Thursday, June 29, 2006

The next frontier

All stripes of media are attempting to connect with the growing broadband audiences. The change is happening in every media sector, television, motion, sound media.

Most recent tipping point? September 2005, when news about Apple’s video iPods began to make the rounds. News of this new platform sparked a wave of investment into broadband content like short films and news clips. Ever since, it has been a headlong, pell-mell, dizzy kind of rush.

For big media - it’s very exciting and quite scary.

Early adopter and progressives have an advantage in this new environment. The majority of the people at the front end of these new technologies have a progressive worldview and inhabit the coastal blue cities and urban hubs. Companies innovating in this space are often run by out-and-out avowed progressive types.

Take The Young Turks, a trio of liberal radio hosts that can be heard on Sirius Satellite Radio and on the Web. They are pioneering the next frontier of online broadcasting.

After a failed attempt to get MSNBC to pick up their radio show as a liberal TV show, the Young Turks went a different route. With the support of investors they bought digital cameras and rented studio space. As the Los Angeles Times reported, 'In mid-December, they began streaming their three-hour show every weekday on their website … billing it as the first live Internet talk show,' writes Matea Gold.

In the process, they’ve helped pioneer the rapidly developing field of online programming—from webcasts to video podcasts and vlogs (the video version of a blog)—now delivering content that traditionally would have had to survive the television development season and pass the muster of network executives to find an audience.

The Young Turks are part of an explosion of efforts to bypass network and cable channels and develop content for emerging satellite, dish and digital broadcast platforms.

Other efforts include more established broadcasters like LinkTV and Free Speech TV, online projects like PoliticsTV and Guerrilla News Network, an effort to establish a progressive cable channel.

Traditional media - print, radio and television - are struggling to balance staying true to the tenets of journalism, with reaching new audiences with interactive features and, in some cases, the ideologically aggressive tone that has come to characterize much of the mainstream news environment.

This rapid technological evolution is challenging print publishers but it’s not an either-or proposition. Despite drops in circulation, print magazines are not going the way of the dodo bird (indeed, there are over 5,000 more magazine titles on sale now than there were in 1988) - and the 75,000 new blogs appearing every day won’t be the death knell of Big Media.

Instead, if the mainstream media play their cards right, the new media could provide a transfusion of energy, passion, and immediacy that will alter - and ultimately save - them.

Provided they keep adapting to the changing technologies—and, more importantly, the changing audience.

The same can be said for the new media.

In order to flourish, new media makers must understand and pursue this new online audience, as the rise of the geo-political blogosphere attests. Yet even the bloggers must contend with the hegemony of the mainstream media.

Simply put, without the participation of the media and the world political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom.

That is not to say that blogs can’t be the first to draw attention to an issue, as they often do, but the half-life of an online buzz can be measured in days and weeks, and even when a story has enough netroots momentum to float around for months, it will have little effect on the wider public discourse without the other sides of the triangle in place.

While progressive bloggers focus on the daily news grind, other new media participants play a different, but equally important, role.

This static triangle of the 'voice of government, the bloggers and the big boys of cable TV will not shift the debate.

It will take a vibrant network of new media outlets, reporters, artists, grassroots organizers, politicians, NGOs and the UN, researchers, celebrities, activists, think tanks and citizens working in concert.

That gonna happen? Think so. Wait and see? NO! Start now. Do your part.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Disconnected ....

... until June 29th or so - and I need it. I'm off to some sun and fun.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Political social-networking in the US

George W. Bush's recent immigration address was described as an attempt to assert 'presidential leadership.' The White House, like most governments, must have been unaware that the leading role in the immigration debate was already taken.

After years of Minuteman militias' preening 'border patrol' exercises, months of Congressional grandstanding and weeks of debate over a House bill to crack down on immigrants, the immigrant movement struck back.

In March, demonstrations and boycotts mashed millions of people together. Critics assailed the protests as futile symbolism but in fact, the protests were so massive - the mainstream media reported that Los Angeles's 500,000 demonstrators made up one of the largest marches for any cause in recent US history - that opponents rushed to offer concessions.

BusinessWeek, a predictable barometer of establishment opinion, observed that the protests forced the US government leaders to repudiate a controversial component of a bill criminalizing assistance to illegal immigrants.

The public also noticed.

While the policy debate continues, some progressives are wondering how this movement quickly organized such large and effective protests. How did so many young people and apolitical Americans get involved?

Many factors were in play, but two innovative facets of the movement may offer lessons for for future social movement organisers.

Common base:

The protests drew huge numbers because they embraced people who are typically shunned by the political process and some of the gatherings benefited from technology-driven grassroots organizing, using everything from text messaging to social networking on the Internet.

