (Delwich, 2013, p. 11).

It’s worth watching each of these documentaries about zine culture to get a sense of how embedded the idea of participation is and what consequences it has for the development of a participation-based outlook.

 

If, as Howley suggests: “advertising was instrumental in engineering a shift from a producer ethic to a consumer ethic. In so doing, advertising and consumer culture divert the public’s attention, energy, and resources away from society’s fundamental needs like public education, health care, the environment, economic justice, and racial, ethnic, and gender equality that are essential to the institutions, needs, and values that are not based on capital accumulation or profit generation are all but ignored by commercial media” (Howley, 2005, p. 24).

One such example that is said to define online media and the notion and practices of virtual communities was The Well. “The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, normally shortened to The WELL, is one of the oldest virtual communities in continuous operation” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_WELL. According to Delwiche the “WELL was firmly rooted in participatory cultures, with founding principles that included self-governance, community connections, user-driven design, open-endedness, and low barriers to access. Power was deliberately decentralised and the network’s programmers carefully embedded ‘a countercultural conception of community’ into the entire fabric of the system’”(Delwich, 2013, p. 19).

This optimistic and (sometimes) utopian view of participation, as an alternative to the corporate and consumerist notions of civic engagement, presents us with a conundrum, such that as Howley argues, when all is said and done “the commodification of public communication belies claims that the information age will free the minds and liberate the spirits of the world’s people” (Howley, 2005, p. 26).  As Jenkins points out: “the growth of networked communication, especially when coupled with the practices of participatory culture, provides a range of groups who have long struggled to have their voices heard” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. xiv). And that these “new platforms create openings for social, cultural, economic, legal, and political change and opportunities for diversity and democratisation for which it is worth fighting” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. xiv).

To echo our starting point for this discussion, and as Jenkins et al suggest “the terms of participation are very much up for grabs, though, and will be shaped by a range of legal and economic struggles unfolding over the next few decades” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. xiv).

So, to summarise, the terms of this discussion suggest that it is possible to challenge corporate interests through creativity. That participation that is based on access, expression and sharing will make a difference to the quality of social and civic engagement in the public sphere, and therefore the producer ethic needs to be nurtured. Self-governance, networking and user-generated content are the principles that will drive participation, and that new platforms as well as giving us a wider range of affordances also change our expectations about how, and who, can participate.

Kevin Howley uses the work of Martin-Barbero to “demonstrates how mass media are embedded in the everyday lived experience of local populations and illuminates the distinct role various cultural forms (e.g., theatre, cinema, radio dramas and telenovelas) play in the construction of national and cultural identities. In this way, the concept of mediation encourages the examination of both micro and macro level processes of cultural production from a socio-historical perspective. As such, mediation provides a valuable analytical perspective from which to consider community media” (Howley, 2005, p. 34).

According to Howley, community media is “akin to the practice of appropriation so often celebrated by cultural analysts, community media form and content is a bricolage of artefacts and routines generally associated with the culture industries. Like textual poachers (e.g. Jenkins 1992), community media producers glean bits and pieces of media culture and invest this material with their own social experience in attempts to make sense of their lives. And, like the fan culture commonly associated with textual poaching, community media represents distinctive cultural practices that create and nourish affective relations” (Howley, 2005, p. 34).

Likewise, “the culture industry’s dismissive attitude toward the technical abilities of ‘non-professionals’ and the social value of their work underscores the adversarial relationship between dominant and community media. All too often, the work of ‘amateurs’ is marked as esoteric, frivolous, and apolitical. Rarely do commercial or public service broadcasters even acknowledge the existence of community media organisations. More often than not, when community media is acknowledged, it is invariably depicted as a refuge for outsider artists, hatemongers, pornographers, and the radical fringe: a perception some community media producers enthusiastically embrace” (Howley, 2005, p. 36).

And that “community media also represents strategic alliances between social, cultural, and political groups mounting and organising resistance to the hegemony of dominant media institutions and practices. As a resource for local service agencies, political activists, and others whose missions, methods, and objectives are antithetical to existing power structures, community media publicise oppositional messages that are either distorted by or altogether omitted from mainstream media coverage” (Howley, 2005, p. 35).

“These initiatives” according to Howley, “diminish the debilitating effects of political-economic systems that cater to well-heeled special interests by enhancing the capacity of local communities to organise themselves and participate in political processes” (Howley, 2005, p. 35). And, “as a result, producers and audiences alike are complicit in accepting and circulating the notion that community media are aesthetically inferior to mainstream media form and content, and socially and politically irrelevant for popular audiences. Perhaps the reluctance of communication scholars to engage more thoroughly with the phenomenon of community media” (Howley, 2005, p. 36).

As Howley describes, “This emphasis on participation, local content, and especially the impulse to revitalise the civic life of place-based communities is the motivation behind yet another strain of the community networking movement, so-called civic networking” (Howley, 2005, p. 78). Any that of equal importance are the ‘civic networks that are “designed to encourage and facilitate discussion within and between local residents, thereby promoting participatory democracy at the community level” (Howley, 2005, p. 78).

And it is through this process of facilitation that we are able to observe how communities and participants are able to underpin the “creation of new cultural territories,” and work for the “preservation of existing cultural spaces.” According to Howley, this “takes on enormous significance in light of the ease with which people, sounds, imagery, and cultural practice circulate about the globe.” Community media, according to Howley contributes to the “reterritorialization of culture by establishing new structures and creating new spaces for local cultural production. In this light, community media can be viewed as a dramatic expression of the felt need of local populations to exploit as well as contain these forces in their efforts to make sense of the dramatic, and at times traumatic, upheavals associated with globalisation” (Howley, 2005, p. 38).

The question at hand, then, is how do we build the capacity for participation? On what basis should we plan and support the necessary social and symbolic resources that extend participation as a general social process. As Christopher Keilty points out, “those who provide the capacity for participation expect something as well. Participation is now a two-way street. Government now provide participatory democracy, citizens are engaged by the government or corporations, and publics are constituted, consulted, and used to legitimate decision-making” (Kelty, 2013, p. 23).

And as such, “participation is now expected to have an effect on the structures, institutions, organisations, or technologies, in which one participates. Participation is no longer simply an opening up, and expression, a liberation, it is now also a principle of improvement, and instrument of change, a creative force. It no longer threatens, but has become a resource: participation has been made valuable” (Kelty, 2013, p. 24).

So we can see that community media is a useful way to examine how media functions. It is also a useful for building a picture of how our own social experience is essential to defining how we participate in different types of social process, both media and intersubjective. We can see this in the way that the amateur has become central to participative media, and how the subsequent resisting of the dominance of corporate culture is played out through oppositional messages in alternative and community media projects. Generally, community and participation-based media is poorly thought of, but if civic-life is to be invigorated, then participation must be given more status.

To summarise: “community media are strategic initiatives to counteract a climate of political apathy and social alienation that confounds a sense of belonging in local communities” (Howley, 2005, p. 35). “The challenge of building a participatory medium hinges upon the extent to which a diverse user population can not only access the system, but also make safe and productive use of it” (Howley, 2005, p. 250). And likewise, “without full consideration of the enormous variations within a given user population, community networks are unlikely to meet the needs, competencies, and preferences of heterogeneous users” (Howley, 2005, p. 250).

