Friday, April 07, 2006

Public definitions

Have you ever considered the relationship between publics, cultures, markets and societies?

It seems that publics are groups of people who are connected by information flows, and each of the others are sets of people who use the information carried by those flows to arrive at various kinds of consensus read: markets are groups who arrive at a consensus on the value of some particular good or service.

According to the discourse mostly attributed to McLuhan, the notion of the public, and concomitantly individual privacy, were created as artifacts of mass literacy post-Gutenberg.

Now, as this age has been decimated by the digital ease of access to information, the concept of 'public' is rendered non-dominant in terms of shaping society and privacy reverses into publicy.

Deeper you ask?

Historically, we have talked about the public, as in the public sphere. Implicated in the word 'public' as a singular, is the idea that there is only one entity that one could address or visit. Translation: publics are made up of strangers who are connected by information and, thus, share a coherent position as receivers of that information.

In other words, a public in London is not the same as a public in Hong Kong. For example, when Jacque Chirac speaks of addressing the public, he means all of France. If he uses the "local" hall or arena - information is contextualized to local public issues.

Yet, Chirac cannot speak of addressing the public in a global sense because he is not addressing the poor farmer in Kenya. Likewise, that Kenyan's notion of a public doesn't include France when he speaks in his town's public square.

It's more than content and more than information: the digital effect deals with relationships that transcends the traditional reach.

Digital life has really screwed with the notion of public, removing traditional situationism that connects strangers. If the Kenyan farmer is connected to the internet and reads French, he can be a part of Chirac's public. Yet, this does not mean that the French websites would include him in their public, nor does it mean that his public acts would be equally visible by other constituents of the same websites.

This is where social networks have made their mark. This is the new definition of information sharing and thus, knowledge sharing.

Digital architectures alter the structure of social life and information flow. Persistence, searchability, the collapse of distance and time and certainly, the ability to forward and copy are not factors that most everyday people consider when living unmediated lives.

Yet, they are increasingly becoming the societal norm.

Throughout the 20th century, mass media forced journalists and 'public' figures to come to terms with this, but digital structures force everyone to do so. People's notion of public radically changes when they have to account for the Kenyan farmer, their lurking boss and the person who will access their speech months from now.

People's idea of a public is traditionally bounded by space, time and audience - the park is a public that people understand. And, yet, this is all being disrupted.

Benedict Anderson predicted some of this in his work - Imagined communities.

This is nothing new in the digital age. Organized crime has been aware and profiting from this since the BBS days.

Organizations are behaving differently - SMEs are not the traditional 100-250 employee shops of a few years ago - this application of the term is changing rapidly - one-man shows are changing the nature of information flow. People with absolutely no authority are gaining influence.

Jean-Luc Nancy's concepts of community, experience, discourse, and the individual argues that modern thought and the ability to communicate determines how all organizations/communities succeed.

Couple or questions:

  • What will the 'public' look like when they are infused with the features of digital and the new social architecture?
  • What social effect does it have when individuals and groups can speak across time and space to an unknown audience?
  • What happens when you cannot predict who will witness your act because they are not visible now, even though they may be tomorrow or later in the future?

Corporate memories are small when we consider the changes there are happening to social memory and the definition of 'peers'.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home