Conventional campaigns are targeted at people who already exert influence in the political process, namely activists, voters and donors. But the immigration protest was the rare effort that welcomed the apolitical, who do not usually vote and those who cannot vote.

The rallies and marches drew nonvoters, students and illegal immigrants into their mashed coalition.

Many students got involved through, a social networking website that lets people link to friends and create profiles with photos and music. With 70 million members, most of whom are teenagers, it is one of the top ten most popular destinations on the Internet.

Students were already communicating about their lives through MySpace, so when immigration became a hot issue, why not that too? Sprinkled through the website's millions of pages, comments cropped up about the protests, the national boycott and how students felt about Congress trying to criminalize their parents' existence.

For example, May1--san anto against 4437 - a page mobilizing San Antonio protests against HR 4437. The site is run by an unnamed 36-year-old woman in San Antonio who provides updates on legislation and local events; it is plastered with colorful fliers, protest pictures, editorial cartoons and snippets of conversation from visitors.

The week before the May 1 boycott, Carl Webb, a 40-year-old in Austin, posted an open request for related events in his area. Webb, whose page greets visitors with a recording of Gil Scott-Heron's 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised'.

Yet the messages also spread to young people who showed little interest in immigration or activism. The MySpace page of G, a student at Marshall Senior High in Los Angeles, is devoted to Nike sneakers and rap music. But by late April, G posted what appeared to be his first political message, advising his friends to participate in the 'National Boycott for Immigrant Rights No Work! No School! No Business as Usual!'

The immigration protests suggest that fairly apolitical young people can quickly be moved from politics online to activism in the streets if the issue is salient and if the information comes from trusted sources.

With millions of young people connected through these social networking sites, is it time for a political MySpace? A social MySpace? A gender-based MySpace?

One cool website, is betting the answer is yes.

Founded by Harvard senior Joe Green with venture capital, the start-up is billed as a networking site for the politically interested to debate ideas and organize.

While social sites tend to connect people based on where they live and what they like to do, Essembly adds ideological links to the matrix.

Let's face it - people usually visit social networking sites because they're trying to get laid or have a conversation.

Essembly encourages the latter by asking users to vote on simple statements, called resolves, which are provided by both the website and users. They range from offhand musings, like 'I can't stand kids who think its cool to hate America' to policy pronouncements such as 'The United States should continue with its plans to build a wall on its southern border to help slow the flow of illegal immigration from coming into our nation.'

After voting, users can see the aggregate results and search for people, informal groups and organizations that are ideologically close and define friends, allies and even nemeses.

While many popular Essembly groups have been created by users, such as 'Socially Conscious Surfers' and 'Proponents of Minor's Rights' - several organizations are experimenting with top-down recruitment through the site.

It is still too early to tell whether social networking sites will engage and empower a significant number of new activists or young people. Essembly may provide a dynamic space for new people across the political spectrum to debate ideas and take action but it could also reveal that ideological social networking appeals mostly to the activists who are already engaged.

The immigrant protests did prove that young people in America can still mobilize for massive, coordinated and effective progressive action. Whether that will happen again soon does not simply depend on the issues at stake.

It depends on how political leaders regard traditionally powerless groups, and whether the Internet generation decides politics is so personal that it is worth pushing on their friends.

I hope the fever catches on.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Free Press? Whatever!

A new analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists has found that North Korea is the worlds deepest information void with not a single independent journalist and all radio and TV receivers locked to government specified frequencies - the country gets the number one spot in the committees Top Ten report.

But that’s not the story. What would you prefer – to know your enemy or not? To know that you are censored or pretend that you’re not?

Let's look deeper at the promoted 'free speech' in the western world. Even the most reluctant of the Fox News crew would agree that all mainstream journalists work for a corporation and if you're not towing the company line - it's on the street with ya.

All mainstream journalism IS censored – partly attributed to government policies (USA, Germany and France amongst others) but mostly by the corporations that employ them. Corporate hand-outs don’t come easy when your employees are biting the hand that feeds them. Journalism, like news, is a consumer product that is branded (Fox News, BBC World Service, CNN). News and newspapers are businesses that need rating to sell advertising

Look at the way that Bush and Co. run the media - it's THAT form of censorship that is more dangerous to an open society than North Korea. Better an honest policy of 'No Free Speech' that a watered down media that claims to be telling it all - fair and balanced. Only the most sheepish of the sheep believe that story.

News anchors, like athletes and celebrities, are branded and made up to sell the network - not the news. News is treated like a commodity that is shaped into a product, wrapped in the 'latest color' and sold to consumers. You are only, and treated as, a consumer of a product. Used to sell advertizing slots to the highest bidder.

Feel that warm and cuddly feeling?