It is necessary, therefore that we take a closer look at the “institutional configurations of the public sphere” so that we can make sense of the participative phenomenon, both at the macro-level of structures and at the micro-level of structures. In this sense, and as Peter Dahgren points out, “an understanding of its dynamics requires that we also consider the processes and conditions of sense-making, whereby subjects link experience and reflection to generate meaning (political or otherwise)” (Peter Dahlgren in Dahlgren & Sparks, 1991, p. 16).

If we are to ask one question as a consequence of this process it would be, as Kelty proposes that we ask: “What is participation like today? How has it become newly important with respect to yesterday? Are participatory democracy, audience participation, user-generated content, peer production, participant observation, crowdsourcing all the same phenomena? If they are different, what characterises the difference” (Kelty, 2013, p. 23).

References:

Dahlgren, P., & Sparks, C. (Eds.). (1991). Communication and Citizenship – Journalism and the Public Sphere. London: Routledge.

Delwich, A. (2013). The New Left and the Computer Underground – Recovering Antecedents of Participatory Culture. In A. Delwich & J. J. Henderson (Eds.), The Participatory Cultures Handbook (pp. 11-21). London: Routledge.

Delwiche, A., & Henderson, J. J. (Eds.). (2013). The Participatory Cultures Handbook. London: Routledge.

Habermas, J. (1994). The Emergence of the Public Sphere. In Polity (Ed.), The Polity Reader in Culutral Theory (pp. 81-90). Cambridge: Polity.

Hill, S. (2013). Digital Revolutions – Activism in the Internet Age. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications.

Howley, K. (2005). Community Media – People, Places and Communication Technologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.

Kelty, C. M. (2013). From Participation to Power. In A. Delwiche & J. J. Henderson (Eds.), The Participatory Cultures Handbook (pp. 22-31). London: Routledge.

TECH3022_15-Lecture-003-Participation-001-2014-09-17

Oct 112014
 
Fast Food Media

This week I wanted to find a quick way of putting the forms, structures and patterns of our media culture into a shape that made it stand out because it seems strange. Using an analogy I wanted to demonstrate that the media and communication industries that we take for granted for most of the time, are in fact an industry that is structured around specific ideas of mass production, standardisation and homogenisation. Relating the media industries to the modern, Western, food industries, is a very useful way to draw attention to the artificial, constructed and contested world that we inhabit.

Food, like media is an everyday cultural practice that has great significance and importance to each of us as individuals, to us as communities, and as broader societies. As Zygmunt Bauman suggests “these matters are about our experiences and their relationship to our everyday practices, the control we have over our lives and the direction in which our societies are unfolding” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 6). For Bauman and other students of social organisation, “the only way we can make sense of the human world around us is to draw our tools of explanations solely from within our respective life-worlds” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 9).

Food is Culture is therefore a good place to start to think about how we interact with the world, how we interact and make sense of each other, and how we understand the mediation processes that are at play between different groups of people. As Jones and Hafner point out: ‘To learn to eat, you have to learn to use a spoon or a fork or chopsticks, which come between you and your food and facilitate the action of eating. To learn to read, you have to learn to use language and objects like books that come between you and other people and facilitate the action of communication’ (Jones and Hafner, 2012, p.2)

I posed a couple of questions and statements that we could reflect on when thinking about our relationship with food. After all, food is more than fuel.

• Food is a cultural thing. We need food, but we shouldn’t think of it simply as fuel, what about the erotic experience of eating?
• How often do we sit down for a meal with other people?
• How often do we take our time to eat?
• What choices of food do I have when I’m out? The DMU campus centre?
• I eat sitting at my desk because there is no other place that’s convenient or private, as a dedicated eating area, where I can take my own food.
• Whatever happened to dining rooms?
• Do I want to be ‘careful’ about my food continually (paranoid)?
• Do I want to be hungry most of the time, never feeling full or satisfied?
• I try to eat healthily, lots of fruit – at least five-a-day?

Indeed, we use food as a marker of significant events in our lives. We celebrate with food, we use food to comfort our egos when we feel stressed, we use food as a way of being accepted into our social networks and peer groups. My personal experience of food, and my relationship with food has changed over the year. From never thinking very much about food, to being obsessed, almost addicted to food, my weight has gone up and down. I’ve done diets. I exercise regularly and I think I eat healthily. And yet my weight is far higher than it should be, and the fat around my middle is persistent and difficult to spread. Is this just middle-aged-spread, or the consequence of eating habits that are out of synch and unbalanced?

Comfort & Emotion:
• If I had a problem I would have a drink, or a bag of crisps.
• When I would sit and write I would have crisps and caffeine for the stimulation.
• I’ve never had a sweet tooth, so avoided cakes & sweets.
• At a family celebration the sweets and cakes come out automatically.
• Look at how binge drinking is such a part of British life, it’s seen as being normal to fall about in the streets after a skin-full on a night out.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2768442/It-s-not-easy-overweight-benefits-says-25-stone-mother-two-wants-MORE-money-government-help-diet.html

Fast Food Culture:
In Western, industrialised countries the consumption of food has taken on a highly regulated form. It’s largely based around the industrialised food production process. It’s based on products that are produced in mass-volumes, and it’s significantly reduced in nutritional value. Underpinning this processed-food culture is sugar, and the way that it is included and hidden in seemingly healthy products. As Bilton and Booth point out:

“In many cultures, with the possible exceptions of the traditional Inuit, sugar has become a ubiquitous source of pleasure and self-indulgence. Research in the new millennium has shown why many of us are hooked on sugar. There is now compelling evidence that sugar can alter our brain chemistry by the same biochemical mechanisms that drive addiction to hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin, and to a lesser extent, nicotine and alcohol. Furthermore, this effect is rein-forced by the presence of fat and salt in highly palatable sugar-rich junk foods” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 32).

All of which has incurred drastic consequences for the health of people in Western countries.

“In 2000, the average American consumed an astounding 2 to 3lb of added sugar per week in their diet (USDA Economic Research Service), and Britain is not far behind with a Defra report indicating a consumption of 1.9lb per week in 2006. This is an average US consumption of 5,600 calories per week from sugar alone, and is almost three days’ worth of total calories every week with no nutritional value and the potential to gain at least 1lb of body fat per week” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 35).

 

Hardly a week goes by now when news reports about the state of the health service crop up to alarm us about the epi-demic of obesity and diabetes that we are living through.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25576400

http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB13648/Obes-phys-acti-diet-eng-2014-rep.pdf

http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/02February/Pages/Latest-obesity-stats-for-England-are-alarming-reading.aspx

Where we are now, however, is unprecedented. Never before has human society, and particularly Western society, been faced with the problems of an over-abundance of food. As Bilton and Booth point out:

“Our present way of living has only become typical within the past two generations. Diets consumed in modern indus-trialised countries today have evolved considerably from those of our early Stone Age ancestors. It was the industrial revolution that completely altered our diet, along with the shift of populations from the country to towns and the limited success of town dwellers to fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 9).

And as a consequence, and as Michael Pollan argues:

“Rates of obesity in Europe are rapidly approaching those of the United States, and increases in diabetes and cardiovascular disease are certain to follow. This has been the sequence wherever traditional diets and ways of eating have succumbed to the modern diet of processes food” (Pollan, 2009, p. xiii).

This is a problem decades in the making, and can be traced back to the 1950s when nutritional thinking changed to focus more on the availability of saturated fats in our diets. As Michael Pollan describes:

“Beginning in the 1950s, a growing body of scientific opinion held that the consumption of fat and dietary cholesterol, much of which came from meant and dairy products, was responsible for rising rates of heart disease during the twentieth century. The ‘lipid hypothesis’, as it was called had already been embraced by the American Heart Association, which in 1961 had begun recommending a ’prudent diet’ low in saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products” (Pollan, 2009, p. 23).

