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Carrying media

It looks like she is carrying her Blackberry, doesn’t it? 1860 this was barely the case, but we can already see that writing organises a society. I recently stumbled across it in Munich’s Neue Pinakothek. Austrian painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller had this girl carrying a catechism (I guess).

Back then people focused at it in order to concentrate themselves away from the wildness of nature and life. These days we see it the other way around, an upheaval of citizens who carry media with them to re-arrange order and introduce life back to government. Let’s hope that violence does not take over, may the force be with them.

Here in the Western world, it might be useful to ask ourselves what we can we learn from it. This for example: all of us have joked about blogging on cats or irrelevant messages on social media. Yes, the coffee is hot. Maybe that was wrong, and these messages were just there to test the canal in case of emergency.

We saw the emergency in the past weeks. Thanks to the new digital public we can hear a choir of voices, and most of them were, by the way, not fundamentalists – this upheaval of the people was not done by the opposition, but by the citizens themselves. Yes, social media does change politics.

Let’s hope that the narrative of violence, which always seems to justify dictatorship, does not take over.

Is money all that we want from digital journalism?

‘Entrepreneurial Journalism’ was one of the buzzwords of the last year. As journalism needs to adapt to a new medium, we need to explore a new economical situation. I wonder, however, if recently we sort of ‘carried economies to the extremes’. Is ‘how to make money on the internet’ all that we want from digital journalism?

Journalism is obliged to report to the public, and therefore needs to make money. But as entrepreneurial journalists, the market comes first. Hence, we follow a logic of efficiency, instead of being concerned about society and truthfully reporting. Reading this excellent article by Claire Bishop on the effect of the cuts in the UK opened my eyes. In fact, education and journalism have a lot in common: they both used to address common sense, now they are re-defined to address a market. (And they are re-defined to address a market, not forced.)

Is market the new common sense?

For those who aren’t aware of it, from 2014 on the British university funding of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences will stop. The departments will be forced to follow a market logic meaning their teachers get no public funding; instead they will be paid for by student fees that for this reason will be raised.

Pitched by David Cameron as a “dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street,” his “Big Society” is basically a laissez faire model of government dressed up as an appeal to foster, how Cameron put it, “a new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, social action”. Here, Claire Bishop is right in pointing out: this isn’t more capacity to act, it is just is sold as it. You pay, you choose. Fine. But what if you can’t pay?

Once this society believed that democracy is established upon reason, and not money. Thanks to journalism’s critical reporting, you could inform yourself and be part of a political debate. Also, education was a way to give everyone the same chance in this society. You didn’t need money for it, but keep your head. Today, both spheres seem to have lost this function for society. Instead, they follow the logic of the market.

Journalism was always of value because it was more than just entrepreneurial. We need to stop asking how we can make money on the internet. Looking at the internet, publishers should ask themselves how they can generate new jobs, not money, while journalists should aim for a better truthful reporting.

Claire Bishop: Con-demmed to the Bleakest of Futures. Report from the UK. On eflux journal #22.

Jean-Léon Gerôme, Slave-Auction, Hermitage , St Petersburg, Russian Federation

Why Lyotard was wrong, and marketing has a bright future

After I survived the end of the year, i.e. winter darkness, tons of German biscuits, meters deep of snow, several families in several cities, a proper party, plus the challenge to write an essay about something erveryone else has already written wittily about (Wikileaks), it is now back to digitalization and the book.

Yesterday, research made me read Jean-François Lyotard’s ‘Postmodern Condition’ again, a report on the condition of knowledge in the most highly developed societies he wrote in 1979, albeit his reflections on the future of knowledge in a digital era are astonishingly contemporary.

With a few interesting exceptions: He addressed, for example, information still in the mode of scarcity, and it is not; and while he already describes knowledge as something that is produced like a commodity, he attaches it to the state instead of the economy.

Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange. | Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its ‘use-value’. (5-6)

Back then technological research was basically military research, and science was ’subordinated to the prevailing powers’ (8). Reading Lyotard makes it apparent that this has changed. The internet is firstly subordinated to the economy.

It is conceivable that nation states will one day fight for control of information, just as they battled in the past for control over territory … (6)

This obviously also changed. Iran knows how to produce the atomic bomb, but it lacks the means. Information isn’t something nation states need to fight for, at least not in the same way they were fighting over territories. From the perspective of power and Wikileaks, one can even say if ‘they’ fight over it today, they fight against it.

As we all know, information is now something we drown in. The status of information has switched, and overcharging became what once was scarcity. To be able to filter information, and to know where to search for is becoming a new form of knowledge.

