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Balance of Powers and Privacy

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To balance freedom versus control on the Internet, we must acknowledge historical norms and meanings that cross physical borders. This is especially true when we give credence to the fact that we now live in multiple communities that have various ethical, financial, and value structures.  But what then is the thread that will weave all participates on the Internet together in a harmonious unit?

I will not lie, reading and comprehending Lawrence Lessig’s  “Code 2.0” was a challenge. It was even more of a challenge to flesh out what Lessig felt was a sufficient answer to the blending of the online community.  He speaks of how social control can be embedded in the code that works in the background of the Internet, but that code has a bias inherent by the writers of the code. The engineers hold the balance of power. Do we trust technology engineers with the infrastructure of future society, those hackers and cyberpunks inserting their will by wielding their technical knowledge?  No. Saying we are uncomfortable with the idea is a drastic understatement. Look at Wiki-Links, which in essence was created by the hacker culture and is now infamous for their tactical movements online and off.

One of the more important effects of the Wiki-Links scandal was that it helped the general public realize that our view of both the Internet and physical space has changed forever, and with that shift comes the framing of new community values.  But each community whether real or Internet based has the freedom to decide what their values will look like and the freedom to ignore other community’s chosen structure. Lessig says “When we live in multiple communities, accountability becomes a way for one community to impose its view of propriety on another. Because we do not live in a single community, we do not live by a single set of values. And perfect accountability can only undermine this mix of values (219).” He does not believe there is one solution, or one structure that works across the network space.

One way to argue the parameters of this mix of values is to look closely at copyright law, which is hotly debated as it effects every level of communication, networked technology. Lessig says “We are not entering a time when copyright is more threatened than it is in real space. We are instead entering a time when copyright is more effectively protected than at any time since Gutenberg (175).” This power of regulation is only becoming more fine-tuned as corporations, government entities, and media understand the flow of the networked space better. They will use that flow to their advantage, which relates to my topic of research, how corporations harness connected communities through crowd sourcing. But then what about copyright?

If corporations use collective intelligence and creativity to bring about change, who or what is the source? In the case of crowd sourcing, the corporate sponsor takes ownership over any participants’ contribution immediately. There is no room for legal dispute, but that goes against the nature of creativity. The goal of crowd sourcing is to promote collaboration, but with zero possibility of attributing authorship to those deserving, In this way, it seems that freedom of expression could be threatened by the craze of crowdsourcing and all copyrighted property, intellectual or otherwise, is locked down.

What we think is a new method of utilizing the new reality of connectedness online and off seems like freedom because of its participatory nature, but is it really a promoter of freedom? My opinion is if we involve a corporate structure of any kind the answer is no. A resounding NO.

Lessig, I think would agree; “Creativity activity that never needed to grapple with copyright regulation must now, to be legal, clear a whole host of hurdles, some of which, because of insanely inefficient property system that copyright is, technically impossible. A significant portion of creative activity has now moved from free culture to permission culture. And the question of values of free speech is whether that expanded regulation should be allowed to occur unchecked (269).” Corporations take on the responsibility of copyright, along with the perks of ownership over creative product and actual and residual products, but what happens to the artist? 
What happens to the individual with a brilliant solution to a real-world problem? They willingly give up their creative rights without understanding the impact. And they don’t understand the impact because current ownership rights and copyright laws did not have the complications of the Internet in mind when they were established. Similar to Lessig’s constitutionalist view, it is impossible to know what the framers of the constitution would say about laws relating to privacy and free speech on the Internet because they had no way of knowing what questions to ask.

We still are unsure of what questions to ask, and both the physical and networked space is convoluted and exciting. It’s easy to get swept up in a movement to effect change, the Internet makes collaboration a breeze, but we must be careful about who is making decisions in the background. The arguments over copyright and freedom of creativity we are involved in now will shape the future of utilization and information gathering/sharing.

What Lessig warns is that we have to acknowledge there must be a multi-layered system of protections inherently built in the collective networked community online and off. There are entities that push back against the system in small and big ways, and they are necessary for restructuring. With regards to copyright protections and corporate interests, awareness of individual creative rights is key to enacting and enforcing those rights.


Written by HiuHiMedia

April 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm

A Cyborg Civilization

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How we define the technology effects of the Internet is a highly debated topic, not just its present form, but what it will look like in the future.