There are some interesting films that are worth watching about these problems. “Food, Inc. is a 2008 American documentary film directed by Emmy Award-winning film maker Robert Kenner.] The film examines corporate farming in the United States, concluding that agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, in a way that is environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees. The film is narrated by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser. “
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food,_Inc.

Recap:

  • Food is a medium.
  • Food is a cultural product.
  • The experience of sharing food is culturally mediated.
  • Western Diets have become highly industrialised.
  • Sugar, salt and processed fats form the basis of the processed diet.

Processed Food & Industrialisation:
Access to food, then, has become highly mediated. It is controlled and shaped by the large supermarket chains who don’t sell food any more, but instead offer, as Michael Pollen says, ‘Food-Like Substances’. As Pollen points out:

“The supermarket has become the only place to buy food, and real food [is] rapidly disappearing from its shelves, to be replaced by the modern cornucopia of highly processed food-like products. And because so many of these novelties lie[…] to our senses with fake sweeteners and flavourings, we c[an] no longer rely on taste or smell to know what we [are] eating (Pollan, 2009, p. 14).

We have a food system, which prioritises the following:

• Industrialised, processed, simulated, convenience, addictive.
• High-Fructose Corn Syrup
• Long-life products.
• Refined to be attractive – roughage is removed from four, etc.
• Can be stored and centralised.
• Towns used to mill flour locally, then bake it very quickly.
• With improved milling in the 18th Century, milling became more centralised, flour could be transported, stored for longer. I have flour in my cupboard that’s been there for two years. Nothing else will eat it, so why should I?
• Obsessed with low-fat – they don’t tell you there are more calories.
• Predicated on simply calorie exchange model.
• Sugar is the next tobacco.
• Pepsi and Coke sell drinks in Third-World in places with poor water supply.
• Where the western diet has been introduced, the Western diseases soon follow.

There is some suggestion that we might rethink our attitude to food and return to some basic principles. As John Yukin pointed out long before this subject became a topic of popular discussion:

“It is generally agreed that our earliest ancestors, the squirrel-like primates of some 70 million years ago, were vegetarian. They continued as vegetarians up to 20 million years ago, for they had no difficulty surviving on fruits, nuts, berries and leaves. But then the rainfall began to decrease and the earth entered a 12-million-year period of drought. The forests shrank and their place was taken by ever-increasing areas of open savannah” (Yudkin, 2012, p. 8).

This is because “in order to survive, [early humans] had to forsake the vegetarian and fruitarian existence… and change to a scavenging and hunting existence that was largely carnivorous” (Yudkin, 2012, p. 8).

So we can look at our food culture and work out to what extent it is:

• Based on standardisation – through the supply chain.
• Products are frozen, dried, canned, and stored for long periods.
• Fruit is now grown to be high in sugar, and is available all year around.
• It’s very difficult to get fresh vegetables, locally to where we live.
• Leicester market has lots of fruit stands, but a declining number of veg stands.
• Supermarkets pre-package a lot of veg. The traditional grocer has disappeared from the high-street.
• Sugar, corn syrup and other carbohydrate products are used extensively in processed foods. Extends shelf life, palatability.
• Supermarkets stack the shelves high with low-cost sweets, crisps and biscuits.

One of the origins of the culture of fast food that we are now living with is the ‘drive-in’ fast food restaurant, typified by McDonalds and other American convenience food retailers. As Eric Schlosser describes, the “southern Californian drive-in restaurants of the early 1940s tended to be gaudy and round, topped with pylons, towers, and flashing signs. They were ‘circular meccas of neon’… designed to be easily spotted from the road” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 17).

However, “at the end of the 1940s the McDonald brothers had grown dissatisfied with the drive-in business. They were tired of constantly looking for new carhops and short-order cooks – who were in great demand – as the old ones left for higher-paying jobs elsewhere. They were tired of replacing the dishes, glassware, and silverware their teenage customers constantly broke or ripped off. And they were tires of their teenage customers. The brothers thought about selling the restaurant. Instead, they tried something new” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 19).

Schlosser gives an engaging and detailed account of how “the McDonalds fired all their carhops in 1948, closed their restaurant, installed larger grills, and reopened three month later with a radically new method of preparing food. It was designed to increase the speed, lower the prices, and raise the volume of sales. The brothers eliminated almost two thirds of the items on their old menu. They got rid of everything that had to be eaten with a knife, spoon, or fork. The only sandwiches now sold were burgers, replacing them with paper cups, paper bags, and paper plates. They divided food preparation into separate tasks performed by different workers” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 19).

All of which led to “the new division of labour meant that a worker only had to be taught how to perform one task. Skilled and expensive short-order cooks were no longer necessary” (Schlosser, 2002, p. 20).

Recap:
• Western industrialised diets are based on ‘food like substances’.
• Processing, standardising and extending the shelf-life increase profitability.
• Humans evolved on a very different, and more varied set of diets.
• Employing the factory system of standardisation changed food consumption.
• A small number of corporations control the food supply.

There are some immediate questions that can be asked about the combination of industrial food production processes, centralised distribution networks, and factory-like distribution points that are aimed at consumers. For example:

• To what extent is this a process of domination and domestication?
• How much of this is about lowering costs and how much is about increasing profit margins?
• When the marketing of processed food is pervasive, how to we escape from the product placements?
• Why can food-like substances that have longer shelf lives, brighter packaging be allowed to display healthy mes-sage (one of five per-day, etc.) on their labels.

The Western food industry goes to inordinate lengths to ensure that we adopt processed foods: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jobarrow/you-butter-believe-it#1zg3wau

There are embedded beliefs, despite evidence to the contrary, that
• Fat is bad for you – no evidence.
• Low-fat is good for you.
• Calorie restricted diets work.
• Maintenance and careful observance – otherwise you are ‘slothful, greedy and unsocial’.
• Exercise is one way to loose weight.
• Willpower is essential to loosing weight.

Wall-E:
WALL-E is a 2008 American computer animated science fiction romantic comedy film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and directed by Andrew Stanton. The story follows a robot named WALL-E, who is designed to clean up an abandoned, waste-covered Earth far in the future. He falls in love with another robot named EVE, who also has a programmed task, and follows her into outer space on an adventure that changes the destiny of both his kind and humanity. Both robots exhibit an appearance of free will and emotions similar to humans, which develop further as the film progresses. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WALL-E

Recap:
• People are ‘domesticated’ into following the ‘convenient’ path.
• We are conditioned to think that low-fat is good, and fat is bad.
• Exercise does not lead to weight loss on its own.
• Just wishing you are lean and fit will not make it happen.
• Are we being led into a dystopian future?

Real Food – What are the Alternatives?

Here’s a quick set of hints and tips I’ve taken from some of the writing on the sugar and processed food crisis:

“People eating the Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets” (Pollan, 2009, p. 140).

“The solution to the problem would appear to remain very much the same: Stop eating a Western diet” (Pollan, 2009, p. 141).

“Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that included) high-fructose corn syrup” (Pollan, 2009, p. 150).

“Avoid food products that make health claims” (Pollan, 2009, p. 154).

“Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle” (Pollan, 2009, p. 157).

“Get out of the supermarkets whenever possible” (Pollan, 2009, p. 157).

