T.I.A.A.*: Voting, The Internet & Democracy

If voting chaged anything
I have been taken aback today by the number of people tweeting or texting me to check that I have voted.
This is a really interesting phenomenon.

I don’t think I can recall as many people putting out the call to become politically active before.
But what’s the driver for this? Is it public disenfranchisement with the political status quo following recent political scandals?

Or is it something much broader – perhaps the trend that people are becoming more and empowered in everything from purchasing decisions to political choice?

There’s probably a bit of both at play and I believe (of coruse!) that this is being catalysed by the Internet. But while the Internet is perhaos galvanising these emotions, their roots lie deeper in the drive for accountability (thus transparency) and a fundamental desire for empowerment – both political (with a small 'p') and personal.

These thoughts were most recently crystallised in a presentation on the Internet and democracy I delivered in the Isle of Man, which – funnily enough – is the world’s oldest, continuous parliamentary democracy.

What follows is blog short-hand for many rambling, overlapping and unexplored ideas knocking around in my head so please excuse any non sequiturs!

I began by looking at two great scholars of the Internet and the Information Age: Manuel Castells and Yochai Benkler.

To grossly précis and paraphrase the pair, Castell’s argues that networked organisation in society is greatly reducing the validity of the state, government and political parties; Benkler argues that the Internet is creating a new ‘commons’ enabling peer production of economic and cultural good and increasing democratic freedoms.

Put together we can plot major faultlines opening in the traditional role of institutions (state, government, political parties and even NGOs) to govern and conversely significant opportunities emerging for individuals and communities to self-govern.

Or rather not 'govern' as we traditional conceive of it as 'governing' implies a hierarchical organisation that uses power over others to achieve organisation.

I appreciate that non-hierarchical organisation is not as simple as this sentence implies (the Tyranny of Structurelessness' for starters – although I also believe the Internet can help overcome this** – see below if you're interested) but the idea of self-organisation has a much more deep-rooted basis than that espoused by Clay Shirky.

What we perceive as contemporary political democracy originates more or less in the Enlightenment and is best exemplified by Jurgen Habermas's vision of the 'public sphere' where civil society was created by consensus.

However, contemporary French philosopher, Jacques Ranciere, has ideated a vision of democracy that is rooted in dissensus, rather than consensus. For Ranciere, consensus is not true democracy, but rather compromise based on the way civil society is framed by its historical institutions e.g. the state, political parties, NGOs, etc.

This is what brings – eventually – back around to 'real' democracy and the Internet. Ranciere sees democracy as unmediated – direct connections between individuals or even loosely affiliated, affinity groups. Does the internet help people achieve this?

It was Jeff Jarvis who wrote (in The Guardian) back in early 2006 that:

"The internet … disaggregates elements and then enables these free atoms
to reaggregate into new molecules; it fragments the old and unifies the
new. So in the end, the internet gives us the opportunity to make more
nuanced expressions of our political worldview, which makes obsolete
old orthodox"

Is this not dissensus-based politics? And is it not potentially driving a societal shift towards a world where people want political engagement and democracy to be on an individual level? Without party politics and ingrained corruption and unchecked power? I dunno. I'm only asking!

* T.I.A.A. – There is always an alternative: my interpretation of Thatcher's T.I.N.A.

** The Tyrany of Structurelessness (TToS) – For those interested I believe that the paradox inherent within (my reading) of TToS could potentially be (and, indeed, is) overcome by the Internet and self-organising, horizontal networks. The original issue in TToS was that attempts to create a structureless (i.e. non-hierarchical) organisation in the physical world became undone as groups spend there efforts at creating a structureless organisation, rather than achieving anything through that structurelessness.

However, as the Internet in instrumentally structureless, any organising done using the Internet is inherently structureless also. Therefore it removes the need to artificially create a structureless organisation allowing the group to organise non-hierarchically and achieve things.

Tags: democracy, elections Tyranny of Structurelessness, Jacques Ranciere, Jurgen Habermas

Phatic Communciations and other interesting ideas from Grant McCracken

I came across an interesting interview with the advertising anthropologist, Grant McCracken, the other day.

I recommend taking a read, but here are a couple of stand out points for me:

Firstly, Grant (prompted by the interviewer) talks about ‘phatic communications’:

"those little murmurs, exclamations, grunts and sighs with which we communicate our emotional condition."

