[iDC] New Structural Transformations of the Public Sphere, new fluencies?
j.schmidt at hans-bredow-institut.de
Mon Jul 25 19:03:17 UTC 2011
Dear IDC-lers and -ies,
I've enjoyed the lively discussion on the future of humanities over the
last couple of days. In preparation for the conference I also agreed to
introduce some ideas of my own, starting today - so here's a somewhat
different topic, which nevertheless will stimulate responses as well :-)
As I've written in my introduction to this list (and I'm going to copy
some parts of the introduction below), I have a background in sociology
and communication science. I'm particularly interested in identifying
the developments, shifts, and mechanisms that come along with digital
media (and their social appropriation).
One, if not the main disruption digital media bring about is the
emergence of a new type of public sphere - thus the reference to
Habermas in my subject line - by lowering technological barriers to make
information or content available.
Tools like (micro-)blogs, social network sites, video platforms etc.
afford the emergence of "personal public spheres" (or "persoenliche
Oeffentlichkeiten" in German). These can be best understood by
contrasting them with "traditional" public spheres produced by
professional journalism; personal public spheres are formed when and where
a) users make available information that is personally relevant to them
(instead of the information being selected according to journalistic
news factors or news values),
b) that is directed to an intended audience of strong and weak ties
(instead of the disperse, unconnected, and unknown audience of
mass-mediated public spheres),
c) and that is presented mainly to engage in conversation (instead of
the one-way mode of publishing).
Some elements of this development have been described in other concepts
or theories as well. E.g., Axel Bruns' idea of "produsage" also
emphasizes the idea that the boundaries between "producer" and "user"
are blurring - he is giving lots of examples from different fields; I'm
focussing here on the blurring boundaries between "senders" and
"receivers" - within personal publics, users are both, since they are
constantly "sending" information (e.g. by updating their Facebook Status
or tweeting) to their social network as well as receiving information
which is filtered through their social graph.
In addition, as sub-type of digital public spheres, or networked
publics, or whatever you want to call these new convergent media spaces,
personal publics are pretty dynamic and fluid - the metaphor here is the
"stream" or "feed", not the "issue" or the "show" or any other concept
we know from traditional media. Information in personal publics is also
simultaneously de-packaged (because users can take single news items,
stories, microcontent and like, (re-)tweet, digg, blog them) and
re-packaged (into one's stream or feed etc.).
These are just a few of the structural characteristics of this new form
of public sphere, and I'm happy to add and/or discuss other elements
What I'd also like to discuss with you are the implications for
necessary competencies / fluencies. Some first ideas and statements,
feel free to add more:
1) "media competence" is becoming "social competence" - it is no longer
only about finding, understanding, appraising given media content (e.g.
the newspaper article; the tv show; advertisment vs. editorial content),
but more importantly about how to use convergent media (including
journalistic content) within conversations and social interactions. This
includes, for example, competencies and skills regarding participation
in reasonable discourses as well respecting (privacy of or viewpoints
of) one's communication partners (think: cyber-bullying etc.).
2) Filter Competence is crucial: As Clay Shirky put it (I paraphrase
from memory): "There is no information overload, only filter failure." -
With personal publics the volume of potentially relevant information is
expanding even more rapidly, so it is up to the individual user to
construct filters - including both traditional gatekeepers as well as
one's social graph.
3) Participation as a meta-skill: Not only do we need to be fluent
participants in these new public spheres; we also have to participate in
the more general power struggles around the design and control of these
new structures, which are often proprietary and intransparent. Put it
the other way round: Being an active citizen in a "convergent media
democracy" includes participation regarding our own rights and
responsibilities as "netizens".
Looking forward to your ideas and comments,
Dr. Jan-Hinrik Schmidt
Wissenschaftlicher Referent für Digitale Interaktive Medien und
Hans-Bredow-Institut für Medienforschung
j.schmidt at hans-bredow-institut.de
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