As Bilton and Booth point out: ”The word diet is most often associated with sacrifice, hunger, guilt and unhappiness. Most diets involve restricting the amount of food consumed in an attempt to reach a given body weight, and this is al-ways accompanied by cravings and feelings of hunger. Common sense should tell us that a calorie controlled diet for weight loss cannot be continued indefinitely. What happens when the diet is over and a goal weight has been reached? We all know the answer. Usually the weight lost is regained and so the cycle begins again” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 221).

“Stop smoking… take exercise… eat healthily… eat the right fats…” (Bilton & Booth, 2013, p. 222).

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” (Pollan, 2009).

While this has been a discussion about food, it has also been a discussion about media. I’ve added a couple of words to a statement from Jones & Hafner as I think it relates really well to the problems that we need to consider if we are to find a way out of the processed food/media crisis that we are facing:

“It should be clear from the above that [food] literacy is not just a matter of things that are going on inside people’s heads – cognitive processes of encoding and decoding words and sentences – but rather a matter of all sorts of inter-personal and social processes. [Food] Literacy is not just a way of making meaning, but also a way of relating to other people and showing who we are, a way of doing things in the world, and a way of developing new ideas about and solutions to the problems that face us” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 12).

The question is, what would we do to enhance the skills of people when it comes to food?

Perhaps, as Henry Jenkins and others suggest “in an environment fostering spreadability, grassroots communities are embracing content from elsewhere, actively facilitating its circulation (often in advance of its commercial availability) and taking responsibility for educating their local public about its traditions and conventions” (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013, p. 270).

Spreadability being those kinds of texts and media products that take on a life of their own, and which don’t sit so easily with the mass produced, corporate messages of the corporate media companies – or food producers. As Jenkins argues:

“The spreading of media texts helps us to articulate who we are, bolster our personal and professional relationships, strengthen our relationships with one another, and ‘build community and awareness around the subjects we care about. And the sharing of media across cultural boundaries increases the opportunity to listen to other perspectives and to develop empathy outside our own” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. 304).

Recap:
• There are alternatives, but they require a change of mind-set.
• Support traditional styles of eating.
• How do we avoid the yo-yo effect and achieve sustainably healthy living?
• Food literacy is essential.
• Change from the bottom-up, not the top-down.
• Awareness of others builds empathy and a sense of esteem.

Conclusion:
Zygmunt Bauman writes a lot about the experience of living in late modernity, or what he calls ‘liquid modernity.’ Bauman suggests that:

“Individual exposure to the vagaries of commodity-and-labour markets inspires and promotes division, not unity; it puts a premium on competitive attitudes, while degrading collaboration and team work to the rank of temporary stratagems that need to be suspended or terminated the moment their benefits have been used up. ‘Society’ is increasingly viewed and treated as a ‘network’ rather than a ‘structure’ (let alone a solid ‘totality’): it is perceived and treated as a matrix of random connections and disconnections and of an essentially infinite volume of possible permutations” (Bauman, 2007, p. 2).

The consequence is that we live increasingly fragmented lives, with little security, many competing pressures to succeed and less of a safety-net to rely on. As Bauman points out: “A life so fragmented stimulates ‘lateral’ rather than ‘vertical’ orientations. Each next step needs to be a response to a different set of opportunities and a different distribution of odds, and so it calls for a different set of skills and a different arrangement of assets” (Bauman, 2007, p. 3).

This fragmentation can be seen in the way that “eating at fast food outlets and other restaurants [has become] simply a manifestation of the commodification of time coupled with the relatively low value many Americans have placed on the food they eat.” Andrew F. Smith ‘Encyclopedia of Junk food and Fast Food’ (2006).

Perhaps the final word, though, should go to Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. “In terms of fast food and deep under-standing of the culture of fast food, I’m your man.” Bill Gates

http://www.theguardian.com/society/video/2014/aug/21/obesity-in-the-uk-the-shape-were-in-video

Critical Questions:
• What if media companies are doing the same thing?
• What does real media look and feel like?
• What can we do about the totality of the system?
What skills and capabilities do we need to thrive in this system?

References:
Bauman, Z. (2007). Liquid Times – Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Bilton, R., & Booth, L. (2013). Know What to Eat. Formby: Supercritical.
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.
Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.
Pollan, M. (2009). In Defence of Food. London: Penguin Books.
Schlosser, E. (2002). Fast Food Nation – What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World. London: Penguin.
Yudkin, J. (2012). Pure White and Deadly: Penguin.

Oct 112014
 
mit_1843_auto_emergency_tool_kit_sqfge

The second lecture for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production is an introduction to the concept of digital literacies, the principle of media engagement and our capability to understand and make sense of these media engagements. The lecture discussed the underlying principle that our culture is defined by a set of ideas, routines and doctrines that people strive to make meaningful, which as a social process of sense-making, is shaped by a series of social regulations and interrelationships.

For the American pragmatist thinker John Dewey, the important to keep in mind that our culture is shaped by the people within it, some of whom are regarded as the arbiters of what is passed on in our culture. As Dewey says:

“Certain men or classes of men come to be the accepted guardians and transmitters – instructors – of established doctrines. To question the beliefs is to question their authority; to accept the beliefs is evidence of loyalty to the powers that be, a proof of good citizenship” (Dewey, 1910, p. 149).

In general terms, then, we might think of the practices and the products of our symbolic interactions, particularly when they are shaped into a common set of experience and ideas, as a common culture, and as a store-house, as Andrew Tudor points out, “is above all a repository of human value: humanity’s most significant beliefs and achievements are articulated and ‘stored’ in culture. Or, at least, this is how it should be” (Tudor, 1999, p. 23).

To demonstrate this type of thinking we watched a brief extract from the landmark 1960s British television series ‘Civilisation’, as it is a good example of a way of thinking about culture as a collation of all the ‘best’ things that we produce.

Noting, as Matthew Arnold famously points out, that culture not only acts as a store of our social values and experiences, but also as a process that changes us and works on us as individuals.

“Crucial to [Matthew] Arnold was the insight that culture fosters the internal growth of our humanity; that we have a ‘best self’ as well as an ‘ordinary self’, based on a commitment to ‘a growing and becoming’ as opposed to expressing our animality; the culture tries to develop in us that ‘best self’ at the expenses of ‘our old untransformed self’” (Kenneth Dyson in Dyson & Homolka, 1996, p. 2 ).

This is in contrast to the kind of cultures that are talked about High vs Mass vs Popular vs Social Culture debates that have taken place in Western society since the mid Twentieth century. The idea that culture is a restricted and elite enterprise has been well and truly challenged, with this challenge resonating through the popular and mass cultures associated with industrial and consumer production of media products, routines and audiences. We now have a specific view of culture that is defined through things like television, or magazines, or the internet, as opposed to the church, the state or even the Enlightened individual.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/cultureshow/cultureis

The contrast between mass media and the individual consumption of cultural products is marked out by things like the industrial process of production, something the structuralist thinkers of the Twentieth century where keen to explain, How “originality and intellectual stimulation were squeezed out by the economics of cultural production, which in turn exploited peripheral frills, novelties and stylistic variations to make cultural products appear new and different, in the process disguising the underlying standardisation” (Kenneth Dyson in Dyson & Homolka, 1996, p. 7).

As this was an introduction to some of these issues associated with cultural value and the meaningful social experience, a great deal of the nuanced discussion was avoided, but I thought it would be useful to note some of the tensions in this debate by using an example. So we looked at the seminal work by Richard Hoggart, ‘The Uses of Literacy’, and in particular the famous passage about ‘juke-box boys’, in which Hoggart says: “Perhaps even more symptomatic of the general trend is the reading of juke-box boys, of those who spend their evening listening in harshly lighted milk-bars to the ‘nickelodeons.’”(Hoggart, 1957, p. 203).