In order to formulate a concept of what the Internet looks like and how it effects the civil society, we must see it first as not a “thing”, an object of manipulation, or a stand-alone institution, but as a “decentralized communication system – a network of networks (Poster 261).” In Cyberdemocracy, Mark Poster goes on to say “The way to define technology effects is to build the Internet, to set in place a series of relations which constitute an electronic geography (261).” If we frame the Internet in geographic terms, it is easier to see how networks of individuals move about, connect, disconnect on top of a surface area; the surface area merely provides a space.

So now that we understand perfectly what the Internet is in relation to technology, what do we do in it?  How do we as citizens of the digital world act in a the digital world?

But we do not understand perfectly. In fact, we have a difficult time understanding it at all, especially with regards to democracy. Part of the difficulty is that the Internet allows the individual to create new identities, separate from those in real life. In fact, the Internet doesn’t just allow for morphing identities, it promotes it through the variety of communication interactions we are free to explore.

Poster likes to frame this identity morphing as a kind of cyborg identity “because the internet inscribes the new social figure of the cyborg and institutes a communicative practice of self-constitution, the political as we have known it is reconfigured” 269.” We are cyborgs because we maintain our individual selves in the physical space, but in the Internet space we have the ability to take that identity and construct a new identity depending on the interactions we have with others within the digital space; half man, half machine.

The problem with defining individuals as cyborgs in our shiny, newly defined Internet space is that we then have to ask the question of authority. In Gary Hall’s article “Hypercyberdemocracy”, he poses the question, not of who controls, but rather “is control a good term to use in relation to digital culture?” This is mind-blowing, in the sense that the Internet space allows us to reformat our collective wiring on the role of democracy. Is it necessary, is it good, is it even possible?  And if it is not good, what takes it’s place?

Both Poster and Hall intentionally leaves the question unanswered, pointing out the need to look at democracy and politics from a post-modern perspective; democracy will be shaped by what comes after the Internet explosion, but by what came before as well. This goes back to our primary question of how do we cyborgs participate in the digital space?

One answer is to look to the past, specifically focusing on civil societies with a high degree of citizen participation. Modern political theorists often assume that if participation of the average citizen within a democratic system is active, than the democracy will be ultimately healthy and productive, reaching out to all its members and reflecting their voice.

In “The Dubious Link” by Ariel Armony, this assumption is questioned, and proven false by providing examples of Weimar Germany and race politics in the U.S. Southern States. “I argue that civil society may or may not lead to democracy because what matters is the context in which people associate, not because association is inherently or universally positive for democracy (Armory 2).” The two examples Armory provides demonstrates how the social networking of individuals can lead to oppression, conflict, and the crumbling of a society, just as easily as it can support a utopian democracy. Associations and a high degree of social capital can be weapons to use for good or evil, a scary thought when we attempt to look into the future.

The internet provides us unlimited space for networking and communicating with others who have similar interests and concerns. We are now continuously connected cyborgs, operating in the Internet, where the possibilities for redefining our civil society and creation of social capital are vast, but what kind of communication is happening?

Understanding historical context, that this can be both beneficial in defining a new age of politics and detrimental to the very foundations of society is critical. We may not be able to control what happens in the digital civil society, but we must continue to ask the questions and be vigilant in observing communication and connections happening all around us.

Written by HiuHiMedia

February 16, 2011 at 7:23 am

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Surveillance and Spectacle

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The individual must be controlled for the health and betterment of society , but how?

Michel Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish: Panopticism” compares and contrasts two different kinds of power exertion on the individual in order to instil discipline and promote productivity. The first example of control is quarantine plague victims with strict procedures and surveillance enforced by top-down authority in order to minimize risk and keep order. This method of control was effective in small, easily policed village without advanced communication systems, but Foucault outlines a far more effective power structure for the modern world: the Panopticon tower.

Now this is where Foucault starts to scare me. He describes the tower as a type of prison cell where the inmate is viewable by his captor at all times, but he cannot see them. He is aware of his own visibility to authority, and at the same time to cut off from the source of authority and the rest of the inmate population.

“Panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to its mechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behaviour; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised (Foucault 75).”

Foucault argues that the very awareness of his visibility forces the inmate toward self governing behaviors. Power in this instance works internally with a limited amount of resources, making it highly effective. In fact, no one has to be watching the inmate. It’s the knowledge that there are always eyes watching that dictates his behavior.

Now why would this be scary? Well, let’s make an parallel to J.R.R Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The Dark Lord Sauron’s All-Seeing Eye was able to look across the Land of Morder and track the movement of the Ring. It was also able to exert power over minions of orcs to wage war against middle earth. It did this by being an ever-present authoritative power. The characters in the novel (as well as the reader) were in constant fear, always aware of The Eye’s gaze, even if it was not directly focused on the Ring.

