From Vietnam to Arab Spring: Mediums Facilitating Revolution

Last week I very briefly touched on the concept of citizen journalism being a way of getting around traditional news media’s tendency to depict war as tame and unobtrusive for the sake of maintaining public support. Today I would like to discuss this a little further and connect it back to idea that the ability to illustrate the true nature of things is facilitated by global networks, convergent technological flows and the rise of social platforms. Not only that but social media has become a way for revolutionists to come together, organise operations and share their messages on a mass scale with little barrier to entry.

Prior to the Vietnam War all the information that everyday people could obtain about war came from mainstream media channels like newspapers and radio, there simply were no other mediums and the general public was given a highly mediated, white washed version of events. By this I mean propaganda campaigns that harboured wide spread support and a sense of patriotism.

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“By the mid-1960’s, television was considered to be the most important source of news for the American public, and, possibly, the most powerful influence on public opinion itself” Erin McLaughlin For the first time the public were seeing war first hand. The horrors entered people’s living rooms and in between school, work and dinners, anyone could watch villages being destroyed, Vietnamese children burning to death and soldiers in body bags. For obvious reasons this created mass opposition to the war and widespread protests. Fast forward to the now and you will see that news corporations, who jump through hoops for the hand that feeds, take every precaution not to make that mistake again.

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The news coverage of war today paints a story reminiscent of early propaganda campaigns, with the us versus them mentality and imagery of merry marching soldiers doing little more than hanging out in barracks and pressing buttons on fancy war machines.  Gordon Mitchel explains how the introduction of smart weaponry allows for a controlled way of marketing war to the public that is alienated from the direct reality of the battlefield. “Bombardiers wielded hand-held Nintendo-like devices that help pilots guide precision weaponry and computerized navigation aids to make their way to their targets – not real locations but map coordinates displayed on a VDU”…”there was little to distinguish the coalition pilots’ experience from training runs made in simulation machines”.

Vietnam War U.S. Casualties

 Sept 18, 1966 

 

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Today 

The problem with legacy media is “you’ve got to be silent, to be spoken to- passivity is the logic of that technology” (Richard Senett). Luckily for us we live in an age where you do not just have to rely on monolithic media for your information. We have the internet where information flows freely and citizens upload imagery of war and injustice every day, the truth is out there you just need to look. The ability to do this is a direct result of technological convergence. Convergent mediums have allowed for mobilisation, coordination and dissemination to take place which has in turn has given people, who would otherwise not have voices, the freedom to broadcast messages not in sync with the official agenda. The mobile aspect of modern technology means that people can bring their devices with them capturing things as they unfold and staying connected to the web. The coordination aspect means platforms like FB and Twitter can facilitate revolution by giving activists a place to come together and plan action at great speed and across distance. The dissemination aspect means that messages from individual nodes can be broadcasted to the masses without difficulty and the extent of the spread is massive in scale.

When all these elements come together to create a hive of connectivity the capability emerges for small individuals to enact large change. However simply having the ability to do does not guarantee it will happen, you need to have the right influencers, the right cause and circumstances where action is achievable at a local level (think globally act locally). But when this does happen it gives individuals the power to change the world, Arab Spring is a perfect example of this.

When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest over harassment from city officials, the local news media sprouted the message that he was merely a psychopath. None the less his death sparked attention all across the globe when the true story was shared across the net and began fueling outrage. The same again occurred when Khaled Mohamed Saeed was beaten to death and the Egyptian government claimed he died of chocking.

By this point protest had already begun to rage but a turning point in the series of events occurred when young blogger Asmaa Mahfouz made a video pleading people to stand up for their rights and take a stand. In this video, that went completely viral, she set a date which germinated the hashtag #Janury25. From there YouTube channels emerged such as Free Egypt where content from the protests could be catalogued and publicly shown. Facebook became a breeding ground for activist communities to form and legitimize and when the Egyptian government cut its people off from the internet, Google and Twitter joined forces giving Egyptian citizens, isolated from the rest of the world, the ability to share their stories globally.

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While this all occurred from the right combination of people and events, it is no doubt that technology played a part in shaping the outcomes. This is pure example of the power that connected technologies can bring and proof that networked systems always beat monolithic ones.

I Feudalisation more like Mein Fuhrerisation

Feudalism is a specific type of relationship between Lord and vassal organised around property and allegiance. In the traditional sense it was where the economy ran off the providing of land in exchange for goods, labour and protection. At the top of this economy there was the king who owned and controlled all of the land. He would loan this land out to lords, knights and peasants and in return they would work and swear allegiance.

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So why am I bringing this all up? Well it’s because although this is an extremely dated monolithic paradigm it is one that is still used today and no I’m not talking about a communist nation like North Korea; I’m talking about right here and now and I’m talking about you. If you are reading this off of an iPhone, if you have a Gmail account, Netfix, Facebook, Amazon, if you have ever used an app, then you are actually the metaphorical peasant of this feudal relationship and I bet you didn’t even know it.

