References after the jump!
With the rise of the Internet and the reign of social media, the number of public spheres available to us as private citizens has multiplied. “What is a public sphere?” you may ask. A German guy called Jurgen Habermas fantasised about an 18th century coffee house where anyone could go for news and to debate about ideas. Hannah Arendt likened the public space to a Greek polis. Both examples are limited in the gender and class represented and, as a result, academics have disputed this theoretical framework on many levels. Nevertheless, I agree with Habermas and Arendt in that there are places available for anyone to speak their mind about “activities of the state, or issues of larger socio-political significance”.
If you want your opinion to be heard, just Tweet about it.
Kyle Schwartz is third grade teacher at an inner city school in Denver, Colorado. Every year she runs a writing exercise for her students, giving them an opportunity to tell her something they wish she would know. On March 27 this year, Kyle began sharing some of her students’ messages on her Twitter account. The social media trend has exposed some startling truths about the circumstances children are living in.
Many other teachers saw this and started running the same exercise in their classrooms. The hashtag #iwishmyteacherknew “caught fire”, with many news media websites publishing articles on the phenomena. Even the Sydney Morning Herald had something to say, showing how pervasive this topic of conversation has become.
Twitter has provided a public sphere in which these socio-political issues can be discussed and addressed. By trending on Twitter and catching the interest of news media websites, the discussion and awareness has spread beyond one classroom, a teacher and her students, to classrooms across the world. A Plus writer Mandy Valez is one of many writers using this as an opportunity to raise awareness about the state of living for children, citing statistics such as “one in five kids are supported by food stamps”.
In contemporary public spheres, there is always a level of mediation to be considered. There are certain gatekeepers who decide what does and doesn’t get to be discussed. In this example, the first gatekeeper would be Kyle Schwartz herself. She picked through her students’ responses and posted each individually over a period of a few weeks. Any ensuing discussion on Twitter would be mediated by certain formulas or algorithms built into the website code to scope out socially inappropriate content. Following that, the writers from various news media groups choosing to talk about this topic become mediators in sharing the information however they see fit, within the parameters of their editors.
From what I can see, this example of public discussion seems to be fairly unmediated in that most topics of discussion remain ongoing. I think this is because the subject matter was unexpected and garners sympathy from most viewers. A sympathetic topic of discussion is less likely to be silenced and, who knows, maybe some real change may come from this. At least these students’ secrets are finally out.
So I’ve learned from our last lecture (and, if I’m being honest, life in general) that every time a new medium is introduced, there’s a mixture of responses. The innovative minds of our time can only think, “Look at all the great things this [insert medium here] will do for us!” and then there are the sceptics who can see only a threat. Even Socrates was concerned “the advent of writing would create forgetfulness and people would generally know nothing” (source). Of course, without teaching people to read and write, this blog wouldn’t exist, along with a lot of societal linchpins.
When asked to pick a current anxiety about the media, I was hard-pressed to settle on just one.
This mindmap scratches the surface of what I’ve started to see as a reflexive cycle between media and anxiety of choice, wherein the media enables this anxiety, someone recognises the [potential threat] and then the media reports on the threat, often exacerbating the results beyond the scope of our original predictions.
On a number of occasions, the media’s pursuit of the threat’s “story” can incite what is called a “moral panic”. We’ve seen this following the brutal death of two-year-old Jamie Bulger, when the presiding judge cited Child’s Play 3 in his closing arguments despite the horror film never being presented as evidence during the trial (source). Now, even if the investigators could prove those two boys had seen Child’s Play 3 and other violent films like it (which they hadn’t), simply having watched one or more horror film should not be cited as the sole cause behind this crime. That’s “backwards” thinking. David Gauntlett says an examination of the individual perpetrator would show a number of causative factors (source).
A present anxiety about the media is privacy. The Australian Federal Government has proposed retaining individuals’ personal data for up to two years (source). The data retention scheme presents with a number of conflicts given its international implications. Naturally, it’s well documented by the media with online news updates available as recent as 2 hours ago. “Data retention is part of an attempt to import this [analog] model to the Internet, so they have the same access and control of the online space they had of the analog telephone network,” says Bernard Keane (source). Here is a link to an online petition against the data retention scheme (ironic).
With the introduction of the Internet and technologies allowing easier, faster access and greater sharing capacity, this is a great example of an anxiety caused by media. However the problem begins with individuals’ use of the media. Internet’s implicit anonymity ensures a much more threatening individual. This effort to fight crime and terrorism might not be necessary but data retention goes a long way to regain control of the population and its interaction with the media. If the government is watching our every move on the Internet, our online behaviour can be limited by constant surveillance.
So I’ve been using this blog for the last 2 years or so to share my writing. There’s been some creative writing and some analytical stuff. Sometimes I’m proud of my essays so no shame in posting them! Well now my blog is taking a new direction because I’ve started another degree. What degree? you may ask. This new degree is in communications and media and they have asked me to blog and tweet my way through uni. I’m blogging and tweeting for grades! I had the option of creating a separate blog for all this academic stuff but the reason I’m not is the same reason behind why my subject coordinators want me to blog. This blog, stutterstumblewritings, is my public portfolio of work and I’ve made it easy for you to navigate your way through these two interests without having to keep them separate from each other. I’m proud of my writing, my essays and now I’m just adding a new ingredient to the mix!