Hoggart was drawing attention to a growing need to understand popular culture and to view it as something worth thinking about, particularly in the context that if society is to grow and develop then a clear understanding of the conceptual tools that meet the popular culture of each age is needed. The ‘literacies’ that each age call for have a shared and common set of principles, but they can’t be used timelessly and without a sense of struggle to understand them and contextualise them. The literacies that we need to understand our culture are contemporary, contingent, and have to fought over to make them relevant to the social world that we live in today, the technologies that we adopt and use today, and the expectations that we have about individual and social engagement with these forms of culture.

Recap:

  • Do we rely on certain people – men – to tell us what and how to think?
  • Is there an objective position we can take on what is ‘good’ in our culture?
  • How do we explain and understand popular, mass and now social culture?
  • What’s our role s individuals in this process – are we merely animals?
  • Where does our intellectual stimulation come from?

I thought it would be useful to mention how some thinkers are sceptical of the supposed role that new forms of cultural engagement are affording us. Andrew Keen is a widely recognised sceptic of the ‘cult of the amateur’ who argues that:

“Th[e] blurring of lines between the audience and the author, between fact and fiction, between invention and reality further obscures objectivity. The cult of the amateur has made it increasingly difficult to determine the difference between reader and writer, between artist and spin doctor, between art and advertisement, between amateur and expert. The result? The decline of the quality and reliability of the information we receive, thereby distorting, if not out rightly corrupting, our national civic conversation” (Keen, 2008, p. 27).

I also thought it would be useful to contextualise this debate by quoting Raymond Williams and pointing out that these concerns, about the purpose of our culture and the processes that are going on deep within it, have been discussed and considered for many years. As Williams argues:

“Art reflects its society and works a social character through to its reality in experience. But also, art creates, by new perceptions and responses, elements which the society, as such, is not able to realise. If we compare art with its society, we find a series of real relationships showing its deep and central connections with the rest of the general life. We find description, discussion, exposition through plot and experience of the social character. We find also, in certain characteristic forms and devices, evidence of the deadlocks and unsolved problems of the society: often admitted to consciousness for the first time in this way” (Williams, 1992, p. 69).

In many way, we can think about the products and the artefacts of our culture – the media that we produce –as things that are understood through the application of a set of symbolic tools. More recent thinking about literacies, and particularly digital literacies has emphasised this. So Jones and Hafner, one of the key books for the module, are able to point out that”

“All tools carry the history of their past use. After people have used a particular tool in certain ways to perform a particular practice for a period of time, the conventions or ‘social rules’ that have grown up around the tool and the practice become ‘solid’. We call the process by which social practices and conventions come to ‘solidify’ around various technologies the technologisation of practice” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 100).

And who go on to suggest that: “Media becomes ideological when they become resistant to hacking, that is, when the affordances and constraints they embody are presented as ‘just the way things are’ rather than as ‘workable’ and adaptable” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 101).

And that:

“Transparent media encourage us to regard the kinds of actions that they make possible as ‘natural’ or desirable and the kinds of actions that they constrain as unnatural or undesirable. Technologies tend to become more transparent to us the more we use them” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 101).

Indeed, to the extent that “Many marketeers of media technology extol the value of media transparency” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 101).

In order to illustrate this concept in introduced the concept of Skeuomorphism, the way that we use object so of the past to make sense of the virtual and symbolic tools we have of the present. For example:

“The Macintosh user interface has been called the first ‘intuitive’ interface, suggesting that a user can learn how to use it by instinct alone without the need for instruction manuals or training. The design of the interface is based on its use of what have become known as ‘real-world metaphors’” (Feldman, 1997, p. 16).

“Steve Jobs was—notoriously, to many members of the design community—a fan of skeuomorphism, a style that relies on real-world metaphors and textures in digital interfaces. Fake leather, wood, paper and glass became commonplace in Apple applications, in addition to real-world metaphors like bookshelves, paper shredders, and even casinos” (Schybergson, 2012).

“Apps which look like old technologies such as a compass or notepad are “skeuomorphic” since there is no need to render them that way on a modern device” (Baraniuk, 2012).

What this means, therefore, is that the culture that we consume and participate in is defined by a set of ideas and regulating cultural systems. When we examine these systems we can work out the process by which they are expected to operate, with as an ideology or as a set of generic social interactions. As Jones and Hafner point out:

“Anytime a person uses a semiotic system like language to make meaning they always have an agenda. We produce texts in order to get things done – whether that means achieving some kind of material gain, fulfilling an obligation to someone, or making someone do something or believe something. We judge how successful our texts are by how well they help us to realise our agendas. The first question to ask whenever we encounter a text is what the agenda is of the person or people who produced this text is” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 103).

And the reason why it is important to find appropriate tools that can make sense of this, is because our world is increasingly fragmented and our social systems are much more haphazard and ad-hoc than they have been in the past. We no longer share a strong common-culture, tied with national, religious, social or personal identities. Instead, we have become an aggregation of individualised identities that primarily find satisfaction through consumption and the pulses in the electronic nervous system of the internet and electronic media.

As van Dijk points out “Several significant cultural aspects can be perceived in the trends of fragmentation, segmentation and individualisation of social reality currently appearing at all levels of Western society. The contention is that ‘mass society’ or ‘mass culture’ is eroding and a huge increase of cultural diversity is taking place” (Dijk, 1999, p. 166).

And as Zygmunt Bauman reflects: “A life so fragmented stimulates ‘lateral’ rather than ‘vertical’ orientations. Each next step needs to be a response to a different set of opportunities and a different distribution of odds, and so it calls for a different set of skills and a different arrangement of assets” (Bauman, 2007, p. 3).

Recap:

  1. What happens when cultural distinctions become blurred
  2. What are the new relationships that are afforded by new technologies?
  3. How do we pull back the veil and ‘see things as they are?’
  4. Metaphors are replete within our culture as a way of making sense of the world.

It’s about trying to make sense of a fragmented world.

Tools:

Ultimately, literacies and digital literacies discussions come down to one simple question: How Do We Know We Have The Right Tool Kit?

As Jones and Hafner state:

“The distribution of tools, both technological and symbolic, in any society is always unequal. What this means is that the kinds of actions that media makes possible are always only available to certain people. In other words, the use of meditational means is always tied up with economic and political systems that govern the way we access to them is distributed. As a result the ways media end up being used usually support or perpetuate these political and economic systems” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 100).

So, “Learning how to use technological tools, then, involves not just mastering the range of choices they present, but also being indoctrinated into the social practices that have come to be technologized around these tools. The range of actions these tools make available not only determine how people behave and communicate with each other, but they also end up promoting particular versions of reality and making some kinds of social relationships more possible and others less possible” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 108).

Therefore, as Don Tapscott points out:

“The ability to learn new things is more important than ever in a world where you have to process new information at lightning speed. Students need to be able to think creatively, critically, and collaboratively; to master the ‘basics’ and excel in reading, maths, science, and information literacy, and respond to opportunities and challenges with speed, agility, and innovation. Students need to expand their knowledge beyond the doors of their local community to become responsible and contributing citizens in the increasingly complex world economy” (Tapscott, 2008, p. 127).

