The Public Sphere Of Imagination

The public sphere is where conversation is mediated; democracy is implemented and where social action often takes place. The Cultural Studies reader interprets Jürgen Habermas’ original writing on the public sphere, defining it is a “realm within social life in which public opinion can be formed and which is accessible to all”.

Attributing the public sphere’s development to the coffee houses and households of 18th Century Britain, Habermas concludes that these open dialogues were crucial in democratic ideas and their development (1991).

With new technology and developments in the way we receive and disseminate information, the public sphere is amid great change. These new ways to communicate have had a profound effect on journalism specifically, making the body that once fed us information, now part of a collection of technologies to help us gather information. Easy access to publishing tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Blogging sites has enabled common people to publish and share news information, with the potential to reach just as many people as ass media did previously. Dan Berkowitz describes this new chapter in the public sphere “… Journalism has become part of a holistic mix of media elements that intentionally and unintentionally provide people with varied glimpses of the world around them” (2009).

Whilst there are fewer restrictions placed on common self-publishing tools, many of them are starting to adhere to traditional journalistic principles. This concept, whilst slightly differing to the journalistic examples, can be seen in the transformation of YouTube from user-generated content to professionally generated content. Simply, this means that YouTube, once a user-driven platform, is adhering to traditional principles of television and advertising to create revenue which, in turn, is changing the users experience altogether (Kim, J 2012). This is just another example of the paradigm shift that new technology is offering, even with traditional media having an impact on it’s growth.

People are aware that exposure to lots of information (whilst it is varied) does not equal quality and accuracy. For this reason, many still remain loyal to traditional news outlets as (for the most part) they can rely on their credibility and reputation.

I think these new technologies are to be embraced and used by people today. It allows us to publish stories that would see the front page of a newspaper but still need to be heard. The public sphere still exists, but now it occurs online!

 

References:

Berkowitz, D 2009. ‘Journalism in the Broader Cultural Mediascape,’ Journalism, Vol. 10 : 290-292.

Kim, J 2012, ‘The Institutionalization of YouTube: From user-generated content to professionally generated content’, Media Culture & Society, pp.53-65.

Habermas, J 1991. ‘The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’ pp. 1-31.

 

Just another selfie.

For many, encountering a selfie is often followed by a hefty eye-roll and sigh. However, Jerry Saltz’, Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie  manages to depict selfies as artistic, even going as far to describe the genre as an artistic movement. I personally, am still a member of the former category (the eye-roller).

Whilst selfies have revolutionized how we share information, take photographs and the broadened the uses of technology, however, many people are using them merely for personal gratification.

Saltz references Kyle Chakya, curator of the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery who describes the selfie as ‘creating your own digital avatar’, going on to say that “Smartphone selfies come out of the same impulse as Rembrandt’s… to make yourself look awesome”. Here, Chakya refers to the work of Rembrandt, who is renowned for the self-portraiture that recurs throughout his work. This prompted me to think about the reasons behind Rembrandt painting himself – did he want to be perceived a certain way? Was he being selective with the physical traits he chose to enhance in his images?http://www.flickr.com/photos/55420507@N05/10957021615/

This is certainly the case in today’s day and age. Taking a selfie enables the photographer to enhance their best features and withhold the elements of themselves that they don’t want the audience to see. This ability to amend images and construct a profile that hides your flaws and magnifies your strengths poses many ethical questions. Should we consider these people liars and frauds or just accept that social media fosters embellishment?

Typically, the selfie is subjected to numerous stages of editing, including the multiple staged photos that a person will take before settling on one to post on Instagram (or other social media). Then comes the choice of filter, which again alters the image, exposing the audience to an unrealistic depiction of a person.

The essence of the selfie is false, edited, skewed and partial. But now a way of life, the selfie is here to stay. So whatever your feelings towards the selfie or the people that constantly post them, embrace it, albeit with the knowledge that not all is what it seems.

The Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things. I’m currently undecided as to whether this phenomenon impresses me or scares me. Hopefully by the end of this post I’ll have a better idea about how I feel!

It’s predicted that by the year 2020, each person on average will have 6 devices connected to the internet – meaning a total of 50 billion objects will be online and reactive to our every move. Its an overwhelming topic, one that makes me excited for the future but also gives me a chill thinking about what new developments will mean for peoples privacy.