It is very well possible that marketing is a job still totally underestimated; one of the most challenging jobs in the future – and not only vital for serving the economy and selling goods. From a journalist’s perspective we still look down on marketing. I wonder if it is time to think about it differently, and show a bit more respect.

Untitled

Familia Rodante (2004) by Pablo Tradero

Charles Burchfield, The Night Wind, 1918

I like. 

This Year’s Top Ten of Platforms

1. Twitter – For still being a fantastic place where people spell out interesting things.
2. Facebook – Already been there today to have a look what some of my friends are up to.
3. Spotify – All that music. Wonderful.
4. Last.fm –  What’s on at the moment? Which concert?
5. Scribd – Guess you can call that social reading. Please read along.
6. Mendeley – Social reading, active Version – mark your text. Also good to know what research others are into.
7. Tumblr – Visual version of this place was intentionally left blank.
8.  Posterous – The slicker version of Tumblr.
9. Flickr – Did you noticed that the amount of things in pictures at least tripled?
10. Google – again better this year, and soon we get GoogleMe.

What was your favorite platform this year?

What happened while Charles and Camilla took demo2010 over

This year, there is a lot to talk about on Christmas dinner parties. Several friends have been out demonstrating against the rise of student fees last Thursday and report an outrageous brutality of the Police that obviously was missed by the press. Four days later, the Guardian at least reports that footage emerges of a police officer not wearing ID. And there is reason for this.

People have been humiliated. They were forced to wet their pants as there was no toilet in the kettle with police men cheering at them. There was obviously strategic misinformation about where the kettle was open so people were forced for hours to go back and forth. Kettles were forced back on two sides as once with people getting hurt and panicking in the middle. Injured people were not allowed to leave the kettle.

Unfortunately the focus on the violence of students was like a perfect shadow for the police to unfold a shockingly brutal behaviour even before Charles and Camilla took demo2010 over. Apart from Peter Hallward’s text I haven’t seen proper reporting in the press, so the news travels the old way by word of mouth. Or in the net like with Brutalcops.net.

Merry Christmas.

On Wikileaks & student protests

Two keywords govern the British attention span at the moment: Wikileaks and student protests. During an event at Goldsmiths College yesterday, media theorist Matthew Fuller had the interesting idea of bringing the two together in order to force the the universities to be transparent. Most universities do not really show strong solidarity with their students, and actively and insistently oppose the cuts/fee rise.

On top, watching how BBC news is covering the demonstration is very sad. In the afternoon, they intensely focus on vandalization, and have minutely updates if objects are being thrown – ‘Two.’ Also, they are desperately looking for anarchists – in vain.

Worse, that’s it. Obviously BBC news decided not to focus on the fact that thousands of people are on London’s streets today to fight against the idea of a university that follows a pure logic of efficiency. Re-structuring a public body purely according to the logic of the market is something that is done to society, and not only to the students. It is hilarious that the economy itself with all those financing of innovations isn’t following this logic; there are good reasons for that.

Don’t we have to call this kind of reporting that the BBC does biased? The vandalization of society by the government isn’t taken into account at all. A sad day for the BBC. If you ask me, I think the situation does need a bit of wikileaking, really.

Update 6pm: Obviously 30,000 came despite the cold outside. As expected, MPs voted to increase the tuition fees to £9,000, of course. Also in the evening, reporting on the ‘rebellion to the plans’ and ‘public anger’ a bit more complex, at least from time to time like with Nick Robinson for example, while this other BBC bloke finds it ‘hard to understand what the mass thinks’ who just was informed about the vote, hence angrily talk all at the same time. Ah!

Update three days later: Or not. Police has been outrageously brutal, but that wasn’t reported at all. Even the Guardian just mentioned the kettle, but didn’t bother to go and look. Some friends still shocked about what happened to them.

On Gathering (without annual detail)

Lunch in the British Library today is devoted to Walter Benjamin and his small text called “maid servant novels of the former century” (Dienstmädchenromane des vorigen Jahrhunderts). Well, it just passed by. I admit, I wasn’t supposed to read it but the subtitles he wrote to the pictures remind me in a weird, wild way of yesterdays student protests, and as they are weird & wild themselves, they also make me laugh.

From ‘Antonetta Czerna, the duchess of wilderness or The revenge of an insulted female heart’, stories from contemporary times of O. G. Derwicz, Pirna without annual detail. These women have dressed themselves up and are gathering with their little shotguns to kill the young man as if they attend a garden party.