We then looked at some promotional web material for different media production courses from around the word, and what was interesting was the similarities in language, tone and intent within each of these courses. Few courses are distinctively different in ideological tone. They are mainly focussed on the need to develop ‘supposed’ industry skills, and they all seem to promise that the completion of a media production course will result in the ‘dreams’ of the students coming true.

Media Production Courses:

http://www.falmouth.ac.uk/digitalmedia

http://www.cie.hkbu.edu.hk/main/programmes_ad.php?d=COM&p=FTDMS

http://mediafilmproductionawards.staffs.ac.uk/

http://filmvideo.calarts.edu/

Recap:

  • What tools do we have to work with?
  • Who has the best tools and what do they do with them?
  • How do we learn to integrate the use of these tools into our day-to-day practices?
  • What opportunities do these new tools afford us?

So, what are the skills and mind-set that we need to thrive in the media world of the future? Should we be focussing on the literacies that people need in order to be able to make sense of the world, or do we need to think about building the capabilities that people have to engage with and change the world? This might not come from a traditional mindset, but instead is something that will come about because we listen to a different set of social and interpersonal impulses. Social media is redolent with examples of alternative literacies and capabilities. For example:

Playfulness is a more important consideration than play. The former is an attitude of mind; the latter is a passing outward manifestation of this attitude. When things are treated simply as vehicles of suggestion, what is suggested overrides the thing. Hence the playful attitude is one of freedom” (Dewey, 1910, p. 162).

I then suggested that other mind-sets might be important in the future, and illustrated some potentially distinctive ways of thinking that Howard Gardner suggests might be useful in the future.

The Disciplined Mind:

“The absence of disciplinary thinking matters. Shorn of these sophisticated ways of thinking, individuals remain essentially unschooled” (Gardner, 2008, p. 36).

“Scholarly disciplines allow you to participate knowledgeably in the world; professional disciplines allow you to thrive in the workplace” (Gardner, 2008, p. 37).

“The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking – a distinctive mode of cognition that characterises a specific scholarly discipline, craft, or profession” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Synthesising Mind:

The synthesising mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesiser and also to other persons” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Creating Mind:

The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Respectful Mind:

“The respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these ‘others,’ and seeks to work effectively with them” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Ethical Mind:

The Ethical mind ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desired of the society in which one lives. This mind conceptualises how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

How these things come together in our media is fascinating to trace. This clip of Paul Morley describing his experiences in popular culture is a very fertile discussion of some of the themes, anxieties and preoccupations of our contemporary mediated culture.

Recap:

  • Which is more important, playfulness or disciplined thinking?
  • How can we learn to deploy and use different thinking skills?
  • To what extent are competing or are we showing solidarity and respectfulness?
  • What do we need to think about that goes beyond our own self-interest?

Conclusion:

To wrap-up this somewhat scatter-gun discussion I left learners with a quote from Zygmunt Bauman, in which he suggests that whatever we think we might desire, we have to employ an objective assessment of our realistic ability to achieve our aims. If we don’t have the facilities to achieve, then no end of wishful thinking will make it happen.

“It is therefore, one thing to have the ability to change or modify our skills and quite another to possess the capability to reach the goals we seek” (Bauman & May, 2001, p. 18).

Critical Questions:

  • What skills and capabilities do we need to be:
    • Sociable?
    • Critical?
    • Producers?
    • Attentive?
  • How will we know we are reading others correctly?
  • Is literacy something imposed upon us, by others, or something that emerges from the things we do for ourselves?

References:

Baraniuk, C. (2012). How We Started Calling Visual Metaphors “Skeuomorphs” and Why the Debate over Apple’s Interface Design is a Mess.   Retrieved 16th October 2013, 2013, from http://www.themachinestarts.com/read/2012-11-how-we-started-calling-visual-metaphors-skeuomorphs-why-apple-design-debate-mess

Dewey, J. (1910). How We Think. New York: D.C. Heath.

Dijk, J. v. (1999). The Network Society. London: Sage.

Dyson, K., & Homolka, W. (Eds.). (1996). Culture First – Promoting Standards in the New Media Age. London: Cassell.

Feldman, T. (1997). Introduction to Digital Media. London: Routledge.

Gardner, H. (2008). Five Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.

Keen, A. (2008). The Cult of the Amateur. London: Nicholas Brearley Publishing.

Schybergson, O. (2012). Skeuomorphism is (finally) dead: So what is Apple’s next design move?   Retrieved 16th October 2013, 2013, from http://gigaom.com/2012/11/03/skeumorphism-is-finally-dead-so-what-is-apples-next-design-move/

Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown Up Digital – How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. London: McGraw-Hill Professional.

Tudor, A. (1999). Decoding Culture – Theory and Method in Cultural Studies. London: Sage.

Williams, R. (1992). The Long Revolution. London The Hogarth Press.

Bauman, Z. (2007). Liquid Times – Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.

Hoggart, R. (1957). The Uses of Literacy. London: Chatto & Windus.

 

Oct 042014
 
Marshal McLuhan

The process of mediation is a central concept to the study of social media, and it was the main topic explored in the lecture I gave this week to Year One BSc Media Production students on the module TECH1002 Social Media and Technology.

I decided that the best way to introduce this topic was to look at the work of Marshal McLuhan, and his central idea that the ‘Medium is the Message.’ As McLuhan asserts in The Gutenberg Galaxy

“[I]f a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside us into the social world, then new ratios among all of our senses will occur in that particular culture. It is comparable to what happens when a new note is added to a melody. And when the sense ratios alter in any culture then what had appeared lucid before may suddenly become opaque, and what had been vague or opaque will become translucent” (Marshall McLuhan, 1962, p. 41).

So, rather than thinking about media and the technologies of media that we use and encounter in our social interactions, it would be more appropriate to step back and think about how technology enables us to think about the world in different ways. What it enables us to do and how it shapes the way that we think, interact and respond to different things that take place in the world, but which are mediated to us through different platforms, different concepts different languages, different technologies.

The starting point is to understand what a media is, and what it does. A media, as Jones and Hafner describe, is something that stands between two things and facilitates different interactions between them. How a set of gears on a bicycle mediates the actions of the cyclists legs and feet and transforms one force into another type of force.

“A medium is something that stands in between two things and facilitates interaction between them… The fact is, all interaction – and indeed all human action – is in some way mediated” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 2).

As Jones and Hafner argue, as individuals we are unable to act alone, but have to do things by establishing relationships with other people. To do this successfully we have to deploy and utilise a range of practical and symbolic tools. As Jones and Hafner say, “the definition of a person is a human being plus the tools that are available for that human being to interact with the world” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 2).

Therefore, in thinking about media and the way that we use it to make sense of the world we have to understand that it is a process, as Roger Silverstone suggests, a “process of mediation” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 13).

As Silverstone goes on to point out:

“To do so requires us to think of mediation as extending beyond the point of contact between media texts and their readers or viewers. It requires us to consider it as involving producers and consumers of media in a more or less continuous activity of engagement and disengagement with meanings which have their source of their focus in these mediated texts, but which are extended through, and we are measured against, experiences in a multitude of different ways” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 13).

Underpinning this process, then, are a whole set of technologies and ideas that, according to McLuhan, provide use with an extension of our capabilities, and gives us ‘affordances’ that open up the world to us in new ways, or, indeed, close the world to us in different ways. McLuhan’s breakthrough idea was that we will, in the future (think 1960s here) use electronic forms of communication as a ‘nervous system’ in which we wont just be able to exchange products and objects, but through which we think and share ideas. McLuhan was thinking this around the same time that the early developments of the internet were being pioneered, but well before the Internet was developed as a working tool.

