Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
I. Existential Democracy
Technology has the intrinsic ability to alter and transform society – from the advent of the written word, public discourse, en masse publications, industrialisation and digitisation; each has demanded dramatic shifts in how we both commune and develop (Burns, 2010). Control of knowledge has become a valued and intangible commodity and has the ability to educate, influence and sequester public sentiment (Pink, 2005). New Media through the Internet has removed the temporal and spatial limitations on knowledge that once allowed for direction, control and sober aforethought once privileged to the leaders of state and industry – and has become a formidable weapon in the hands of proponents for change (Negroponte, 1995). Ignoring or discounting the power of the collective individual’s capacity for change has recently toppled long-standing regimes and stifled engrained organizations and reshaped the public eye in manners and speeds never seen before. It is up for governments to no longer attempt mitigation but adapt policies and function to meet the heavy demands of the common while preparing for an ever-dynamic public opinion. The failure to do so can lead to the dramatic collapse within the global social fabric and allow for societal shifts and abnormalities spawned from once fringe groups that have entered under the spectre of libertarianism to hide their true agenda or leave dangerous power vacuums in its wake (Howlett, Ramesh & Perl, 2009).
II. Redefining Socialisation
Previous to the digital revolution, social development was moulded by four major proponents of society: Family, Peers, School and Media (Brym & Lie, 2009). While Arnett (1995) once argued the value of Self-Socialisation through self-reflection of media selection, the concept fell short as under conventional media since the self-selection was based between controlled information sources that upheld common morals and mores and designed to generate a solid audience in the hopes to maintain consensus or a return on investment (Crust, 2010). The Internet has changed the capital expenditure for knowledge and information dissemination by removing the requirements for physical real-estate, academic prowess and governmental regulations that are demanded from other forms of media – such as print, radio or television (Weinberger, 2002). Also, without direct appeal from advertisers to maintain a well-grounded and holistic audience in which to portray a given message, more individuals are able to provide their own specific brand of opinion without social warrant or monetary backlash (Robinson & Martin, 2010). Web search engines are used to source material-based knowledge not on relevance, but relation – how many people link to the information regardless whether in an a negative or positive light (Wakeford, 2004) – and because opinion is now relational and not rational, once rare or limited voices can have as much weight on the Internet then that of well-established institutions (Weinberger, 2002). This, however, also leads to questions of the quality, if not validity of said information. Without the requirement to maintain respect or authority, more biased or manipulative information is readily available and anonymity allows for competing views or usurpation of knowledge that can hoodwink the observer for personal gain or malicious mean (Weinberger, 2002).
More than ever, the Internet has become our sole source for sharing knowledge, far outweighing other social actors. This is attributed to its ability to be bi-directional, non-exclusive and global with utmost immediacy (DiMaggio, et al., 1996). Many young adults today have only known a world where information was conveyed in a manner not construed by states or corporations and were rarely exposed to well-rounded, unbiased mass media that sought to encourage public discourse through balanced reporting and considered all points-of-view (Machi and George, 2009). There are less restrictions to participation and inclusion in the development of dialog from a broad-base cohort of society; that changes the direction and quantity of ideas – but quality may indiscriminately alter the direction of policy through fallacy or mob-mentality (Calhoun, 1998); As well, the sheer amount of information, both personal, collective and available with such immediacy has led many to focus limited attention to sources that are more akin to our like-mindedness, stifling the ability to seek out alternate opinion and thus harming personal objectivity; and finally the speed in which ideas and discourse develops and may be shared undermines our ability to absorb and relate information in a meaningful, self-constructed manner – a privilege once obtained through written word and thoughtful well-structured education. The speed and range of information to envelop the world has led to a modern, digital agora that has allowed individual voice and opinion and redefined social attitudes (Robinson & Martin, 2010).
III. The Global Village
Increased globalisation along with adapted technology has rendered the physical borders between nations inconsequential – or fuzzy at best – with the economy being the driving force behind the success of states and their governments integrated by trans-national corporations and ostensive trade (Howlett, Ramesh & Perl, 2009). First, with the riots that started in the Middle East against longstanding authorities began not only over oppression and limited civic liberties but driven by the disillusionment of highly-educated and underemployed generation marginalised by increasing costs of commodities controlled by global consumption and financial speculation (Homer-Dixon, 2011). Food, a basic necessity for life and economically private good is tied to the overall capacity of the world to produce, deliver and provide effectively – making it extremely elastic to changes in the price of oil or the effects of climate change in other nations (Tenenbaum, 2008) – even if on the other side of the world. Without stability and capacity to excel fiscally, many are felt to feel socially trapped and looking for somewhere to place the blame. Second, as the world became more connected, knowledge and information have become powerful commodities – propelling demand for hackers and terrorists to use information garnered on the Internet to corrupt, defraud or instil fear. Governments are not immune to the effects of open access to information, as seen in the example of the recent Wikileaks scandals and discourse over transparency verses national security.