Aus »Antonetta Czerna, die Fürstin der Wildnis oder Der Rachegang eines beleidigten Frauenherzens«, Erzählung aus der neuesten Zeit von O. G. Derwicz, Pirna ohne Jahr. Diese Damen haben sich adrett gekleidet mit ihren kleinen Flinten zur Erschießung des junge Mannes wie zu einem Gartenfest eingefunden.

Seems to resonate in a certain way with the aftermath of yesterday’s student protests exactly in two moments: A) the cuts definitely have reached by now people that know how to dress up for a garden party. B) albeit publicly it tried to be hidden in the dress code, we need to think of the difference between violence and vandalism.

Or what do you think this is: This morning I found a note on my seat in which the British Library is informing its readers about the cuts. Among others the press release states: ‘Our annual capital budget has been cut by 50%. This means that by 2014/15 the British Library will be funded at its lowest level in real terms since its creation in 1972″, and that they have to let go 200 people over the next two years.

Vandalism? Or violence?

5 points on digital public & the future of the fourth estate

Social media has come of age, but has it grown up enough to be a ‘digital public’? As we find a new critical voice dealing with a new statistical truth out there, we can consider it has.

When kicking off a new series of long-formed blogs launched by the comment-is-free section in the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger recently asked a crucial question: What’s the future of the fourth estate in this digital age.

In his post, he discussed the relationship of social media to the general news environment as it is being stretched and redefined; also he asked if social media doesn’t need a better name. Oh yes, it does. Actually, this is overdue.

There is no doubt that in the past years social media like blogs, Twitter, or Facebook became part of the public sphere. But what is their role there? Are they just private chatter, or more? Are they just publicly available, or can social media live up to the burden that comes with the notion of ‘the public’?

1 There is a voice out there

Cases like Trafigura, when the British press was gagged, banned from reporting a parliamentary question that was then posted all over Twitter; the outcry to the Daily Mail Moir’s homophobe column regarding the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately; or even the live commenting of the spending cuts recently show that there is definitely a voice out there, the voice of a new digital public.

In countries with no free press like Iran or Egypt, Facebook is an important and independent alternative – no wonder that the Egypt government recently considered regulating Facebook.
Contrary to someone like Malcom Gladwell who believes that social media are ‘weak communities’ a lot of governments think differently, and find this loud voice of the new digital public threatening.

As the Committee to Protect Journalism reports, half of all the journalists now in jail are bloggers or online-journalists.
There is a new and strong public digital voice out there, and it might be even more journalistic than it seems at first sight.

2 On a new, statistical truth

It is obvious that there is a lot of commenting and criticizing going on in social media; sometimes we even feel to drown in opinions. However, this new digital public might be more committed to journalism than we think.

If one has a closer look it becomes apparent that much like journalism the digital public consists of two sides: opinion and facts. There are blogs, Twitter and Facebook on one side, but there is also a new place to look up the facts to which social media links: Google.

What the user gets with Google surely isn’t journalism – instead he or she is turned into a journalist himself. On Google we get search results that link to sources. We have to consider different views; much like a journalist we users have to track down the truth.

The digital truth that users are dealing with when searching with Google is surely different than the journalistic commitment to truth. Quality journalism is relying on different sources corresponding, while the truth the digital public operates with can better be described as a ’statistical truth’.

This ’statistical truth’ doesn’t produce a single fact, but delivers a choir of voices as a variety of different sources can be considered. One link might be wrong, but much like in a choir a wrong note doesn’t mean that the people don’t get the melody.

3 Tiny attention span vs. long tail

Furthermore, links give people the ability to dig in deeper. The digital public that spreads from Twitter to Google might have a tiny attention span as it is said persistently, but it also has a long tail; one that doesn’t forget.

Also interesting that Google uses every occasion to insist on being just a platform, and is not producing any content at all. Can we say that Google is imposing itself a division quite similar to the traditional split into editorial content and advertisement we know from journalism?

Still, there is one question apparent: as its search algorithms get tweaked about 20 times a day, who controls Google? Given Google’s importance for getting knowledge today, the digital public needs a controlling balance. Can we consider classic journalism here as of some importance?

4 Don’t trust the new digital public

One doesn’t have to prick up one’s ears to hear a strong distrust in the social media and the new digital public. However, this distrust was always accompanying journalism, too. No matter if a news organisation was state owned or run commercially, journalism was always under the suspicion of a conflict of interest – and that threat was important.

Being under the suspicion of a conflict of interest kept journalism in its neutral role, a role that Walter Lippmann described aptly as an anomaly of our democratic civilisation:

There is nothing else quite like it, and it is, therefore, hard to compare the press with any other business or institution.