The challenge that this way of thinking introduces, then, is that we can then rethink the processes of media production, and that we can reflect on the whole set of expectations that we have in our culture about the requirements for learning and engaging with the media as producers and not as simply as consumers. It’s impossible to buy a ready-made, out-of-the-box pack from a store that enables us to become a ‘media producer’. It is a very seductive consumer fantasy that we can walk into a store and purchase the kit that we need to be a media producer. The truth is, however, that we have to learn production, technical management and creative skills in order to be a successful media producer. We have to practice these skills, test our ideas and understanding, and reflect on the processes that we engage in when creating our media.

This idea of mediation is nothing new in Western Society. It has presented challenges to thinkers and philosophers for many thousands of years, so we quickly looked at the idea of Plato’s Cave, to get a sense that the fundamental process of making sense of the world is a major problem that has concerned people for many different reasons and in many different ways.

We understand the world through signs and symbols, and what we are looking to get a sense of and be aware of are the generic social processes that allow us to mediate the world around us for our own understanding and for our interaction with others. As ethnographer Robert Prus argues:

“All constructions of reality, all notions of definition, identifications, and explanations, all matters of education, enterprise, entertainment, interpersonal relations, organisational practices, cultic involvements, collective behaviour, and political struggles of all sorts are rooted in the human accomplishment of intersubjectivity” (Prus, 1996, p. 2).

McLuhan argued that anything might be recognised as a mediating process. The things around us have symbolic structure, and that they transform how we think about the world.

“Media, under McLuhan’s analysis, constitute a broad category: cars, speech and language are examined alongside what we more commonly think of as media — newspapers, television and radio. All of these “artefacts” can be treated as media because, as technologies, they mediate our communication; their forms or structures alter how we perceive and understand the world around us. McLuhan argues that media are languages, with their own grammar and structure, and that they can be studied as such”(“Old Messengers, New Media: The Legacy of Innis and McLuhan,” 2014).

As such, this is a process that is contested and is transformative, and never stays still. As Roger Silverstone argues “Mediation is like translation… It is never complete, always transformative, and never, perhaps, entirely satisfactory. It is always contested” (Silverstone, 1999, p. 14).

So, through this module, we will be looking to examine the ‘symbolic interactions’ that represent the moments when people exchange ideas and try to give meaning to things that they are considering and trying to make sense of – the ‘translations’ that people attempt to fix or which they contest in different situations and under different circumstances.

McLuhan thinks that the important factor is not what is said, i.e. the specific content of a message, but the form and the function of the carrier of that message. It’s not the voice on the telephone that we necessarily need to consider, but the way the telephone affords us the technical capability of speaking over distances. As Stevenson points out

“Marshall McLuhan is best known for the provocative thesis that the most important aspect of media is not to be located within issues connected to cultural content, but in the technical medium of communication. The medium, declares McLuhan, is the message” (Stevenson, 2002, p. 121).

We then spent a short amount of time looking at McLuhan’s ideas of Typographical Man, Hot and Cold Media and his model of Globalisation. I’m not going to describe them here, but they are certainly a useful point to follow up in the further reading associated with this module, particularly how Jones & Hafner use and expand on the concepts of ‘affordances’ and ‘constraints’, in which media is recognised as a set of tools that allow us to engage with each other in different ways than we might previously. As Jones and Hafner point out:

“Strictly speaking, the process of mediation and the tension between what tools allow us to do and what we do with them is fundamentally the same whether you are using pencil and paper or a word processing programme. What is different… are the kinds of affordances and constraints digital tools offer and the opportunities they make available for creative action. In many ways, digital media are breaking down boundaries that have traditionally defined our literacy practices” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 13).

Which itself is an echo of what McLuhan argues when he says:

“Western man acquired from the technology of literacy the power to act without reacting… We acquire the art of carrying out the most dangerous social operations with complete detachment. But our detachment was a posture of non-involvement. In the electric age, when our central nervous system is technologically extended to involve us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us, we necessarily participate, in depth, in the consequences of our every action. It is no longer possible to adopt the aloof and dissociated role of the literate Westerner” (Marshal McLuhan, 1964, p. 4)

This then brings up the challenge of how we can attune our skills and our capabilities to deal with these new media practices and technologies, and what types of ‘literacies’ we might need to thrive in this world? As Jones and Hafner assert:

“The crux of the concept of mediation is that we cannot interact with the world without doing it through some kind of medium, and the media that we use play an important role in determining how we perceive the world and the actions we can take. And so part of mediation has to do with how we are to some degree ‘controlled’ by the tools that are available to us to take action” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, p. 99).

This is a world in which traditional barriers are being broken down and new practices are being explored and introduced that enable us to think about our identities in different ways and to reconsider the communities that we are part of in different ways. Over the coming weeks, in both the lectures and in the workshop sessions we are going to work through these ideas. There is plenty to be thinking about, experimenting with and working to make sense of. As Jones and Hafner point out:

“There are at least four ways that media can exert control over us. The first is through what we have been calling affordances and constraints. Different tools make some actions more possible and other actions less possible… The second way media exert control over us is through social conventions that grow up around their use. The away particular tools get used is not just a matter of what we can do with them, but also of the ways people have used them in the past… The third way media exert control over us is through who has access to the. The distribution of tools, both technological and symbolic is always unequal… Finally, media exert control over us through how easy or difficult they are for us to use. All tools require that people learn how to use them” (Jones & Hafner, 2012, pp. 99-101).

TECH1002_15_Lecture_001_Mediation-Remediation_2014_05_29_001

References:
Collections Canada. (2014, september 21st). Old Messengers, New Media: The Legacy of Innis and McLuhan. From Library and Archives Canada: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/innis-mcluhan/030003-2010-e.html
Wikipedia. (2014, September 21st). Allegory of the Cave. From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave
Wikipedia. (2014, September 21st). Marshall McLuhan. From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan

Allegory of the Cave. (2014, September 21st). Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave
Bolter, J. D., & Grusin, R. (2001). Remediation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Jones, R. H., & Hafner, C. A. (2012). Understanding Digital Literacies. London: Routledge.
Lovink, G. (2011). Engage in Destiny Design: Online Video Beyond Hypergrowth: Introduction to Video Vortex Reader I. Paper presented at the Video Vortext II: Moving Images Beyond YouTube, Amsterdam. http://www.networkcultures.org/_uploads/%236reader_VideoVortex2PDF.pdf
Marshall McLuhan. (2014, September 21st). Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan
McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man. London: Routledge.
Old Messengers, New Media: The Legacy of Innis and McLuhan. (2014, september 21st). Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved from http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/innis-mcluhan/030003-2010-e.html
Prus, R. (1996). Symbolic Interactionism and Ethnographic Research. New York: State University of New York Press.
Silverstone, R. (1999). Why Study the Media? London: Sage.
Stevenson, N. (2002). Understanding Media Cultures (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Sep 292014
 
11055590-large

How can we harness social media for the public good? That’s the question I asked today when I introduced the module I’m teaching this year, TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production. Across Western society we are facing a whole series of pressing issues that don’t get a lot of coverage in the media, but which are important to people on a day-to day-basis.

As issues of social justice, there is growing concern that we take for granted some key aspects of our daily lives, and indeed what amounts to some of our most personal and intimate moments. There is, I believe, a growing awareness that we are no longer in control of ourselves, or able to make sense of the way that we think about some of the most basic issues that we have to deal with, especially as we try to cope with the demands that are placed on us by large corporations, marketing campaigns, governments, the medical profession, the health industry, and even pressure from our families, our friends and our fellow citizens.