Let me clarify…

Since the introduction of Word Wide Web, content has been in abundance do to mass amateurisation and participation. As I explained more thoroughly in my previous post this has led to the decline in its value.  “The digital economy runs on a river of copies, these copies are not just cheap they are free” (Kevin Kelly). When content can be shared freely it no longer has value and as Stewart Brand states “information wants to be free but it also wants to be expensive”.

So how do you make money off of something that is free? You sort it, you package it and you make it uncopiable. This is exactly what aggregates like Apple were able to accomplish by instead of producing content found a way to tie it to their platforms. You can’t use an Apple app outside of an Apple product and like the peasants who did not actually own the land and could not share, use or sell it without permission from the King, you are granted access to content that you do not control. “The old Internet is shrinking and being replaced by walled gardens over which over which Googles crawlers cannot climb” (John Batelle).

So what are you getting out of this?

Predominantly convenience, in exchange for entering the walled garden you are promised quality information that is nicely sorted and tailored to you. You are also promised that everything works and because things run through a centralised system undesirable information (or anything deemed as such) can be weeded out.

But what are you giving up?

Well for one the internet itself, the decentralised free flowing system is gone and you are now paying a fee for what used to be free. That fee may be a monetary one such as the cost of a song on iTunes or a subscription to Netflix but it also includes your privacy. Everything you do within a walled garden is monitored and just as the peasants who had to work the land to cultivate goods, you are generating valuable data about yourself for ‘the king’ to sell.

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For example Gmail manages your emails for free and in return it compromises the privacy of not only yourself everyone who has ever had correspondents with you, by scanning your emails for your personal trends and habitual behaviours. Facebook, is even less subtle than this creating a share culture where we willingly divulge large amounts of data about ourselves. Convenience is one thing but why are we so willing to share so much of who we are on social networks?

(Bernhard et al) suggests a reason for this might just be that we ascribe risks to privacy invasion more to others than ourselves due to a  psychological mechanism similar to third-person effect. This coupled with high gratification and usage patterns creates a lax attitude towards privacy.

 

Controlled Cyber Freedom

Significantly better than last weeks, now with 30% less tongue ties…

“Cyberspace, as Gibson imagined it nearly 30 years ago, was – or would be – a realm of total-immersion virtual reality…The hero of Neuromancer jacks in to the matrix, his inner eye sees a transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity on which graphic representations of data re abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system” (Thomas Jones).

What happened to world Gibson envisioned? While we are close to this vision – living in a highly convergent, ultra technological, globally connected world – it is almost like we are running parallel to this vision never quite reaching it. While our current technology systems give us opportunity to connect and contribute to the virtual cyber world. we have sacrificed bits of our freedom for the sake of aesthetic coherence and convenient usability. You must agree to terms and conditions before using sites like Facebook, you must send your messages through them and adhere to their format limitations.

I remember when android phones first came about, Steve Jobs- the father of walled gardens himself- appeared on television saying something along the lines of “We define everything that is on the phone. . . . You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. This is a perfect example of what I mean when I say we have given up our control and often our privacy for a sense of security.

 

‘Selfies’ The New ‘Vanitas’

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It is human nature to strive for a sense of belonging and I believe ‘selfies’ allow us to gain this sense through a process of instrumental conditioning. We post pictures of ourselves at our best moments, when we look good, when we are doing something awesome, when we have just accomplished, achieved or even purchased something. Then we post these images as mundane as they may seem to the internet and wait for the likes to roll in.Slowly we begin to teach ourselves that more likes equate to greater feelings of self-worth. It seems silly when written out like this but it is still true none the less. So why do we do this? Because it’s just a part of our culture? Because it makes us feel good about ourselves? Because it’s a way to express who we are? A way to shape the narrative of our lives? Or is it because we are all vain, self-cantered and narcissistic at heart? There are many who believe the latter.
Christine Rosen (2007) claims that Social networking sites are fertile ground for those who make it their lives’ work to get attention. She discusses how Self-portraits allow someone to show how they wish to be seen which encourages self-seeking and egotistic behaviours.
In ‘Selfie Use: Abuse or Balance?’ psychologist Pamela Rutledge sates that the issue with ‘selfies’ are they “frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence or attention-seeking social dependence” (2013, p. 8).

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However is today’s ‘selfie’ generation really becoming more narcissistic?
I mean we are certainly not the first generation to explore self-portraiture, it has existed throughout the ages and has generally been used as a means of showing status. From ancient Egypt to the 1800’s people have been using self-portraits as a way of saying this is who I am, this is what I can afford and this is what I have accomplished.

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Perhaps the influx of selfies is not a sign of an increase in narcissism but rather a product of human nature in a time of technological ease and availability. Humans strive to succeed in life and often we feel we have not succeeded unless that success is recognised by others. So it makes perfect sense to me that the internet is filled with ‘Selfies’ considering we live in in an era where you can snap shot and portray yourself in whatever manner you desire and then send this portrayal to a public audience with nothing but ease.

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As bleak as it is for me to write this when future generations look back on our time ‘The Selfie’ will be the art form that defines us. Although most (including myself) would not consider ‘The Selfie’ a credible art genre it is undeniable that it is communication tool used to express the way a person wishes to be seen which in itself is a form of art (one we have mastered well). Whether this a good or a bad thing I am still undecided.