Foucault’s Panopticon tower is also an architectural and optical system. It “…has a role of amplification; although it arranges power, although it is intended to make it more economic and more effective, it does so not for power itself, nor for the immediate salvation of a threatened society: its aim is to strengthen the social forces – to increase production, to develop the economy, spread education, raise the level of public morality; to increase and multiply (Foucault 75).”

While Tolkein’s All-Seeing Eye amplified the power of evil, Foucault’s Panopticon amplifies power over society by continuously and subtly exerting power in all parts of human life; the power force always being present, even if the individual has no awareness of it.

So how does the power function without us knowing? By promoting institutionalized discipline, that’s how. The State creates institutions: military, economic, education that promote the health of society but also dictate the rules of society, forcing the individual to act within those rules. But it’s not discipline that is the apparatus of control, “it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a ‘physics’ or an ‘anatomy’ of power, a technology (Foucault, 75).”

In essence, the entire construct of our society is surveillance.

But wait, Foucault changes his perspective in his later lectures entitled “Studies in Governmentality”. He defines the Art of Governing as less of a single unseen, institutionalized power force than “a triangle,  sovereignty-discipline-government,  which  has as its  primary  target  the  population  and as its  essential mechanism the apparatuses of  security (Foucault).” He speaks of how government should be likened to the governing a ship, in charge of the interactions between crew, cargo, destination and functions all at once. This governing should also be driven by the needs and desires of the population, rather by the control force of the governing body.

The question becomes which one of these theories is accurate to modern governance in the digital age? If we refer back to “Blown to Bits” we are still in the middle of the internet explosion. Governments are unable to keep up with the complexities of governance on a global scale and formerly stable institutions are having to be redefined on the fly.  It feels to me as though we are in a new age of vigilantly justice.

Living in an uncharted terrain without institutions, regulations to enforce security and no defined power structure doesn’t seem consistant with  Foucault’s Art of Government. And although it is a world of constant surveillance like unto the Panopticon Tower, individuals now have the ability to disconnect from the network. The truth is that answer to governing in the digital age, is as yet unknown, but it may end in a virtual saloon brawl or a pistol draw at high noon.

Written by HiuHiMedia

February 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm

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Connected Consumers

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Modern society is dependent on cultural consumption. We have structured our social and economic relationships around new media platforms that allow freedom of expression and exchange of ideas and information, but are we really connecting?

In “the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” Jurgen Habermas argues that there is no room in modern society for rational debate, modernity has made us all lazy and individualistic with no connections to each other or to the great good, but is this true?

Habermas gives an overview of the development of the separation between public and private spheres in society. He argues that the rise of the bourgeois reading class was the vehicle for public discourse and for the identity of man to become both property owner and human being. Man’s new subjective identity changed his relationship to society, town, and conjugal family.

“In the intimate sphere of the conjugal family privatized individuals viewed themselves as independent even from the private sphere of their economic activity – as persons capable of entering into ‘purely human’ relations with one another. The literary form of this at the time was the letter (48).”

With a sense of independence in station comes independent thought, and the vehicle to express that thought was discourse in the coffee houses and later, writing. But don’t we have these interactions in the modern world? Individuals in modern society pride themselves on independent thought and action.

When I walk into Starbucks (the modern coffee house?) I see a dozen people clicking away on their laptops in a communal space with ambient music, overpriced coffee and comfy chairs. Starbucks in an inclusive space, open for everyone. Wouldn’t this be the ideal place to have a political discourse? To ask the questions unknown?

The people I observe at the coffee house appear isolated at their tables.  They may lean over to talk to their neighbor about the Oscar nominations, but there is no need for them to explore the meaning of life, death and taxes.

And what is it they’re viewing on the laptops? I can’t speak for strangers, but I will admit that my RSS feed contains more websites focused on entertainment and fashion than politics or straight journalism. I’m much more likely to peruse the internet than start up a philosophical debate with gentleman checking MLB stats sitting next to me, which leads me to wonder; if the public discourse that existed in 18th century Europe doesn’t exist in our modern coffee houses? Does it happen in the virtual community?

Habermas says no. He believes that the separation between public and private spheres that existed in 18th Century Europe cannot survive in our illusionary world of a dominate private sphere.