Like the above video points out, theoretically our refrigerator will be able to decide what we’ll be having for dinner, before we even begin to feel hungry. On one hand this is a huge step forwards in terms of efficiency and time management, but on the other it poses a very real threat to the laziness of our society and the priorities that technology deems appropriate.

It seems as though the world’s current ideas are in turmoil. Again using the refrigerator example, what will that mean for franchises like television cooking or advertising? If our refrigerator is making all the important decisions, who will advertising be targeting? It surely wont be me if there are no choices to make!

This idea that everything will be controlled by sensors hooked up to the internet for quick and easy information access is a great one in theory. It’s a step in the right direction for sure, but to what extent do we need this kind of technology in our lives? I think that the above video depicts a world null of decisions and spontaneity; a world where choices are made on your behalf based on previous behavioural algorithms.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I was undecided as to the success of ‘The Internet of Things’… well I’ve reached my verdict. Theoretically this is a fantastic idea and one that, in moderation, will definitely make life easier for many people, specifically those with a disability for example. However, I can’t help but feel as though the essence of life is being dragged away by online servers and real-life sensors. I guess in 2020 we’ll have some real answers!

ily Apple <3

Whatever it is…the streamlined design, user-friendly layout or the superior social status it provides, owning anything apple just makes me feel good.

Apple products are sheik and perhaps the most user-friendly devices in the world. This has always made me feel uneasy about Android owners… why wouldn’t they want to be a pat of this beautiful community called Apple? I know a few people who own androids and I usually come to the same conclusion about each person – they don’t have an apple purely out of principle. From experience, the only types of people who don’t want an apple are the ones who have been hurt by iOS in the past.

It comes down to personal preference and experience with a device but I personally find it a very real struggle to even play music from my friend’s Android mobile (Samsung Galaxy SIII for those curious George’s out there). This is in stark contrast to the ease and familiarity I feel when navigating my iPhone, a phone that can be explored with ease by almost anyone (except my mum).

Despite being briefly educated on the amazing technology that is Android, I feel hesitant to say that I myself would veer from my comfortable Apple bubble and purchase something of such daunting capabilities. After all, the abilities that seem to be such a huge selling point for Android devices are ones that the everyday user would struggle to understand let alone utilize daily. Cadie Thompson, of CNBC, has some tips for those iPhone lovers looking to make the switch.

It’s the overwhelming possibility of non-apple devices that provides me some solace, feeling as though the security and ease of my trusty iPhone is enough to keep me happy… at least until something mind blowing comes along.

I recognize that the Android movement is hot on our heels, in fact it’s so hot that our heels are sizzling! Here is a discussion of  the pro’s and cons of each operating system (iOS vs. Android), revealing that globally, Android greatly outsells iOS is smartphone sales.

[Say Whaaaaat?! http://techland.time.com/2013/04/16/ios-vs-android/%5D

They’re impressive statistics but I don’t feel as though the technology Android provides is necessary to the everyday person like myself, with my gleaming iPhone screen keeping me more than occupied.

#Revolutionary

I’m of the opinion that social media is a wonderful and often underrated tool, capable of maintaining the stability and organisation of various groups. This can be seen particularly in the case of the Arab Spring, with revolutionaries numbering the hundreds of thousands, seen specifically in the mass protesters that assembled at Tahrir Square in Egypt, 2011.

It is here that the conflicting opinions lie – was social media the cause of the Arab Spring or was it merely a catalyst in assisting the already surging revolution?

Often referred to by scholars and journalists as the ‘Twitter Revolution’, the Arab Spring is unique due to its strong dependence on social media to facilitate meetings and assemble the revolutionaries involved in the uprising. A report composed by scholars from Harvard University and George Washington University “analyses… the impact of new media on political movements”. It concludes, “Where Twitter and other new media clearly did matter is how they conveyed information about the protests to the outside world. Traditional media were at a disadvantage in covering events inside Iran because of restrictions placed on journalists, and thus ended up relying on new media for content.” (Aday, S et. al, 2010). This clearly establishes the roles of the citizens directly involved in the revolution and those on the outside world, revealing the importance of social media for both citizens and reporters alike. This example sees social media depicted as an infrastructure for citizens to communicate their revolutionary work, rather than a place to start the revolution itself.

Saleem Kasim, in his article “Twitter revolution: How the Arab Spring was Helped by Social Media”, outlines the usefulness of social media and how its presence during the revolution helped many people to cope and find support, “Through social networking sites, Arab Spring activists have not only gained the power to overthrow powerful dictatorship, but also helped Arab civilians become aware of the underground communities that exist and are made up of their brothers, and others willing to listen to their stories” (Kasim, S 2012).