It is not a business pure and simple, partly because the product is regularly sold below cost, but chiefly because the community applies on ethical measure to the press and another to trade or manufacture.

Ethically a newspaper is judged as if it were a church or a school.

Albeit news organisations were often fallen angels, it was important that they remained angels. Fallen or not, telling the truth is the ethos that accompanies journalism, it is the attitude that defines journalism, or as Walter Lippmann once put it:

There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.

Being committed to an ideal, however difficult that might be, is fundamental to the logic of journalism. A journalist has to be committed to accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability, as well as to consider a limitation of harm with news reporting and to be transparent about its conflict of interest.

This is, however, not only the ethic of journalism, it describes partly the ethic of a democratic society. It may be of no surprise that within the digital public its participants, the people, watch and correct each other, if they fail – and much like journalists from time to time they do.

Finally …

While the digital public sincerely has a journalistic aspect, there is a conflict of interest written into its skeleton: It might be biased.

Its immediacy feels utterly democratic, but we have to ask ourselves if social media really is so. Isn’t social media a case for the one’s that can express themselves fairly well? Isn’t it a middle class medium? Currently, 9 million Britons never have been on the internet.

There is obviously a digital divide that must be considered. Twitter and other platforms feel democratic, but they are not representative. Reporters, on the other hand, leave their desks to go beyond those digital borders to listen to voices otherwise not heard.

In the future, the digital public will be an important voice within the fourth estate, one voice that is a gain for journalism – equally used, and observed by it.

This new digital public already enriches traditional journalism, but it isn’t replacing it. Traditional reporting, leaving the desk, will remain an important balance to the digital public; one we can’t do without.


Links:
Alan Rusbridger on the Future of the Fourth Estate

Egypt considers to regulate Facebook

The Guardian: Twitter can’t be gagged. On the online outcry over Guardian/Trafigura order

Malcom Gladwell does not like the internet anymore, and wrote a book about it

Committee to Protect Journalist 2009 Prison Census

It’s life long learning. Who needs an education?

Over 50,000 students all over from the UK came to march the streets of London to protest against the cuts in higher education, far more than the 24,000 expected – I already blogged about the disgusting situation this imposes upon humans here.

To quiesce the university i.e. smart people there seems to be several tactics at work nowadays.

The German one can be described as ‘divide at impera’, divide and rule: While some universities and departments are awarded as a ‘cluster of excellence’ to be showered with money, most others are force into third-party funding which means no thinking but a lot of administration. Two days ago an email of my friend B informed me that Austria is also planning deep cuts in its research funding.

Hence, shutting down higher education seems to be not just an UK issue, but in general a European thing; if so the question must be asked is what this logic of capitalism is that we can here see at work.

Clearly, the cuts put a lot of pressure on humanities and arts, fear is that they will become a preserve for the most privileged students while medicine and engineering is likely to be protected.

One could state the obvious, the cuts are imposed to shut down the centres of critical thinking. However, this argument feels sort of shallow, like an imposed distraction, apart from being quite arrogant against the other faculties – I know that there is also critical thinking within mathematics, medicine, or even management studies. I am not buying it.

I wonder. Why are we hindering the departments where students are explicitly supposed to learn a thinking that doesn’t behave in the supposed way, and why are we doing this in a moment when the computers/networks/algorithms start to be able to do skilled work, and the automatization of knowledge in this post-Google world is about to come of age?

From this arrises the next question: Why is it more important for capitalism to give people a fierce lesson that they need to adapt to the job market?

… to be continued.

When the world turns into objects #GracefulAlienation

Too many thoughts are waiting to be developed and spin in my head, among them such different things as muses (why is there no version for females?), paywalls (TimesOnline just posted their 50,000 monthly subscriber figure), and ‘we-goverments’ (an up and coming thing). However, let’s turn to music for a minute.

It’s worth it.

Ever since I stumbled across James Blake’s way of composing electronic tracks his music has fascinated me. He has developed this new way of taking musical elements apart; he pushes, transforms and changes the single parts carefully a bit, until they become their own objects which he sets together anew in an abstract and wonderful way. I barely ever came across such a graceful way of alienating something.

Take ‘Limit to your love’: A beautiful video by Martin de Thurah, a calm song that gives you lots of room, room that gets even wider when a bass wall sets in at minute 0.55 to add another layer. Yes. Music. Isn’t it an amazing thing? Make sure you are connected to a good stereo, or use your headphones, otherwise you wouldn’t get what I mean.