“Leisure behavior supplies the key to the floodlit privacy of the new sphere, to the externalization for what is declared to be the inner life. What today, as the domain of leisure is set off from the occupational sphere that has become autonomous, has the tendency to take palce of that kind of ublic sphere in the world of letters that at on time was the point of reference for subjectivity shaped in the bourgeois family’s intimate sphere (159).”

By this Habermas means that our modern culture of escapist, entertainment-centric conception disconnects us from subjectively viewing ourselves and developing personal relationships with our intimate associations. The separation of public and private spheres (due to free market strategies and other political variables) has caused a shift in the subjectivity of the individual. The space available for critical debate has moved online, but new media platforms provide as much or more opportunities for consumption as they do for enlightenment.

So, is Habermas right in his conclusion that the public sphere is dead because we are now a bunch of consumers with no real connections to each other?


I say maybe because I have an optimistic leaning when it comes to man’s innovation and potential. What strikes me as funny to is that we are all consumers, and the connections we make between each other are mostly based on consumption. This doesn’t mean there cannot be another shift to explore the nature of the subjective individual. I just don’t see it happening yet.

And on that note, I need to add a few books to my Amazon wish-list.

image: Lloyd’s Coffee House, London by William Holland 1789

Written by HiuHiMedia

January 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Clear Journalism

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Did I tell you I wanted to be a journalist in a previous life? Well, I did. I wanted to uncover scandal in the lunch room, fight for more books in the library, and tell the story of the awkward girl who defied all odds to make the junior varsity volleyball team (I might have been that girl).

Unfortunately, the middle school and high school I attended didn’t have newspaper programs where I could hone my skills. In college I took a few creative non-fiction and media writing workshops, but opted for creative writing instead after becoming disillusioned with the restricted role of modern journalists.

My misgivings regarding journalistic ethics and transparency have not changed over the years, if anything they’ve intensified,but I’m not alone.

In “Digital Media and Democracy”, Meghan Boler explores the relationship between politics and new media, giving attention to the the argument of whether transparency of media outlets are possible with so much government and corporate control.

News media are utilizing social media outlets to an extreme degree, trying to reach audiences across multiple platforms simultaneously, but with that level of exposure there are bound to be corrupted messages, inconsistent reporting, and a drive for dollars over straight-forward reporting. Personally, I felt so inundated by news information that I limit my sources, but I am still weary to trust any source, especially when the message is coming from the White House.

I am not alone in my skepticism. Boler gives solid examples of underreporting or changing stances by news providers, and with events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, the inconsistency of reportage was played out on a much larger stage. As a country we demanded transparency: truth. The response we received was disappointing at best. Boler stresses the need to redefine our perception of truth, to see truth with a point of view.

But how does the public perception to incorporate point-of-view as part of the equation of truth? How do we expose the level government control over the media’s message? How do we change the way fundamental structure of media business?

Boler suggests that the structure of internet should be addressed:

“We will have to work hard either to establish nonproprietary, noncommercial Internets and/or ensure that the existing Internet is not legislated into a two-tiered system that severely curtails access, thereby limiting the kinds of production and distribution we are seeing through a variety of social networking and video-streaming sites.”

I suppose that protecting the internet from the threat of a two-tiered system is important. It makes sense that by protecting net neutrality, the message being delivered has more opportunities for checks, criticism and debate. It also makes sense that s change is needed in how we perceive and respond to “truth”, but I have a difficult time envisioning a democratized, open, collaborative country of free communication. My fear is that those in power will grip tighter to their control over the message, as they see that power threatened by the people.

The future of new media is unknown and my skepticism concerning neutrality has not been abated. I’m glad I stuck with creative writing, where the truth is not so important when telling the story.

Written by HiuHiMedia

November 17, 2010 at 8:14 am

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The Art of War

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In reading Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, I found myself feeling angry and frustrated at the realization of how art is used to manipulate the masses, especially with regards to war.

I admit that I am one of the masses. I remember watching Schindler’s List and bawling my eyes out at the sight of those red shoes.  When I watched the invasion of Iraq on television I bawled as the bomb blasts melted into city lights. I watched Fahrenheit 911 and bawled at the evidence of greed and fear mongering presented. These moments captured on film helped shape my perception of war (they also betray my propensity to cry), but they weren’t just captured, they were created to move the viewer toward a specific viewpoint, toward outrage, toward action. And not just one viewer, modern film is constructed and produced to appeal to the largest market possible.