Kalim also adds that during the revolution, users were able to share “an immense amount of uncensored and accurate information throughout social networking sites”. This is perhaps one of the most important points to make about the role of social media: It’s easy, quick and free! An activist in Cairo during the rebellion tweeted, “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world”.

A Tweet takes mere seconds to write and upload and is done so on a very public platform, providing outsiders with a candid view of the situation from people who are actually there in real time. Social media offered citizens the opportunity to get their thoughts and stories into the public sphere freely via social media, effectively bypassing government censorship. I am of the firm belief that without social media, the uprisings in Egypt etc. would have still gone ahead, however it is clear that platforms such as twitter, YouTube and Facebook played numerous roles in assisting citizens and journalists alike at the time.

Wiki-what?

The words ‘Hacker’ and ‘Wikileaks’ are two that immediately shift my focus elsewhere. The mere thought of the Wikileaks phenomenon is enough to bore me to tears. However, that’s the beauty of University – forcing uninterested little punks like me to discover new things and form an informed opinion. I’d like to add that I’m glad to have researched this topic… here’s just some of my new found thoughts about online activism.

Wikileaks emerged as a non-profit organisation that aims to broadcast information to the public. Using a complex string of untraceable websites (and other cool internet stuff), the organisation aims to anonymously reveal wrong doings that appeal to the public’s interest.

Officially launched in 2007, Wikileaks made headlines globally, with it’s founder and publicly recognised figure-head, Julian Assange at the forefront of the publicity. So what made the Wikileaks debacle so newsworthy?

In 2010, Wikileaks published a video (amongst various other revelations) that showed the crew of a United States helicopter laughing as they killed a dozen people in Baghdad. The video was accessed, downloaded and passed onto Wikileaks by then US military Private, Bradley Manning. 25-years old at the time, Manning saw the wrong doings of his own colleagues and countrymen as newsworthy and deemed the horrific actions to be in the public’s best interest.

I am of the firm belief that the men in the video deserve the appropriate punishment. Not only were they allegedly [I can’t speak definitively as the video has been removed by ‘The Guardian’] laughing as they killed unarmed citizens, but were also heard saying “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards” and “hahah. I hit ‘em”.

So, were private Manning’s actions justified? Understandable even? I think yes – but the court thinks no. On one hand, the men featured in the video deserved to be publicly shamed but on the other, Manning illegally accessed restricted government material.

Unfortunately the courts did not share my opinion and Manning has been sentenced to jail for 35 years – Private Bradley Manning’s story serves as a harsh deterrent for any future whistle blowers who might strive to somehow make a difference.

So it seems that Wikileaks isn’t quite as complicated and shady as I previously assumed. It’s work to try and uncover wrong doings within large corporations and government sector’s is bringing many important issues to the public’s attention. The example of Manning demonstrates the unfortunate reality that is now facing someone purely for displaying honesty and integrity.

#HomeTweetHome

If you’ve been under the impression that traditional media outlets are at war with a rising population of citizen journalists; I really can’t blame you. There’s always been a tussle between how the 5 o’clock news is perceived in contrast to the conventional citizen journalist. The perception that the news reporter is a personified pool of knowledge and the average blogger sits at home in their underpants writing about the “Top 10 things that annoy me” (or something just as mundane along those lines) is a common misconception. But I am here to tell you that these views are quickly being thrown out the window, with the global community quickly realising that maybe (just maybe), the ‘professionals’ and ‘citizens’ could unite forces and make the news world a better place.

The current trend we’re seeing is an emergence of “Pro-Am” journalism. This concept works on the premise that ‘professionals’ and ‘citizens’ can combine their strengths in a bid to create a more holistic sphere of media coverage. This technique eliminates the issues that each respective media outlet faces individually – for example, traditional (industrial) media outlets are limited by human power and physical space, only enabling them to cover large-scale stories. Whether it comes down to the amount of words allocated to a page or a limited number of employees, traditional media cannot compete with the unlimited space and extent of information that the Internet can facilitate via citizen journalism.

Axel Bruns puts it best, “The very terminology we use to describe both sides creates the impression that professionals are not also citizens, and that citizen journalists are incapable of having professional skills and knowledge, in reality, of course, the lines between them are much less clear” (Bruns, A. 2010)

Bruns suggests that there has been a paradigm shift between news organisations and audiences, with those previously being fed the news, now actively participating in its distribution.