Finally, one of the major issues of globalisation and the potential of new technology is the Digital Divide (Guillén & Suárez, 2005). While as such technologies as film and radio leveraged social engagement during the World Wars and television was the backbone for anti-war sentiment during the Vietnam conflict, they remained property of a well-established estate. The Internet is no exception for the capacity it possesses for change, but more potently so as the message becomes more independent, expedient and holistic (Weinberger, 2002). It has allowed for once geographically-divided groups and individuals to coalesce and alter social policy and has greatly increased exposure and communication. At first, however, the outlay for Internet connection to was limited to available physical and fiscal capital (Norris, 2001, Couldry, 2004) and while governments are usually elected by the whole; digitally, a divided opinion may appear with only the elite holding the ability to purchase and maintain access. Through leapfrogging technology, once marginalised citizens in countries can now afford access and are not only connecting with new or similar voices within a the nation that conventional media may not have the ability (Falk, 1999) – or was disallowed to – and it has opened new windows to expatriates in other nations who may have more exposure to quality and accurate information. The immediacy of exposure to information has been transformative and traditional media has attempted to catch-up and compete with the growing popularity of new media. Unfortunately, they are also working with less capital from more spread advertisers – cutting analytical research and eroding their objectivity in exchange for an increased and more captive audiences (Weinberger, 2002).
IV. Mitigation or Adaptation
So where do agents of the state turn for resolution? Egypt, with the removal of access to the specific uses of the Internet site only propelled sentiment against the ruling party and by example of technological capacity, innovation quickly adapted to the lack of communication by usurping older and more established media – through the telephone – to reconnect the people. Libya’s staunch control over media focused more attention on activities there because of such secrecy, but also resulted in misreporting that elevated world concern and might have turned initial reaction erratically negative in the first weeks of protest. Both nations, however, through there actions lost key and burgeoning Western diplomatic ties to the Americas and Europe almost immediately, flip-flopping international policies in many states within a staggering short period of time (Klapper & Lee, 2011). Blocking other forms of media and specifically arresting those who attempt to report on the situation only encouraged further world interest and disdain (Weinberger, 2002). Long utilized methods of controlling and limiting democratic discourse to maintain the power of the state worked on in the opposite, eroding power further, faster and harder as hard powers are now competing with more versatile and encompassing soft powers (Schiller, 1996).
Conventional media outlets, such as television and newsprint have evolved to include tools of social media, from reliance on individual citizens or freelance reporters and blog postings to twitter feeds to provide breaking news from locations with expedience and without spatial limitations (Machi and George, 2009). With advertisement revenues dropping, choice and attention spans rapidly inversing, and viewer- and readership coming a rare commodity; media outlets look towards convergence as a method to balance travel and human resource budgets and still keep an edge over growing competition (Miller, 2004). But the cost of expedience is experience and reflective aforethought on what and who to report on – and why. Politicians rely on the media to provide the social breadth of opinion in order to drive policy. If the resources at their disposal are unsubstantiated, weak in objectivity or wrought with bias, can leaders of nations accurately reflect what the common sentiment may be or make decisions that understand the minority position or reflect the greater good of society? (Sens & Stoett, 2002)
VI. Neo-Liberalism and Hyper-Pluralism
Recently, movements in both North America and Europe have captured the new individualism people have obtained from the Internet along with disaffection due to economic wasting through the recent recession to leverage growing idealism or toward far-right policies. From Obama to the Tea Party movements in the United States, Neo-Conservatism in the United Kingdom and Harper Government and Ford Nation movements here in Canada, once fringe political movements have captured sentiment to curry their own favour, capitalising on the perception of self-control and using the very tool that provided that capacity to communicate their message (Rohlinger & Brown, 2009). Latching on new found freedoms of expression, these movements have placated individual concerns through directional messaging via new media, garnering support from fringe groups and convey a mushy-middle of policy development that feels inclusive but is rather, in fact, deceptive in design. The notions and draw of power have not changed – but capturing and maintaining it have – diminishing concrete action and transformative measure in lieu of populous ideals and voter manipulation (Sens & Stoett, 2002).
New Media has opened a window of opportunity for marginalised groups and the ability to wield its power effectively can make-or-break a campaign. Focusing on individuals or groups of individual concerns directly to the media sources they more commonly connect can create a custom policy platform which plays on a self-centred narcissism and draws more support. This has removed the traditional method of election where representatives of a localised area are elevated by those citizens to champion for their specific needs and values. This does not only draw on national ideologue, but globalisation has also allowed for supranational paradigms to develop and influence local campaigns regardless or originating state (Unger & Waarden, 1995). The danger of this is the creation of an epistemic culture that can greatly erode the ability of people to respond to dramatic social, economic and environmental issues with creative or innovative ways (Hearn & Rooney, 2002).
VII. The Faceless Voice
In the new eDemocracy, special interest groups and even individual voices have a level playing field to provide discourse once awarded to the social, political and academic elite (Machi and George, 2009). New forms of socialisation which has allowed for true self-socialisation and option to select and voice personal opinion have designed a society with an inwardly-facing mentality that demands satisfaction at a micro-scale and the power to achieve it. Policy makers and statesmen will have to adapt and integrate new technologies (Robinson, 2011) into longstanding institutions in order to maintain the liberal-democracy that has propelled economic and social development and cope with the adverse effects of globalisation. Public opinion and perception has become exceptionally fluid and occurs almost immediately while disseminated over a more broad and vast audience than ever before. The Internet has allowed new voices to crowd out the prior agents that drove social policy and, in effect, socialisation – with little indication to state agents to fully understand or comprehend the direction of will or intent. Nations, politicians, corporations and institutions now are at the very whim of a connective, but not necessarily collective, social conscious changing forever how local, national and international politics is conducted and won (Falk, 1999). While this may lead to a more democratic world in the truest sense of the word, it will leave government ineffective and unable to function within a politically-, socially-, economically- and environmentally-changing world (Sens & Stoett, 2002).
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