Media Life Is A Threat To Social Order

Media can reinforce and support agencies of socialization and agents of control – such as parents, educators, the state. At the same time, media can be viewed as potentially disrupting, undermining or otherwise threatening the established way of doing things in society. This fundamental premise – outlined most clearly in Denis McQuail’s unparalleled work on mass communication theory – comes into play every time one tries to make sense of the lifeworld and the role media play in it.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current twin developments of, on the one hand, global activism amplified and accelerated by the spread of cell phones, wireless internet access, and online social networking platforms (such as Facebook and Twitter), and on the other hand increasingly worldwide crackdowns by the political and economical establishment on just about everything people and their (social) media do: SOPA and PIPA in the United States, ACTA globally, the US Congress and the British government considering killing the internet (or, better yet, doing this temporarily thus turning internet into a zombie) under the guise of unspecified national emergencies, up to and including parents, priests, professors and presidents in supposedly ‘free’ societies openly telling you to censor yourself when self-expressing online.

As our lives gradually, invisibly, shift from living with media – in which case there are indeed things that can be effectively switch ‘off’ (by pulling a plug or developing sophisticated media literacies) – to living in media, the established post WWII social order awakens, and starts to flex its muscle. Whatever people are doing in media, it clearly has become a threat to the establishment – even when it involves people expressing their unbridled embrace of the commodification of their deepest intimacies through commercial platforms for the public exchange of private information.

Let me express my optimist bias: the fact that governments and corporations are indeed openly attacking the freedom of (self-)expression worldwide is a hopeful sign. It suggests that whatever we are doing in media, matters. Let me paraphrase US President Barack Obama from his 2012 State of the Union speech: “anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that [you should not be living in media], doesn’t know what they’re talking about. (Applause.)”

In terms of digital culture and the ongoing debate on Culture Digitally about technical agency and the intra-action between media and life, it must be noted how wildly anachronistic the initiatives by governments and corporations worldwide are to make people stop sharing their lives (including their living archives of sound, photography, video, and words) in media.

To some extent the political/economical clampdown on media and the use of media for the coordination and amplification of activism and protest are practices premised on a similar assumption: that people as individuals as well as institutions are looking at social reality as under permanent construction – as something to intervene in, redirect, manipulate, and transmutate (down to the level of genetic modification). The remixability of the real has become a property of lived experience. Questioning reality is the first and most fundamental step towards changing it.

Living our lives in media opens social reality up for co-creation (like it has always been, but which has been made invisible in an anomalous age of mass communication). As one of my students recently remarked: the real question of a media life is: what would zombies do?


Remark: this is, in part, a through-post from my weblog.