Social media plays a huge role in the dissemination of news stories, specifically twitter, a platform that allows the quick and simple distribution of information to a mass audience.

In fact, platforms like this are often used in the analogy, “a bridge made of pebbles”, with each pebble representing an individual news source (in this case a tweet). It would be foolish to believe one tweet without sourcing other information to gain a broader understanding of a story. Therefore, the value lies not in that tweet alone, rather the ‘bridge’ of information that is formed upon reaching a conclusion from multiple factual sources.

For many, twitter has become their ‘go-to’ news source in times of celebrity mishaps, global issues and current events, suggesting that people enjoy being part of the discussion and having their say when it comes to opinion driven news stories. Hashtags have revolutionised the way news is broadcast on twitter, and makes finding information on a specific topic easy and fast. Not only does it make sourcing information easy but also connects people in a global conversation, and are most interestingly facilitated by people that may have never actually met face-to-face.

So go forth! Tweet to your heart’s content because most likely, there’s someone out there just waiting to talk to you…just make sure you’ve sourced it from the right places 😉

Sources:

Bruns, A. (2010) News Produsage in a Pro-Am Mediasphere : Why Citizen Journalism Matters. News Online : Transformations and Continuities. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Screen junkie

Screens have undoubtedly changed the way we as human’s function. Constantly seeking enlightenment from our hand held beams of light, mobile phones especially have made us more aware that interaction does not always need to be face-to-face or necessarily with another person.

The immediate connectedness that mobile phones allow, has led to the evolution of public interactive spaces. Whether it’s an interactive module in a shopping center or a public television in a city square, screens seem to greet us wherever we turn.

There is growing interest into the different uses of public screens, which are being explored. Mirijam Struppek who, in his paper on urban screens, quotes the work of Professor Wolfgang Christ, “Public space is the city’s medium for communication with itself…” (2006). Struppek also concludes that, “The balance between content, location, and type of screen determines the success of the interaction with the audience and prevents noise and visual pollution”. With this, it is clear that the consideration of external factors is important in deeming a public screen effective.

Public screens are used for different reasons. Advertising and promotion is most common, with the public generally feeling satisfied that they get something in return (the joy of interactivity).

Photo booths have become one of the most popular ways for advertisers to channel their brand or product to an audience. They are a fun, interactive way for a brand to win over their target demographic. This year at Sydney’s Big Day Out, VANS ®, a popular skate brand, set up a photo booth within a sales tent. Festivalgoers (the sheer size of this crowd is illustrated in the previous hyperlink) were immediately attracted to the novelty, as not only did they receive a FREE strip of the photos but also had the chance for their happy snaps to be uploaded to the official Facebook page. This technique is smart for two reasons:

  1. The photo booth physically lured the audience into the sales tent, increasing the brands chance of making sales on physical items such as T-shirts and shoes.
  2. After leaving the event, those who left with a photo strip would head to the Facebook page to find their picture, cleverly increasing the chance of the brand making future sales and boosting their social media ‘likes’.

This demonstrates that not only does the public screen have an effect on present behaviour, but if marketed correctly, can help boost the image and success of a brand or company. From the picture below, it is clear that I have become somewhat of a photo booth junkie. The middle picture was actually taken at Big Day Out, the example I used above. And to illustrate the success of the techniques used by VANS – my friend actually bought a hat. How’s that for clever and interactive promotion?photo-10

References:

M, Struppek. (2006) Urban screens – The urbane potential of public screens for interaction. Accessed online at: http://www.paulos.net/teaching/2009/AE/readings/protected/urbanscreens.pdf

The Long & Short of it.

I could write an ongoing list of the things I love about the Internet. It’s fast, informative, and whilst it isn’t without fault, I know I can always rely on it to be there when I need it ❤

It’s hard for me to imagine living in a world without Internet. Revolutionizing the way we communicate, our behaviour and the speed at which we can perform daily activities, the world we live in is no longer physical, but spaceless and immediate. Bruce Sterling describes the Internet phenomenon, “The Internet’s pace of growth in the early 1990s is spectacular, almost ferocious. It is spreading faster than cellular phones, faster than fax machines. Last year the Internet was growing at a rate of twenty per cent a ‘month’… The Internet is moving out of its original base in military and research institutions, into elementary and high schools, as well as into public libraries and the commercial sector” (1993).