No other example better represents Benjamin’s argument “Fascism sees it’s salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves…the logical result of Fascism is the introduction for aesthetics into political life…All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war (Benjamin IV).” than Leni Riefenstahl Triumph of the Will, a propaganda film documenting the 1934 Nazi Rally in Nuremberg, Germany.

Closing scene from Triumph of the Will (the entire film is also available on youtube.com)

In watching the film I found myself confused. I was at once entranced by the aesthetic and technical beauty and then horrified by the content.

“The characteristics of the film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means o f this apparatus, man can represent his environment (Benjamin XIII).”

Triumph of the Will is specifically designed to transport you to Nuremberg square. It is a visually stunning piece of art, replete with imposing views of swastika adorned flags, 30,000 spectators chanting in unison, and part of a speech given by Adolf Hitler. The film is so effective that you can almost, for a second, understand the incredible hold the Nazi’s had over the crowds, swept away in love of country and love for the Furher. You see what the camera tells you to see. You hear what the film’s sound allows you to hear. It is not just a film, it is art. Art that inspires thought, feeling, action on a massive scale.

This is what Benjamin is talking about. This is dangerous. As an individual I would like to believe that I have a pretty good radar for propaganda, but the media machine is highly attune, using aesthetic arts, pleasing sounds and mass appeal to avoid detection. These techniques are even more effective now than they were in 1934, and will continue to influence the collective perception of reality.

Written by HiuHiMedia

September 22, 2010 at 5:11 am

Posted in Politics

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E-Democracy Now!

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Reading Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Massage” was a revelation to me, a revelation for the new digital age written in 1961.  The significant idea in McLuhan’s argument is that society is crippled because  of the “attempt to do a job demanded by the new environment with the tools of the old (McLuhan 94)”. In essence, we must shift our systems, institutions, perception of life and relationships to fit the new Mass Age.  McLuhan admits that there will be tension and dissension-based fear during this transition process, but he sees a Techno-Utopia is possible.

When I consider the possibility of complete integration via mass connectivity, I think of the legal implications. This may be because my dad’s a judge, but there has to be a foundation of legislation and protections put in place in order for democracy to thrive. During the last election I got involved in the grass-roots movements and I believed in the power of social change through small efforts. I signed up for tweets, Facebook updates, I even took to the streets and caucused, all in an effort to have my voice heard and to hear the voices of others. This was a great debut into the political landscape, but I will admit that I got frustrated by peoples’ fear of us crazy generation Y-ers and our activist, hands-on spirit.

Despite the frustration and the verbal threat or two I received, I came away believing that democracy and the digital, mass age are a perfect match. McCluhan commented on this shift, “A new form of politics is emerging and in ways we haven’t yet noticed. The living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television in Freedom Marches, in war, revolution, pollution, and other events is changing everything (McLuhan 22)”. Together they can facilitate full participation and real-time, meaningful exchanges of information and ideas, without the heavy hand of powerful wheelers and dealers.

Brazil is planting the seeds. In 2006 the Brazilian government implemented a social media component to their democratic process. The original system was participatory democracy with mandatory voting responsibility. Community based citizen committees were designated to meet and vote on legislation that best supported their community’s needs. By adding web-based interactions via email and wiki-type platforms,the face-to-face meetings shifted to online forums, giving the opportunity for better, faster, more accessible communication.

The results of the e-democracy efforts show an overwhelming increase in participation, “Overall online civic engagement dwarfed traditional offline participatory budgeting and accounted for a sevenfold increase in votes cast over the prior year when no online component was present (Ferenstein)” but the best advantage of their new system, in my opinion, has been that the poorest areas of Brazil are now some of the most represented. One would think the opposite would be true, due to the lack of computer literacy among poorer demographics, which gives hope that technology can extend beyond the lines that typically separate voting groups.

Of course there are disadvantages; primarily the mire of legal jargon that goes into bills, public hesitancy of anything new-fangled, and constant concern over the safety of technology but the possibility is there and it threatens those in power. To have the power to make real decisions about government funding and political office given to the people through web-based communication could mean major shifts in the U.S. political system. It would also mean a huge shift in those who are represented. It could even mean a shift in our perceptions of what it means to be an active citizen, a member of the global community.

“Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change (McLuhan 41)”.


Topics for discussion:

  • How do you think McLuhan would see this attempt at e-democracy?
  • Are there any other implications to consider when giving that much power to people?
  • Do you think it’s possible for the U.S. to adopt a similar system of democracy?

FYI: if you’d like to hear the audio version of Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Massage” check it out here

Written by HiuHiMedia

September 15, 2010 at 4:09 am

Posted in Politics

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