ITPTheoretical Perspectives on Interactivity

The Great Big Shift

By Wednesday, April 27, 2005 One Comment

1. The shift from passively received media, such as books and television, to networked media in which we actively participate, such as discussion boards and blogs, represents as profound a shift as the movement from oral to literate culture.

In my last paper I wrote about the effects that a dear friend’s death had on my outlook on life, people, relationships and the role of images and technology in our modern lives. I found it interesting that we, as a sentimental society, have begun to move away from the valuation of printed photographs and associated memories to their digital counterparts. It’s apparent that taking and sharing digital photographs is not only easier (as I had pointed out with sites like Flickr, digital cameras, camera phones, and most notably the Internet) and more convenient, it’s arguably better in many ways. People can now not only share their experiences and memories almost instantaneously through images, they can add their thoughts, comments, and blog entries and relate information about their experiences and lives.

In this situation, the use of technology has impacted society in ways we are only now beginning to feel. There are myriad uses for such photographic technology, and coupled with the rising ubiquity of the Internet; society as a whole stands to change for the better. In the case of current events, the death of Pope John Paul II was indeed a sad and somber event for many people across the world, no matter their religious beliefs. The fact of the situation was that a man had died, and there were many people who felt the loss in their lives. Not that I’m going to play with your heartstrings, I use this example to highlight the power and societal change that Internet has brought about. How did the world hear and more importantly react about the selection of the election of new Pope? Did the Internet help spread and propagate the images and reactions of the people present in St Peter’s Basilica when the white smoke was released? How did the people react outside of the Sistine Chapel when Pope Benedictine XVI greeted the waiting audience?

In the past fifteen or so years, the changes levied against society as the Internet has matured have changed the spread and dissemination of information. Most of us here saw the way in which photos on Flickr and from camera phones helped the world relate to the devastating Tsunami this past December. Of course Flickr and camera phones were only part of the coverage, but how would the world have reacted if the images, news, and experiences weren’t able to reach so many people as quickly and as personally as they did? Would the international aid efforts have been as large? Would as many nations have mobilized their relief efforts if their citizens didn’t have better access to such imagery and accounts about the Tsunami? I’m not claiming that a few hundred images and stories from people on the scene were able to inspire an international relief effort, but how will future events be changed by such technologies as they mature?

I’ve often wondered about the effects of information overload. Is our society becoming collectively smarter or dumber by the ease in which information, images, and personal diaries are accessible? I argue that while books and television offer a great deal of information, their information has a limited shelf life and only one mode of communication: from author to individual reader. At printing, the information within books are set, and cannot be altered unless the book is reprinted and updated. At airing, most television news is either watered down or old enough that it may not reflect the most current state of events. The Internet has posed an alternative, and has changed the way in which we impart information to others and how we react to such news. Within seconds, online text can be changed and updated as events, information, and facts change. As more information becomes available, our perception and reaction to news changes. Of course many many argue that while immediate change is a good thing, there is a loss of accountability. There is a perspective that is gained once time has passed, yet the fact that most of us can access information nearly instantaneously and react to news faster is inherently better.

Oral culture relied on the passing of knowledge from one person to another, though the means in which the information is passed may differ. As information, verified or not, is spread, I believe our culture shifts closer towards a literate one. In 1837, when Samuel Morse invented the electrical telegraph, the world began to communicate and relay information faster and better. The shift that was marked then may have been more profound, though akin to our ability to communicate directly to people around the world. Our culture in the U.S. is based largely upon gleaning news from the traditional news sources: television, magazine, radio, and newspapers. In the past few years the shift of news from traditional news sources to independent sources has increased, as our collective access has become more ubiquitous. In the case of Jeff Gannon, the homosexual-prostitute/White House reporter, the story and reaction of his discovery broke online. Does this not represent a shift towards a networked media culture?

From 2001 to 2004, I worked as the technical director of ym.com, the online website to ym magazine. I witnessed firsthand the communication power our message boards gave to our users. Suddenly teenage girls had a forum and the ability to not only share information faster and easier than before, but without judgment. While some of the information was incorrect and potentially dangerous, the mere fact that our users were able to openly discuss things that mattered to them marked a profound difference in their culture. It highlighted the communication shift in how teenagers shared information now as opposed to fifteen years ago. Communicating through message boards is much different than communicating through face to face with a few friends. We have the ability to not only share information from one to another, but suddenly the information exchange isn’t limited to one to many. Anyone can take part in many conversations and share their reactions and opinions. Our ability to blog, photograph, comment, discuss, publish, and actively react to information is a profound shift in our culture.

I did post this on my blog, right? Feel free to comment below…

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