Saturday, July 16

On being the media

be the mediaRene of Luxomedia.com posted the first in a series of "doodles" about "the fine art of moving digital media" the other day. She calls this clip "Be the media" and it's a topic which is central to this blog.

Watch Rene's "Be the media in" in Quicktime:
bethemedia.mov
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...or in Flash:
bethemedia.swf
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The cool little Flash animation is short and fun, with some cool collide-a-scope effects, some great music and most importantly a powerful message, be the media.

It's very short but touches on the two important issues, "making media" and "distributing media". However there's one other important point that I talk about heavily here.

"Being the media" is a process that involves widespread conversation.

Perhaps it goes without saying but in order to truly "be the media" we must not only "make media" and "distribute media", but we need to comment on, talk about, discuss, remix, re-blog, re-contextualize, redistribute and otherwise have debate on those things we find important in any manner we can, because it's only through open conversation that we can be heard by others outside our immediate scope of influence. With participatory media we are all now the conduit through which those we know access and hence perceive the world. If something is important to use, it's most likely important to them. Some would call this aspect "peer based media" or simply "peer media".

What it means is we must talk about and point out those things which are important to us, much like I'm doing right here in pointing out Rene's animation and in extending the debate to the next person. If only five people read this post, then that's five more people that might come away with a more thorough understanding of what it means to "be the media" and five more opportunities that they may pass whatever ideas they may contribute on to yet more people.

In new media now more then ever the masses need to be stirred to take action. Unlike those who would call for action in the past there are new opportunities to take action that do not involve making a large commitment in time, effort, or especially money.

It's the lack of money driving this new collaborative media that people have the hardest time getting. However, free software, better known now as "open source" has taught us that there are new more efficient and even more profitable means of contributing. Through new mechanisms we can engage in a larger variety of tasks with increased effectiveness. Our small contributions can make a huge difference to the good of the whole and reap huge rewards for us personally and these collaborations don't need to involve money.

The barriers to participation have come down, the efficiency of collaboration and communications systems has definitely evolved and an evolution if not revolution has sparked what is now arguably being called a renaissance in human development. To accentuate this accessibility aspect of new media some might call this "open-access media" much like "open source software".

It is our very participation in the process that makes US the media. With traditional broadcast media the viewer was but a spectator, a "couch potato with a remote". (I cannot even begin to comment here on how that's affected our society, though it is a favorite topic of interest. Perhaps another time. :)

With new media your participation is a vital part of the process. It's not just your opinions that are welcome in this new media, (and they ARE very important) the most important part of new media is that you express yourself on that which you have an opinion on because it is your conversation that truly steers the topic of debate. Because new media allows us to engage at will and to rapidly process others comments and ideas without being bombarded or overwhelmed we can through it express ourselves openly and freely even at great length if we want (as I'm doing here) without "polluting the global word-space" as once was the catch-phrase.

An analogy, what it means to truly "be the media".



Now, this may be an old example, but it's the simplest and clearest analogy I have over how your participation in media is changing media.

Way back in December, 2002 Sen Trent Lott, then Senate Majority leader made some pretty interesting statements at a party honoring Strom Thurman.

"When Strom Thurman ran for president, we voted for him! We're proud of it! And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all of these problems over all of these years either."


Strom Thurman was, as most of you know by now, a devout segregationist way back in 1948 when he ran for president. In fact segregationism was part of his primary campaign platform, and he was QUITE outspoken on the issue.

So what was Trent Lott saying in his quote at Strom Thurman's party? That we would be better off with segregation? That he condoned the ideas and principals? How could a current Senate Majority leader condone such a dark era in US history?

Who knows what he truly was thinking, but the mainstream press all but ignored the statements and they would have likely gone unheard by the majority of Americans. However people started discussing it in the blogosphere and on online news groups. Some thought it was inconsequential, some said Trent Lott should resign.

Not to downplay the importance of their opinions, but what mattered most is that they were talking about the issue. What's important is that there was an uproar, that there was a huge proliferation of conversation, because that uproar caused the mainstream media to pick back up on the story that had otherwise gone almost completely undiscovered by the eye of the general public.