I’m talking about sugar, and the mass delusion that carbohydrates are an essential part of a balanced diet. In the Western world we are part of a culture that views the mass production and processing of food as an essential way to obtain nutrition. To put it simply, mass produced and processed food is said to be good for us, but increasing evidence is telling us that it’s not.

In the Western world we are experiencing an epidemic of obesity and diabetes that is costing our health services billions of pounds to deal with. Why are people getting fat and fatter? Is it because they are greedy and lazy? Is it because they gorge themselves on cheap food and don’t do any work? Are fat people just moral shirkers who can’t exercise self control? The answer to each of these questions is no, it is not the fault of individuals that they can’t stop putting weight on or making bad choices about their diets.

Many of us, like myself, exercise intensively on a regular basis, but still don’t see any benefit on the bathroom scales, so something else must be going on. And after reading books by Michael Poolan, Gary Taubes, John Yudkin and others, I’ve come to see that food and the way that we package and process food is essentially exploitative.

The Western industrial food production model does a number of things. It exploits the animals that it turns into burgers. It exploits the land that the cattle and crops are grown on by decimating their nutritional value. It exploits the workers who are attempting to make a living and demonises their trade unions, making people work in harsh and insecure workplaces, while accepts little responsibility for the welfare of those employees. Lastly, this system exploits us, the consumer.

As consumers we are said to have almost limitless choice, but the truth is that we have few alternatives to the carbohydrate rich food model. We have to go with the flow and accept what the major food producers, drinks manufacturers and supermarkets want to foist on us. Try telling your friends that you are having a high fat diet and they will insist – mostly because they are concerned – that you are deluded and that you can’t possibly expect a diet without starchy food to be good for you. The peer pressure that we face is immense, the limited range of choices that we have are getting narrower, and the whole system of food production is designed around the carbohydrates that the food industry churn out, but which are doing so much damage.

So in my lecture today I asked learners to think about the way that their food is replete with carbohydrates and sugars, and to think about how they are sold to us as if they are automatically healthy, i.e., sunshine in a glass! How much sugar would we expect in our food, other than that which we add directly ourselves?

Over the next few months, we are going to look at this in some detail, and we are going to experiment and test out some ideas about how social media can be used to spread the message that the levels of sugar that we have in our diet are going to kill us. I’m going to keep a regular blog about this, hopefully a couple of times each week. I’ll post my lecture notes and any links to sites and stories I think are interesting. Let me know what you think about this on Twitter, it would be great to read about your experiences of giving up sugar and getting off the processed food treadmill.

What are the pressing issues of social justice in society?
What are the challenges of living in our modern society?
What do we need to think about and understand about ourselves in order to solve some of these social issues?

TECH3022_15-Lecture-001-Processed-Media-2014-09-17

Sep 192014
 
Guardian-Scottish-Result-001

With today’s result in the Scottish independence referendum firmly against cutting ties with the rest of the United Kingdom, we can now start to think about how devolution can be put into practice for England. Perhaps now we can start to turn the tide of the ever-present onslaught against local government. I’ve always wondered what’s wrong with local government?

All governments in the last forty years have given local democracy the cold shoulder, taking powers into the centre and Whitehall and effectively telling local people that they can’t make their own decisions. The constitutional changes that we need to urgently bring in must ensure that local democracy is revitalised by breaking up the way Whitehall operates and ensuring that local councils have the responsibility and accountability for making things work for people in their local communities.

That accountability, though, can’t come with our present electoral system. The first past the post system for local government is bust. In Leicester we have fifty Labour councillors out of fifty-four council seats. That isn’t good for democracy. In Leicestershire there is never any hope that anyone other than the Tories will take control of county hall. That isn’t good for democracy. The number of councillors in the council chambers has to reflect the number of votes cast for the different parties, or how else will there ever be a choice for the electorate? A proportionate system is urgently required.

The next thing is the abolition of the House of Lords to be replaced with a proportionally elected chamber drawn from the nations and regions according to their population. The anachronism of the House of Lords is embarrassing. Let’s get rid of it and replace it with something suited to the modern age. Lets make sure the representatives in the House of Lords are well paid so that ordinary working people can stand for election and not just those with vested interests, deep pockets or party connections.

John Prescott mucked-up the devolution debate in 1999 when the North East was asked if they want their own elected assembly. Lets not ask this time, lets just bring it in, devolving authority for services and care to the regions of England in the same way that they have been devolved to the nations of the United Kingdom. This will bring more power for our cities, who will be able to act to invest more effectively, away from the oligarchs of the South East of England.

It will also bring about more transparency in budget settlements and active redistribution. We can’t continue to fuel growth in the South East and expect people in the South East to share the proceeds of that growth without setting the rest of us free to make our own decisions, raise the taxes and make the investments that we want to do outside of the control of the South East elite.

There are two other factors I’d consider. First, break up the BBC and make it a federated organisation with a responsibility to serve the voices of the people in the nations and regions, but with a trust that has a one member, one vote, cooperative policy, so that no one region can dominate the way the BBC’s media output and services are shaped. Secondly, I’d make a big change to our competition policies. I’d sweep away closed-bid tendering and make every commercial organisation who wants to work with our public sector do so on an open and transparent basis.

I would also devolve responsibility for competition in a local area down to the lowest level of government possible – even down to parish councils. We need a competition revolution in the UK, so that the crony capitalists who use globalisation as a mask for ripping us off aren’t allowed to any more. Which bankers went to prison for the scandal of the 2008 financial crash? None. How many companies pad-out their tenders with inflated charges for menial services when working for schools and hospitals and local councils? Who has a say on supermarkets opening in towns and the traditional high streets being decimated as a result?

When you hear a politician say ‘there is no alternative’, there is. There is always an alternative, we just have to make the case for it and to put it in action when we get the chance to run things. One thing to come out of the Scottish referendum debate is a clear sense that austerity in the UK is not wanted, that people want to take pride in their local communities, and that people don’t want to be forced to accept an American, neo-liberal form of globalisation. There is a strong voice for an alternative, and along with our progressive friends in Scotland, the rest of the UK can be more confident about claiming that alternative.

Sep 162014
 
o-POPE-FRANCIS-570

I’ve been putting together my module handbooks for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production, and working out what we will be doing for the coming academic year. I want the social media project to be something of a surprise, so I’m not going to reveal anything until the start of term. I think it’s got a lot of potential as a project and there is certainly a real need for the issues I want to look at to be more widely published and discussed.

I’ve written the exam and have passed it to my colleague for moderation. I don’t mind talking about what the format will be because I want to get a lot of reading done over the year to prepare for it. There’s three questions. The first question that all students will have to answer will be about Netnography, or Online Ethnography. We’re not going to undertake the project I’ve got in mind without a good sense of a data collection and evaluation technique. I want my students to be aware of the principles of ethnographic work and the kind of social processes that they might find useful when putting together a research specification for media they produce in the future.

It’s then a choice of two questions. Students can either answer a question about Digital Literacies and the concepts that are associated with the skills and capabilities that we need to thrive online, or they can answer a question about collaborative forms of social media production, and how cooperative and non-hierarchical techniques of development can help them to produce better media products and to talk with fellow collaborate more effectively.

The main thrust of the module is what makes social media meaningful, so looking at the technology, the techniques, the know-how and the social capital that participants bring to a social media network is going to be important. Hopefully along the way we can have some fun with social media as well.