Charlie Brooker is someone who has sprung to my attention pretty considerably within the last few weeks. I mean there’s this video:
It was a pretty great prescribed viewing a perfect takedown of the construction of the news. Brooker’s other work though on an anthological TV program called Black Mirror on Britain’s Channel 4 is equally as incredibly spot on. The show acts as a dark warning/satire on the way in which our society reacts and acts with technology. Here’s a trailer for it. Find a way to watch it and do so, its awesome. And weird.
Brooker in all his work seems to be a master of breaking down the punctualisation factor of the Actor-Network Theory. In that news clip he makes his audience aware of all the individual elements that have gone into making a “seamless” news piece. There are guests, graphics, narration but we’re only really aware of them when they’re pointed out to us. The Season 2 premiere of Black Mirror likewise explores these ‘assemblages’ in that it posits the question can a system of networks (based on our own shared data) contribute an entire person? It’s a pretty creepy premise. Definitely worth a watch of that episode if you can.
The big one in terms of assembled networks though is Wikipedia. Billions of sources, contributors and files all working to create a seamless tome of knowledge. The cracks show every now and then, weak sources, people making jokes etc. Most of them are moderated out though, and the grand result can only be described as incredible. A bastion of knowledge so up to the minute/date that it essentially drove Britannica and Encarta into a niche existence. It is also, like other digital publishing forms a great way of showing, as Latour suggests in his actor network theory, how we cannot consider digital publishing in terms of having a hierarchical structure with the publishers at the top. These digital mediums, are increasingly valuing the input of all. It’s exciting. Though Brooker also makes it seem kind of terrifying.
Modern communication methods are absolutely incredible when you really stop and think about it. We started with super simple oral communications and signing with natural elements like fire and paints and moved forward quickly. In the grand scheme of things it seems like mere moments between the rise of popular use of the alphabet to instantaneous international communication. Heck interplanetary communication is possible were there someone on Mars or the Moon to pick it up.
The Three Little Pigs video by the Guardian I’d seen a while back now, yet every time I watch it, it strikes me as a phenomenally good (and clever) recreation of the times we live in. Everyone (who uses the internet at least) is a publisher now. Whether they think so or not, whether it embarrasses them or they embrace it. We are at a point where the opinions of the community are able to matter not just those who previously acted as ‘gatekeepers of the public discourse’. The three little pigs video shows people reacting and acting on a massive scale and quickly to ongoing events. But it’s not that the opinions of these people are mattering as such, they’re there though and able to be commented and judged by all who see them. Social networks are the main platform for this kind of interaction with Twitter particularly of interest because of the ability to link things with hashtags. Linking thoughts in social spaces internationally is unlike any process that has ever existed and is mind blowing in its expansion of the power of language to communicate and inform.
Encyclopaedic organisation on a massive scale is now possible, allowing content to be decided on and written by the people. Sites like Wikipedia have made this an incredibly mainstream process and source of information. With this sort of instant/anyone publishing comes the risk of misinformation though. Things can be rushed into the social space before they’re ‘ready’. Maybe that’s a good thing though, maybe things like opinions and news should be formed in the social space based on the input at all, it creates a fuller picture.
Technology has given us incredible progress in our communicative methods. Despite the challenges, it’s kind of fun watching information become democratised. The digital letters of modern information can be slid around by anyone nowadays, not just the man at the printing press.
Publishing forms have changed pretty extensively over the last 1000 or so years. The development of publishing from simple hand written reproductions to stamps, to moveable type systems saw huge increases in the amount and the range of information that could be distributed. With the development of our modern computer publishing systems saw that range of information broaden exponentially, largely thanks to the fact that anyone can now publish anything in the digital space, as long as they have access to some sort of computer. And the internet.
The biggest changes however aren’t just in the physical means of production. The way we process information itself has been changed forever. For instance the idea that information has become easier to consume is really interesting. If things are more easily read in the slick digital pace of things like ereaders, computer screens and tablets are we losing some of our ability to properly think and process what we’re reading? Probably – I mean I know for sure that yesterday I read a whole bunch of things online but if you asked me right now I couldn’t tell you what they were at all. Whereas if I read them in the paper I’d be more inclined to remember what at least some of them were. I unfortunately still remember what I read about Kim Kardashian in MX (a free trashy train newspaper) the other day. There’s definitely something about the tactile nature of the physical pages that makes it easier to retain.
Beyond the data we just lose in our minds, is the data that we literally lose as publishing ideals change. The ability to restore and duplicate brought excitement about all the information that could be convereted and distributed in books all across the world. As Elizabeth Eisenstein points out however so much couldn’t be converted and there were few who gave that a second thought. It’s the same with the move to digital, we’re gaining so much with the dispersal of information but there’s a lot that won’t make the jump – or that will be “lost in translation” so to speak.
The ability for anyone to be able to publish that I mentioned earlier is the most impressive and terrifying thing about the digital age. Barbara Brannon mentions how ‘anonymity is empowering’, and it’s absolutely true. Anyone can write anything anywhere, which is a blessing and a curse in that it allows more extensive sources and information than ever. For all you know though, your dog could be the one who wrote that Wikipedia article you’re reading. Or even this blog.