I like this idea. It is essentially how social tools like Twitter and Facebook capture and share meaning without using explicit information.

Secondly, Grant also points out that:

Consumers are no longer one set of tastes and preferences. They are bundles of tastes and preferences.”

This means that dividing people into one market or demographic doesn’t work; we need to recognize

an individual’s “multiple selves” and appeal to them accordingly.

Grant doesn’t discuss this phenomenon directly in relation to the Internet, but for me the power for people to explore different desires, needs and wants that are all traditionally tied up in conventional marketing terms such as ABC1, 22-34 has been awoken and opened up by the Internet.

I believe this isn’t just the ‘alter-ego’ scenario displayed by tools like Second Life or WoW, but is in fact more basic and everyday. We are all complex characters; the Internet simply allows us to realise this more adequately than the physical environment.

I tried to explore this idea in more depth with a post last year invoking Jean Baurillard and online identity.

Technorati tags:

Grant McCracken, phatic communications, online identity

I’ve been cloned!

Or rather this blog has. Doc Searls spotted this post over at the spammy-looking site, Lalaia – the virtual city, and blogged it.

It doesn’t take a close read to spot it’s word-for-word the same post. If you look further down the site you can spot pretty much all my other posts this month.

On the one-hand if it’s a spam blog then I don’t really see there’s much I can do. But if – as Doc points out- they making commercial gain from the content then where does that leave me? I can’t see any form of  contact for the site’s owner/author.

There is a link at the bottom of each post directing the
reader to the ‘oriinal post’ which sends them to my blog. BUT… as
Michael May points out in a comment on Doc’s post Lalaia are breaking
the Creative Commons 2.5 I use for my blog because "no CC license copy
is distributed on the copy site."

For the time being I’m inclined to do nothing but keep a close eye on the site. Doc’s linked to what looks a really good post I need to read – and I’d welcome others’ thoughts too.

But, if nothing else this occurance seems to reinforce the growth of flogging, splogging etc etc. Even Technorati seems to have atrophied under the volume of these sites.

Technorati tags: Doc Searls, splogging, flogging, Creative Commons

Social media and the dark side of doing PR

There’s a, well…. how can I put it… rather depressing post by former Friendly Ghost aka Brendan Cooper on the issue of ghost-blogging. It’s quite timely given my post on the subject the other week, although Brendan comes at the issue with a very different perspective.

The post begins:

The blogosphere is no garden of Eden. We can try to self-regulate, but in so doing we’re only exposing our own naïveté.

And it continues with the theme that, like it or not, the internet will evolve to match the current world of traditional media and PR.

Rather than clients appointing us to help them create sustainable, long-term relationships based on trust and respect using the social web, it will be business as usual where spin, ghost writing and paid advertorials are not only common place online but expected.

If that sounds a little bleak, Brendan tells us to quit our bleating and hammers home his point:

There will be a time, a year or two or three hence, in which we look back at the arguments against ghost blogging, and laugh. It lacks transparency. It lacks integrity. It lacks authenticity. Gimme a break.
In a year or two or three hence, the big money will be savvy. It will be pushing messages out in every digital channel available. The people you think are saying things, will not be saying them. Other people will.

I find this alarming both in the sense that Brendan thinks these thoughts but is also prepared to share them with others – although perhaps I *would* think that given that Edelman takes very much the opposite stance to Porter Novelli. In fact we’ve just launched a group blog about PR and the drive for transparency appropriately called Authenticities.

In a way, Brendan’s view kind of makes sense. He is a former copywriter and now social media planner – which suggests to me (and is alluded to in by Brendan his post) a strong tradition with top-down, command and control communications.

Arising from Brendan’s post are a number of interesting things.
Firstly, I personally believe Brendan is missing the entire challenge to traditional media and PR created by the internet. People don’t trust advertising, PR and marketing. That’s the power of social media – it is connecting real people with real people. That’s why it works. Faking blogs or social networks etc will similarly shut down genuine relationships built on trust.

Secondly, Brendan’s post is timely because if offers a startling counterpoint to the idea raised by Dave Winer and now picked up on by Doc Searls that maybe it’s time to get out of blogging. Blogging is becoming flogging, suggests Searls. Brendan seems to reinforce this idea – or at least confirm its growth.

Thirdly, I was blown away by the Cluetrain manifesto when I first read it. Brendan suggests in a comment that the Cluetrain Manifesto is “pretty naïve”. Um. Woah. I’m not even going to get into that one.

