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Posts Tagged ‘Audience can be producers

Has social media already changed history for the 5th time? What Clay Shirky had to say?

I posted this article a year ago and I figured that it is long enough to be divided into two parts.

Nothing like telling a couple of stories to illustrate:

1. How media landscape was transformed

2. How innovation is happening everywhere, and moving from one spot to another

3. How we are witnessing the largest increase in expressive capability in human history

4. How a media that is good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups

5. And how the media that’s good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations?

This article develops on the First Story: In the voting booth. The Second story: China Earthquake and Obama campaign…is reserved for part 2.

Suppose it is election time, and citizens are dubious of frauds, biased handling of the voting booth, there might be voter suppressions…

One of Clay Shirky‘s daydream projects goes as follows:

” A plan came up to video the vote. And the idea was that individual citizens with phones capable of taking photos or making video would document their polling places, on the lookout for any kind of voter suppression techniques, and would upload this to a central place. And that this would operate as a kind of citizen observation:  The citizens would not be there just to cast individual votes, but also to help ensure the sanctity of the vote overall. What matters here isn’t technical capital: its social capital”.

First big media change:  Many-to-many pattern conversation. 

The tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It isn’t when the shiny new tools show up that their uses start permeating society. It’s when everybody is able to take them for granted. Because now that media is increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we’re all in this together.

Clay recounts the 4 periods that media changed history enough to qualify for the label “revolution” in the last 500 years:

1. The first one is the printing press: movable type, oil-based inks, that whole complex of innovations that made printing possible and turned Europe upside-down, starting in the middle of the 1400s.

2. A couple of hundred years ago, there was innovation in two-way communication, conversational media: first the telegraph, then the telephone. Slow, text-based conversations, then real-time voice based conversations.

3. About 150 years ago, there was a revolution in recorded media other than print: first photos, recorded sound, movies, all encoded onto physical objects.

4. About 100 years ago, the harnessing of electromagnetic spectrum to send sound and images through the air, radio and television. This is the media landscape as we knew it in the 20th century.

There is a curious asymmetry here. The media that is good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups. And the media that’s good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations.

Clay resumes: “If you want to have a conversation in this world, you have it with one other person. If you want to address a group, you get the same message and you give it to everybody in the group,whether you’re doing that with a broadcasting tower or a printing press. That was the media landscape as we had it in the twentieth century. And this is what changed.

This thing that looks like a peacock hitting a windscreen is Bill Cheswick’s map of the Internet. Cheswick traces the edges of the individual networks and then color codes them. The Internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time.

The phone gave us the one-to-one pattern, and television, radio, magazines, books… gave us the one-to-many pattern.  The Internet gives us the many-to-many pattern; a media natively good at supporting these kinds of conversations. That’s one of the big changes.

The second big media change:  Every medium is right next door to every other medium 

As all media gets digitized, the Internet also becomes the mode of carriage for all other media:  Phone calls migrate to the Internet, magazines migrate to the Internet, movies migrate to the Internet.  Put another way, media is increasingly less just a source of information, and it is increasingly more a site of coordination.  Groups that see or hear or watch or listen to something can now gather around and talk to each other as well.

The third big media change: Audience can be producers and not just  consumers.

Every time a new consumer joins this media landscape, a new producer joins as well, because the same equipment — phones, computers — let you consume and produce. It’s as if, when you bought a book, they threw in the printing press for free.  It’s like you had a phone that could turn into a radio if you pressed the right buttons.

And it’s not just Internet or no Internet. We’ve had the Internet in its public form for almost 20 years now, and it’s still changing as the media becomes more social. It’s still changing patterns even among groups who know how to deal with the Internet well.




June 2023

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