Wether you agree or disagree about what happened as a final result of widespread public outrage Trent Lott resigned as Senate Majority leader. It would not have happened if common citizens had not focused their attention on the story in a very visible public forum such as in the blogosphere. Our press would have failed to address the issue had it not been for the debate that happened online.

The lesson here is that internet based media is taking over as the dominate form of news media in the US from TV (as TV took over from radio and newspapers). As it does so there will be a power-shift from a more centrally dominated debate to an ever increasingly decentralized debate where the individual has an increased opportunity to make a difference and participate.

Media, if it ever was, is no longer the tool by which the few steer the great debate for the many. Media is increasingly becoming the tool by which the masses participate and shape the debate for themselves. Because of this the capacity for original though, for understanding, for rich conversation, and yes, even possibly for mob justice will become larger.

On the one hand we can finally have national debates that aren't written up in newspapers for those with a sixth grade education when 99% of the population is capable of much more complex emotion and thought. We can also as a nation entertain sustained debates on topics that can't be summarized by not so brilliant little sound bytes on the evening news. However on the other hand, some traditionalist and conservatives might argue, "what will pacify the mobs?", and I guess it comes down to a certain faith in humanity.

Do you believe that the hand of the few keeps the masses in check, or do you believe that the hand of the few is what causes the majority of the problems and that the hand of the masses will keep the few in check. The issue is being well explored in open forums like wikipedia, blogging, bulletin boards and other open systems. Contained in them are an infinite multitude of social experiments.

With participatory media comes great challenges and great opportunity. Will this shift in conversation create a world run by mob, or will it allow the masses to mobilize and create consensus on world changing issues in a way that our political bureaucracies have never allowed us before. Will participatory media allow us to gather together consensus on local issues that previously couldn't gain the necessary interest through more traditional media?

I'd love to say that new media has helped the world stand together against terrorism as we see in the london bombings. ...or that participatory media has the capacity to hear the voices and ideas of all those who stand for ending world hunger as not even a world wide series of "Rock Against Hunger" concerts could. ...what about the world wide mobilization of support after last years tsunami? What does that say about internet based media?

The truth is that this evolution in media may appear at times to be lightening quick and certain events will be like a slap in the face, either refreshing or disturbing, but mostly that these changes will play out over decades most often moving so slowly as to be almost untraceable and unnoticeable.

As is the case with the Trent Lott scandal we will only be able to ever fully understand these changes after carefully studying them from the perspective that history gives us. Right now we're only taking notes, writing first drafts, making the rough cuts. When we look back at it all from some future point only then will we be able to tell who was right and who was wrong, what was hype, and what was misconception. All I know is we won't be able to gain such understanding if we don't continue to weave the rich tapestry we're just now starting to weave by sharing our thoughts and ideas and in doing so become a living breathing word-of-mouth media.

--Mike

As a point of humorous perspective you might want to check out one of Trent Lott's other endeavors in this short little clip From April 19th, 2000 via Wired.

wnspin041900.mp3
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Yes, Trent Lott was in a barbershop quartet with Larry Craig, John Ashcroft, and James Jeffords called The Singing Senators.

You have to respect a politician who's willing to be that human... and yes, truth is stranger than fiction, though the website and CD are now very hard to find. :)

2 comments:

Dave Toole said...

Michael,

Thanks for your views. Rene did some great work around "Be the Media." In reflecting on your comments about the significance of how people present themselves and work with others online we are already seeing standouts who care about how the conversation evolves, I hope we can help it stay in a constructive mode while we don't constrain the voice of the masses. This is an exciting and scary time and hopefully a chance to contribute to a better future.

R said...

Michael, I think what you are doing with your blog is a great example of the collaborative voice of the internet. By pointing to others, remixing and recontextualizing issues we can take the discussion even further. I'm interested in this process too and hope to convey it with visual metaphors - but these are only from my perspective. I want to see how other people view media and information flow. So I've started a discussion group on flickr called Be The Media and a collaborative blog called Digital Feng Shui. It's open to anyone who wants to join in this conversation.