Media companies are no different than Tobbacco and Pharmaceutical companies - no different than Harley Davidson and Levi Strauss - marketing companies.

But the real story is how technology is cleaning up the 5th Estate. Big name journalists are loosing credibility.

I live in a country where I have free access to several news sources including BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. One story told three different ways but I get to make up my own mind based on different versions or biases.

I feel sorry for those that are stuck to one media source - I feel sorry that they actually believe what they get. Stars & Stripes syndrome at it's worse.

Bloggers know this.

Believe me when I say that lots of bloggers are not believable but at least we have the options can get opinions - weigh them - and make our own minds up.

Blogger Carlo Longino, a veteran technology journalist, wrote an insightful essay on his personal blog about why journalism is broken and what could be done to fix it. Carlo's rant was a response to Mark Cuban's post titled 'Why Journalism Matters.'

From Carlo's essay:

The biggest problem facing the journalism world is its ongoing ignorance of opinion. Facts are often meaningless without interpretation. To act like bias and subjectivity in that interpretation don’t exist is not only naïve, it’s short-sighted. For all that people talk about wanting 'just the facts', that isn’t true, they want them interpreted and presented in some particular way - witness the popularity of Fox News, or the interest in things like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. It’s this embrace of subjectivity that tends to separate old and new media, and is holding back journalism

Read On

Thursday, June 01, 2006

How would Freud treat a cybermind (updated)?

On Freud's 150th anniversary, I want to ask Freud a few questions while his legacy is being dismantled.

Cognitive therapy is now the orthodox talking cure and social media seems to be supporting this. But with cognitive science comes a new battle for the meaning of the human mind. And the human mind is being shaped by technology.

Ok this will get a bit philosophical but stick with me.

The analysts - whether Freudian, Jungian, Kleinian, or Lacanian - do not tell you what it is that you've got, nor does he or she explain how you will get over it. Instead, you embark on a personal exploration during which you find that you don't only suffer from the symptoms you thought you did, but also a range of other conflicts underlying them.

The process is classically driven by two mechanisms and these are essentially all there is to the technique (though not, of course, the theory) pioneered by Freud. These are 1. data extraction (receiving structured information in a cognitive form) and 2. contexuality (what does this information have to do with me or how can I use it effectively).

The form that the information is now delivered and received is being shaped by technology - mainly, the Internet.

Delivery models are being drastically modifies and the ontology of the cybermind is changing. Basically, because I receive information in new ways, I classify and retrieve them differently.

Enormous changes occur within every social order which always returns the unexpected; this is the only law.

I used to receive many phone calls and very many happy knocks at the door. Surrounded with the smiling faces, I would receive the voices and visitors with joy in my heart (and beer in the fridge). Now, the voices and visitors come over the wires and I am reduced to the sound of myself typing or scrolling to the texts that fall upon themselves on my screen.

In order to speak or hear or see you, I move my fingers. My fingers now talk.

My kids now chat with me. They sign me on and sign me off; I am in a folder called ‘family’ under the sub_folder called ‘Dad’ which in the end is represented electronically by a stain on their hard drive. Recorded – dad lives on to be heard or seen whenever they want.

What would Freud think of the new cybermind? Does the cybermind mean that a cybersociety exists independently of human action?

Is there both an ideal and a real manifestation of cyberspace. The former is the mapping of transmissions across nodes - i.e. ideal movement of data-streams and the latter is the hardware and actual movement across it.

If cyberspace can be considered a form of liquid transcript with its contents in bytes, then one might speak of cybersocieties in the plural - referring to any telecommunications network and its transmissions/receptions. I can be here and there at the same time.

This cybermind does not need to postulate an identity-holding ego amid a network of neural processing; this sits well with the Buddhist principle that the self is constituted out of a series of illusions which may be extinguished on the road to enlightenment.

I can be here and there at the same moment and then disappear when I want. Which begs to ask, 'What happens when we die? Do we continue to grow and self-develop in cybersociety?'

Freud's favorite novel was The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky's vision of the inherently perverse, self-destructive drives of human nature made sense to Freud. He got much of it scientifically wrong, and he famously misinterpreted some of his own patients.

But the ambition was to articulate the conflicts to which the human mind is subject and from which it may never escape. Cybersociety creates conflicts with the 'disconnected' world.

Little may remain of his classifications or his model of the unconscious, but there are those both inside and outside the psychiatric profession who understand that change may contain meaning and that the relationship between people was the engine of human change. Is technology the mew engine? Can we control it?

Freud remains one of the pioneering influences; trying to understanding our new social constructs and how the world is developed is not child’s play. We all need to take this serious and play a role. We all have a role.

Are you defining your role or is technology defining it for you?

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