Technorati tags: ghost blogging, blogging, flogging, command and control, Cluetrain

Radio 4 on corporate blogging and ghosts in the machine

Interesting piece about corporate blogging on R4′s Today this morning. As you might expect from the MSM it was a tale extremes. One the one hand there was Tom Coates talking about his recent experience with PROs pitching him in ways "that are probably illegal" to Spin Vox‘s Chief Blogger, Mark James Whatley and on to an anonymous ‘ghost-blogger’ who makes his living speaking to CEOs and writing their blog posts:

"ghost-writing blog posts is no different to ghost writing books by premiership footballers."

Erm….

I wonder if he work’s agency-side or as a freelance. either weay, he can’t be a memebr of the CIPR as he’s in breach of their Code of Conduct.

I confess I didn’t listen to it live, but woke up to a volley of texts from friends and family saying "are you listening to R4 now?" At 7.30am on a Saturday that is also my birthday? NO!

You can listen to the package via the BBC’s iPlayer here – although you’ll have to fast forward to 43 minutes in.

Technorati tags: Radio 4, Today, ghost blogging, Tom Coates, Spin Vox, Mark Whatley

Internet and Ideology Part 3 – Society

Following on the political and economic changes of modernity, the emergence of social mobility was also a new development based partly on individual’s new found power of self-determination.

Modernity represented:

“a move away from traditional society marked by an unchanging hierarchy … modernity involved a search for new identities to replace the traditional and religiously sanctioned ones of the previous epoch. Moreover it was made clear that these new identities were the creation of human action and agency, rather than god given and unalterable.

What this means is: people living in the modern period became individuals for the first time. The ideology of modernity helped people define their own personality and shape their own lives through their actions.

However this social emancipation was still only available within the confines of the relatively structured society at the time. Likewise it was also limited by cultural norms and shared values.

There was a long way to go until people had real personal liberty but then the process of enlightenment was just that: a process. Things didn’t change overnight but from modernity onwards individuals shaped by own actions.

Contrast this with the Internet Age – a period of relatively early post-modernity. People have (mostly) had self-determination and the concept of being limited in terms of what we want to do – socially at least – is something alien to us – or at least a lot of us.

Looking forward and extending the idea of a post-modern ideology offering individuals something more than just the opportunity to shape their own lives, the internet offers us the possibility to not only define but invent, create, design, shape, live, change, co-create a range of identities and lives.

One rather basic example of this the ability of someone to take on an alter-ego in Second Life. But the same notion applies when we think about the different personalities we all probably have. My persona on ebay is probably different from this blog; likewise my blog is probably different from my Twitter profile which in turn is probably different from my Facebook profile.

This is Modernity’s idea of a self-determined individual exploded arcoss a range of platforms and positions not bounded by geography – or indeed physical space of any kind. David Weinberger has a great illustration of what this means practically and philosophically in Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

But bear in mind that this is just me with a predominantly Modern conept of myself as a single entity simply being expanded across the internet retrospectively.

Think of what this all means to the generation below me (and the rest) who have grown up in an internet age. The type of people who cannot remember a time BG – Before Google.

Technorati tags: ideology, post-modernism, modernity, John Schwarzmantel, society 

Interview with The Pakistan Spectator

Here’s a bit of ‘me time’. The people from The Pakistan Spectator – part of the Global Voices project mentioned in yesterday’s post about Iranian bloggers – interviewed me for their site.

If anyone’s interested you can read it here.

Technorati tags: Pakistan Spectator, Global Voices

Cambridge tutors admits using Facebook during admissions process

Story in today’s Guardian about a Cambridge admissions tutor using Facebook to "check" on students applying to his college.

Dr Richard Barnes tells Emmanuel college:

"This has been the year in which I joined Facebook … I have
to confess that I actually joined to see what I was missing and also to
check up (discreetly) on applicants for a college position.
"

Cambridge University and the NUS say that Facebook shouldn’t be used as part of the offical admissions process (and there’s nothing to suggest it was).

Part of me thinks that’s the right move, but then part of me likes the idea of throwing something less formalised and beaureacratic into the mix. For the sake of equality lets make sure they check MySpace too.

Technorati tags: Cambridge University, Facebook, MySpace

My Media meme: memememe

I’ve finally been tagged in the ol’ My Media meme by Giles Shorthouse. I suppose it’s my fault for being out of sight and out of mind really.

