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virtual cake

happy birthday to blogtoday marks five years since my first blog post! (and no, there is no indignity to which i will not subject my long-suffering laptop.)

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.


  1. genevieve wrote:

    Happy birthday, you cake-eater, you.
    The first captcha that flicked up when I opened this box was *dining*.

    One does, alas, have to be vigilant regarding the quality of all communications these days – and yes, one can participate in plenty of things that are not democratic at all.
    As for poor old language – bloody Brumby in teh paper this a.m. about the bashing of Indians in Epping(Vic) on the weekend, is foolishly saying, 'it will affect our BRAND in India.' Que?

    Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 7:27 am | Permalink
  2. jenjen wrote:

    oh, god. the droids have already taken over.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  3. Paul wrote:

    Happy Bloggoversary! I agree with a lot of what you say here. The great majority of what happens on the internet is just noise and advertising. Personally I think the democratisation is not about speaking (or typing) but more about reading and access and the free flow of information.I am imagining a world in which everyone can read or listen to whatever they want instead of being forcefed corporate controlled media, a world in which the whole history of ideas is freely available to anyone with a search button. And once again Happy Bloggoversary!!

    Friday, September 18, 2009 at 4:24 am | Permalink