I'm on a bit of a media scholarship kick at the moment. I'm reading Marshall McLuhan's 1964 book Understanding Media. It's one of those texts that hails from an era of Media scholarship in which authors were permitted to get away with making wild claims with no supporting evidence, as long as they sounded compelling and were couched in flowery language. Think Buckminster Fuller, if that means anything to you. That means that the book is Beautiful, and Foundational, but also an occasional slog, and not especially Practical. It's the kind of book that every student of media must read, but not one that is usually directly applicable for future studies.
But I just finished a book called Jamming The Media, and the two of them in juxtaposition leave me with some Observations.
Jamming the Media was written by Gareth Brawnyn in 1997 or so, and it is about The Future of Media. If 1997 sounds like Exactly the wrong year to be writing this book, you'd be more or less right. The text pre-dates the word Blog, and largely pre-dates the concept of blogging. The Music section doesn't mention CD-R at all because, while they existed at the time, they were expensive and the devices to record them even more so. It predates DSL, or any kind of meaningful digital video distribution. The section of Video Vigilantism starts with the camcorders of the 1980s, and completely ignores the work of pre-camcorder video artists like The Videofreex, TVTV, Broadside TV, etc.
In spite of that, there are many things it says that are worth revisiting.
See, the book proposes a potential future concept of "SociaMedia", this idea that we would eventually stumble our way, technologically, in to a world where some or even most of our the media we consume would come from our peers. The book proposes a pretty optimistic vision of social media, but what else would we expect from the techno-utopian years before the burst of the dot-com bubble?
And so, with this vision of the potential future of social media, written at the precipice of the possibility of its existence, and with McLuhan's attempts and making sense of the media in the 60s, I find myself looking at the Current Moment of Social Media and trying to understand what went wrong.
The promise of social media was simple, follow your friends and keep up with what they are doing. It worked really well in the era of the blog, and early microblogging even. Early social media was participatory. If you wanted to be involved, you were involved. You were the mythical prosumer, both producer and consumer.Usually, anyway. It was possible to lurk, to read without contributing, but even in the BBS and Usenet days, these networks were a conversation.
But, you know, then influencers happened. Instagram became a popularity contest, twitter became about following celebrities, facebook for promoting your Brand.
It stopped being a conversation, and became a broadcast. One to many, instead of many to many.
The fediverse, Mastodon, has been special to me for the last several years because, by design, you have to participate in order to be seen. We don't really know how the fediverse will react to real Celebrity, but it's federated nature and the need for Active Participation in order to federate widely has, so far, meant a strong signal to noise ratio. Not much noise, hell of a lot of signal.
Traditional media has spent the last 10 years trying to swallow social media, to the point that the concept of Social Media is now poisoned. For most people, it doesn't mean Participating, it means being alternately harassed and ignored.
I'm glad twitter is falling apart, even as I'm sad for those who will be hurt in the process.
I worry for what comes next, but I'm hopeful that we can carry The Moment forward, that we can Reclaim the media and Technology that has been used to Broadcast To Us, and instead use it to Participate in the conversation.
That's what New Ellijay TV is about, that's what the fediverse is about, hell, that's why I'm using Gemini.
Understanding (social)Media was published on 2022-11-08