Archive for the ‘ARIN6901 Network Society’ Category

From my very limited understanding of Haitian politics (an understanding which is borderline ignorant), the country must be in a social and economical turmoil after the earthquakes that ravaged the island earlier this year. The images of shattered houses, streets and government buildings, of dying men and crying mothers, will linger in my mind for many years to come. In the midst of the aftermath, hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean announced his intention to become a candidate for the presidency, a role that, to this date, has been denied by the Haitian authorities. A resident of New York, Wyclef looks to form a political force that unites both the Haitian community abroad (mainly in the United States), and in Haiti. What stands out, other than him being a different potential candidate in a country ruled by a long standing political establishment that is defined by the survival of the fittest, is the way in which he has communicated his decisions and the whereabouts of his candidacy to the media: through his Twitter account. This practice is an exemplar of the new dynamics between politicians, the citizenry and the media, where press offices play an increasingly diminished role and social media sell the idea of immediacy and proximity to otherwise unreachable online personas.

The New York Times, for example, sources its stories from Jean’s verified account (Twittwe has become, as such, a conveyor of validity for journalistic practices). No more midnight calls and thousands of secretaries. Wyclef’s incipient campaign (or proto-campaign, as his candidacy hasn’t been approved) has established Twitter as its main communication mechanism. Even though he has over 1.5 million followers, we should question the real political impact that his Twitter feed can have, considering that many of those followers are due to his popularity as a rapper. We must consider, moreover, that participation in social media does not necessarily translate in true political involvement. As Davis (2005: 138) expresses when summarizing his position: “Citizens may not be willing to invest time in the [democratic] process. The kind of citizen involvement envisioned by proponents of Internet democracy requires ‘the necessary leisure on the part of the citizen to devote his or her thoughts and time to public questions’.”

Wyclef Jean is one of the first politicians heir to the Obama social media phenomenon: only time will tell the extent of the influence informational systems can hold.

References

Davis, Richard. Politics Online: Blogs, Chatrooms, and Discussion Groups in American Democracy. New York, London: Routledge, 2005.

Hindman, Matthew. The Myth of Digital Democracy. Princeton, Oxford: Princeton University Press, c2009.

For ARIN6901, Network Society and ARIN6903, Exploring Digital Cultures, The University of Sydney (Master in Digital Communication and Culture).

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facebook is dead

Picture the following scenario. You wake up one morning, make some coffee, toast some bread and turn on your laptop (the all too familiar initial sound of your Macbook puts a smile on your face). After browsing your Twitter feed and the comments on your Flickr gallery (two of the hubs of your digitally extended social network), you go to the next stop: Facebook, the mother of all hubs, where your friends, family, colleagues and casual acquaintances meet in a sort of virtual Judgment Day. You know the drill: you will change your status, check on any piece of gossip in any of the clusters that make up your social network of networks, probably go to an interesting link and comment on other people’s status. You will click on “Like” probably a dozen times, perpetuating the flow between you and other nodes in this overly popular social network (or, better still, the visualization of a social network).

But this morning is different. When you type those 16 characters, http://www.facebook.com, the browsers goes blank. You type them again. And again. Nothing: just a white space that seems as infinite as a tempestuous ocean. You ask your friends in Google chat and MSG and search Twitter for #facebookisdead. Hundreds of people are experiencing the same, which truly seems stranger than fiction. It is as that Ray Bradbury story in which someone dreamed the world was near its end only to find out that everyone had dreamed the same. You visit http://www.nytimes.com: the headline, accentuated in bold, is clear: FACEBOOK IS DEAD. You grasp for air, your skin as cold as the coffee that lays untouched on the desk. You keep on reading: “Due to the financial problems brought by numerous lawsuits over copyrights and privacy issues, Facebook has declared bankruptcy and, without warning to its enraged millions of users, has pulled the plug of the biggest social network in the Internet”. The world has changed, YOUR world has changed. You suddenly realized what has been lost. There are numerous friends, perhaps dozens, who you will never contact again: leaping over those six degrees of separation with so many people would be an unfeasible task. It will take you years to rebuild the links of that complex network that took you years to construct. Your life was mapped out and memories had suddenly become real. Images of yourself that you didn’t know existed are lost again. Your photo album, a piece of emotional memorabilia as important as those photos from your childhood preserved by your parents, is gone.

You turn on the television and there are images of other people crying, enraged. It reminds you of 9/11. It is as if a Berlin Wall, or a set of Berlin Walls, have been constructed among 500 million people, suddenly rummaging the net like orphans in the battlefield. This is life after Facebook. No more “Like”s, no more comments, no more digital manifestations of the social networks you have constructed over a lifetime, and the social networks that have been constructed through this medium (the ever-present friends-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend). Then you ask yourself how did this happen, why you feel this sudden emptiness, why you feel all alone. You have shared the illusion of controlling the network, and you have found out that the real equation is inverse: the network ended up owning you.

We have to ask ourselves what the implications of this apocalyptic but in fact possible scenario are. The discourse around the network society exalt the “democratic” nature of the informational systems, but generally tend to ignore the oligopolistic nature of social media, like Facebook, that strive to control all networks, commercial, social and symbolic. Having this high level of dependence on a few stakeholders, on a few salient nodes, goes against the very nature and spirit of the development of the Internet: if this highly dense node of nodes disappears, how will communication between many other nodes be restored?

What would you do, what will you do? How will you find your friends?

Why don’t you go to the bar and see if they are all there, looking for you….?

For ARIN6901, Network Society, The University of Sydney (Master in Digital Communication and Culture).