Anyway here’s where everyone gets to see how cool and webby 2 dot oh I am.

What I’ve watched
Christmas TV was gash. I watched the Extras special but felt immensely let down. It was very predictable and the humour was tired. I had to physically get and go to draw a deep bath like a cynical old man when the whole “It’s Ridley Scott on the phone for you” routine began. I came back to find the denouement exactly as I’d imagined it. Is it meant to be like that?

Big Fat Quiz of the Year was fun, although despite Rob Brydon’s opportunity to redeem himself from last year I still think he is a twat. Such a shame as unlike Ricky Gervais he is genuinely funny. Lily Allen is a moron too.

Mighty Boosh was a wheeze as ever and I borrowed my wife’s step-mum’s Brideshead Revisited DVD box-set for a 350hr Waugh marathon.

What I read
Bought a bumper bundle of magazines to read over the Christmas break and then never got around to reading any. This meant binge-reading in the final days of the holiday: one magazine by the loo, one next to the bath (they’re far enough apart for that to work) one in the lounge and the rest by the bed.

In no particular order: New Statesman Christmas Special, Monocle, Private Eye (fuggin Christmas Special), Tribune (for the comics), Lobster.

Book-wise, I always have a few on the go and this holiday dipped into: Growing Your Own Vegetable PatchTintin and Explorers on the Moon. I’m also meant to have Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland on the go, but it’s currently on hold until I feel like it.

Then I also spent most of the break writing my CIPR Diploma research project so reading lots of journal articles on media agenda-setting theory.

What I’ve listened to
Radio1 – Christmas Party while painting (the bathroom); random presenters on long car journeys to visit wife’s family
Radio 4 – every morn while scrambling eggs and in the kitchen; going to bed.
Feist’s excellent Let it Die – bargain at £3.97 in Sainsburys.
Wagner’s Das Rheinegold – the most accessible of the Ring Cycle

What I’ve surfed
All my CIPR+dissertation tagged material on del.icio.us for my er… dissertation. Check ‘em out if you like; lots of media agenda-setting theory and UK political blogs
NO FACEBOOK
NO BLOGLINES
BBC News – for a new hit when the scheduling goes all funny.

Who I am tagging?
I’m going to tag my erstwhile colleague Jason Mical,…. Jesus, I’ve come late to this meme. Everyone’s been done. There. I tag Jason!

*UPDATED* Goldsmiths Futures of the News Part 2

The second panel of the afternoon featured
political bloggers, Guido Fawkes and Recess Monkey, Guardian Associate Editor,
Michael White and freelance journalist, Nick Jones.

This was far and away the best panel of the
afternoon in terms of quality of debate. And admissions by bloggers that
journalists now tipped them off about
unpublishable stories shows just how far the Goldsmiths programme needs to go
with its research to catch-up with the new media.

Nick Jones’ presentation also gave the audience
a sharp wake-up call. Nick challenged Ofcom research findings delivered in one
of the morning sessions as “complacent” and warned that the regulator and media
industry in general that they risked utterly losing out in a rapidly changing
media world.

Nick’s argument ran along the lines of Ofcom
doing little to adapt its position as regulator of media silos in world where
convergence is happening at a frightening pace. Citing

18 Doughty Street

as an example, Nick
asked how Ofcom could deal with a world where TV delivered via the internet is
entirely outside of the regulator’s remit?

This was all very interesting, as I overheard
the conference chair tell Mr Ofcom that his findings were very important and
would be quoted a lot in the future! Or maybe not…

I didn’t stay for the final speaker – I went to
the pub with Guido and Recess. But what I do know is that the people leading
the Futures of News research project could certainly benefit from reading
people like Jeff Jarvis, David Weinberger and Dan Gilmor to that a lot of the
‘future’ of the news is now.

*UPDATED* My colleague, Tim Callington, has more from the event here:

James
Curran, Goldsmiths College – introduction

Martin
Turner, head of operations at BBC News Gathering – "The end of news as
we’ve known it."

Anne
Spackman, editor-in-chief, Times Online – "the ten most discussed topics
at Times Online"

John
Glover, senior programme executive, OFCOM – "Good news, bad news; new
news, future news"

 As does, the Media Standard Trust’s, Martin Moore:

Technorati tags: Goldsmiths, Futures of the News, Guido Fawkes, Recess Monkey, Ofcom