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References:
Rosen, C 2007, ‘Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism’, The New Atlantis: Journal of Technology and Society, vol. 2, no. 17, pp. 15-31, viewed 15 March 2015, <http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/virtual-friendship-and-the-new-narcissism&gt;.
Rutledge, P 2013, Selfie Use: Abuse or Balance?, Psychology Today, viewed 15 March 2015, <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positively-media/201307/selfie-use-abuse-or-balance&gt;.
Saltz, J 2014, ‘Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie’, Vulture, 27 January, viewed 15 March 2015 <http://www.vulture.com/2014/01/history-of-the-selfie.html&gt;.

My Media Space Knows My Name

This is the first blog of many to come for this semester studying Media, Audience and Place. Our Opening task was upload an image of our own personal media space and talk a little about ourselves. I’d like to start of by saying that my media space just so happens to be the very thing I describe when I am asked to introduce myself. This is because my media space is my life. I am still undecided as to whether I shape my life around my media or my media around my life, but lets just say the two go hand in hand.

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This is a photo of my luxurious and comfy Media Space; which is where I spend the majority of my time (hence it being my life). The Sun to my proverbial media galaxy would have to be the XBox One, it is the central hub for all things Technology and Communication. It’s where I play my games, watch my movies, surf the net and communicate with friends. Most of the time I’ll be doing all of these things at once; playing Assassins Creed on split screen with Instagram or Facebook open on the other side all the while having a group conversation through the headset and downloading the latest ep of whatever show I’m interested in at the time. It really has become a major part of my life and is personalised specifically to me. It knows my name and greets me when I walk in the door, It suggests the things it knows I like and it even listens when I talk.

What I mean when I say my media is who I am is that my interest outside of digital media still revolve around it. My hobbies include drawing Characters from the shows I watch and reading the Graphic Novels of films and TV shows. Even my sense of humor, taste in fashion and the aesthetic of my room is shaped by my love for media. Because of this my media space has become a driving force in the creation of my personality.

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Just a few from my Collection

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A Drawing I did of the Character Rei from the Anime Evangelion.

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I love Anime so much that my room is filled with posters and figurines just like these two. Particularly from One Piece, Japans #1 rated Anime. This is Sanji and Nami two of the main characters.

Pro-Anti Slacktivism

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It seems everybody these days has the potential to become a social activist. With convergence the way it is, all you really need is an issue and a smartphone.

With your Iphone in hand it’s easy to make that new campaign page on Facebook, spread your message on BlogPress, rally those supporters on Linked-In, organize that mass event on Twitter, record that protest you made and edit it into a hard-hitting, life changing, emotional masterpiece on Imovie and then upload it straight to YouTube where it can be streamed and shared to people all over the world.

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So in a way ,yes, it is true that apptivism (as I like to call it) “has the potential to transform the spontaneous outburst of demonstrations and renewed interest in the radical left into a coherent, highly organized and efficient movement” (Adam Waldron 2010), but at the same time, what we are seeing nowadays is not legitimate and effective activism but rather the creation of a passive ‘slacktivist’ culture in which people would rather like a Facebook page than actually go out and try to make a difference. Micah White argued in The Guardian that ‘digital activists’ promoting ‘clicktivism’ are endangering the very ‘possibility of an emancipatory revolution in our lifetimes’. This is something that I half agree with.

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The First thing we need to look at when examining the role of ‘digital activism’ is to look at the motives of those involved. When people support these causes are they doing it because they are legitimately concerned about the issue or are they doing to make themselves feel good about doing good. Maybe they want others to think their making a difference, or maybe they’re just pro-anti (supporting or going against something for the sake of supporting or going against it).

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The Next thing we need to look at is the level of impact ‘digital activism’ has. Is it really that effective? I mean yes, it gathers support for issues and yes it has the potential to generate mass awareness, but does it have the potential to generate actual change? Personally believe that yes it can, but at the same time I feel that no it doesn’t and this only because my personal experience with online activism has been witnessing a whole bunch of online communities discussing their concerns but doing nothing about them (This is called slacktivism). How does liking a page on Facebook or re-tweeting a link make a difference offline?

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Don’t get me wrong though, I do believe online activism has potential. Take the Occupy Wall Street protests for example, originally a protest encampment that started out with a few dozen students and unemployed university graduates. Within weeks it inspired thousands of New Yorkers to join, and spawned scores of similar protests around the country. (Click here for Source). And look at Kony 2012, that campaign literally took the world by storm, for a while it was everywhere; it was all everyone was talking about. There is no doubt that it raised awareness on a mass global scale and got thousands of people all over the world involved. However, I still am unsure of whether to call that campaign a success or not because I am still asking myself the question, what did it actually achieve. Other than inform people of an injustice, what political change did it make? and now a year later, no one is talking about it anymore, it seems to have just faded away without any real significance.

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In order for ‘clicktivist’ campaign to be successful I feel it needs to call people to action offline, not just gather support and awareness online, but I can’t deny that it’s a good start and I have no doubt that online activism could and will lead to some major social and political changes in the near future.

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