This primary source demonstrates that at the time the Internet was being introduced commercially, it was marvelled at and almost revered. Merely 20 years ago the Internet was an emerging technology, now it’s a necessity that many people would struggle to go a day without. It is impossible to know exactly how many people have access to and use the internet on a daily basis, but sources figures suggest that 30-50% of the worlds population have or continue to use it. This info graphic by the Culture-ist visually demonstrates the spread of the Internet and how people around the world use it.

Interestingly, according to the ‘Culture-ist’, 58% of Internet users utilize online shopping (2013). Being able to purchase goods online now offers a multitude of benefits to not only the customers but also the retailers. Major draw cards that Internet offers to shoppers is the fact that product shelf life is no longer an issue and retailers are not limited by space (the Internet doesn’t have a limited number of shelves for stores to put things on – its very much infinite).

Chris Anderson’s writings on ‘The Long Tail’  demonstrate again how the Internet has played a role in the evolution of shopping and our behaviour as customers. Amongst others, Anderson uses the example of Amazon.com using “algorithm-fueled recommendations” to boost sales. After the success of a book called “Into Thin Air”, buyers were directed to another publication. “Touching the Void”, published first but not gaining popularity until later, ironically now out sells “Into Thin Air” by more than double. It can be derived from Anderson’s work that the Internet has revolutionised sales and especially our exposure to products.

Previously, for example, if you wanted to buy a CD, the range of stock in a few stores would limit what music you could buy and be exposed to. Anderson describes the age of pre-Internet sales as, “an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody. Not enough shelf space for all the CDs, DVDs, and games produced. Not enough screens to show all the available movies. Not enough channels to broadcast all the TV programs, not enough radio waves to play all the music created…” (2004). Now, however, online retail enables a place of infinite space and abundance of stock, to cater for everyone’s needs and wants. Now, online retailers such as iTunes, eBay and Amazon offer personalised recommendations based on products that would be of interest to you. This is Long Tail – a technique that not only effectively sells more products but also exposes customers to niche products (such as music or movies) that they otherwise may never have found in a world without the internet.

It’s a phenomenon that just keeps growing and one that provides benefits to its users on a daily basis. Online shopping, in conjunction with regular retail stores are enhancing our attitudes towards shopping and creating an immediate, limitless world for its users.

I think that’s a really nice thing.  🙂

Sources

Anderson, C. (2004). The Long Tail. Wired. 12.10Sterling, B. (1993) ‘A Short History of the Internet’

Old is the New New.

I have a lot of respect for Kirby Ferguson (It’s okay, he’s not a household name so you can stop scratching your head). Creator of the “Everything is a Remix” series, Ferguson creatively exclaims that no art is new art. It would be foolish to say in this day and age that any invention is completely new and free from external influence – words are constantly being spoken, ideas shared and evolving through collaboration… of course no idea is original.

This is by no means saying that the things being ‘created’ today are not unique or artistic – far from it. This idea of remix merely recognises that new ideas are simply old ones with something better built on top!

During a TED Talk in 2012, Ferguson had this to say, “Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made; we are dependent on one another. And admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity…it’s an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves and simply begin”.

Feel free to contest me on this, but this is exactly how I perceive the current copyright-obsessed, piracy-fearing world to be. It baffles me that in a day and age where remix is ubiquitous and sharing online is so widely encouraged, that there is such legal turmoil over the sampling of music. I don’t know about you, but if I produced a track that was so good it made people want to remix it for fun, Id be flattered not mad! (Well, that’s easy to say hypothetically anyway).

Ferguson defines remix as “new media created from old media”. Music is the simplest way to portray this statement and whilst regular readers of my blog may see this as repetitive, I can’t miss the opportunity to mention the work of the one and only, Mr Kanye West. Disregard your predispositions and just hear me out…

Kanye’s entire discography is swarmed with sampled tracks. Taking a few seconds of a song and sampling it repetitively throughout his own creations. This means that not only is something new and unique being created by using the old, but the original song, often unbeknown to the audience, is being broadcast to an entirely new audience. This gives the listeners exposure to art that they may never have heard if it weren’t for the wonders of remix.

One of my favourite Kanye creations, “All Falls Down” uses a ten second sample of Lauryn Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity”, a track released two years prior.

Some may see West’s sampling as a cheat – a way to make money off the work of others. But I would argue that his work is, in fact, paying homage to the artists that came before him, respecting the best bits of their work by incorporating it into his own. And again, just like Kirby Ferguson said, “creativity comes from without, not from within.”