i am going to make some observations about online media, even though it seems that these sorts of observations constitute fifty percent of online media content right now.
one thing which has been bugging me is the way ‘democratisation’ is thrown around (with a z in it) as a descriptor for the behaviour of online media. aside from there being more information around, and more people generating that information, the internet doesn’t seem to have many of the qualities i remember from democracy 101.
yes, online media content is clearly becoming more *participatory*. but that is not synonymous with democratic. democratic indicates some level of popular self-governance and some institutional or at least structural checks that guard against injustice and protect the rights of the weak.
more often than not, the aggregation of opinion online leads to the influence of loud crowds. see new matilda’s issues with powerful lobbyist trolls (a good example of consciously democratic new media, new matilda is also five this month). at the same time civil rights are still being violated at my doorstep and clicking ‘like’ doesn’t seem to be having an impact.
there are plenty of ways in which networked media can be used in a democratic manner to negotiate our differences, work together to achieve a better world, etcetera. but really people are just clustering into interest groups. i think we are confusing democracy with consumer power. what is changing is not so much media as marketing, though the two inch closer together as demand continues to mutate. and so we get lovely newspeak like brand democratization, with a z of course. i can hear george weeping into his perfectly constructed cup of tea.
‘democratisation’ also appears to indicate a process which is naturally occurring, while in reality democracies break out between people who make them happen; that process can feel spontaneous but more often it’s a hard won battle. being able to put your opinion online doesn’t mean you get any more say in how your life is run, though it doesn’t prevent that from happening either. because of all the ambient noise, democratic outbreaks seem less possible online than they do in heated, direct-consensus meetings held in town halls and on the streets. i’m still posting, though.
as an oldschool blogger who still shoves her face in a book when people start talking about facebook, i do wonder about my uptake of new online networks. not participating in some of it reflects a suspicion of being distracted by status-obsessed vacuousness, but also a dangerously low tolerance for socialness more generally. i feel far more saturated by information than i do empowered by it. partly, this is willing saturation. maintaining an online presence and writing and sharing opinions and having professional networks are all important to me and to my work. i am an avid reader and i set great store by being informed.
but i also suspect that as a writer, i am part of a dying breed, soon to be displaced by automated content-generating networks which intelligently target media consumers who feel empowered by their choices while being told exactly what they already think.
it’s probably still better than being told what rupert murdoch wants you to think. but in this context it feels quite ridiculous to spend several years writing a book which no-one has asked to read, and then expect people to want to buy it.
oh well. happy birthday, walking and falling. five years on i still find blogging an unexpected delight.