Archive - Apr 2007
In the first plenary session of the Media in Transition conference, Tom Pettitt’s presented the idea of the Gutenberg Parenthesis. With the advent of the printing press, we moved to a culture where text was fixed. The author of works became fixed. The content of the work became fixed. Prior to this, storytelling was collaborative, it was re-creative. The oral tradition didn’t have a fixed author, a fixed form of the story of a fixed canon of stories. As digital media becomes more prevalent and it becomes easier to sample and remix other content, in many ways, we are returning to a pre-parenthetical mode of storytelling.
As I thought about this, it struck me as if we are seeing a similar process with politics. Jock Gill, and others have spoken a lot about ‘post-broadcast’ politics, or sometimes, networked politics, or several other phrases for a similar idea. Staying with the focus on typographic conventions, it seems like the period of broadcast politics might well be referred to as an ellipsis. The three little dots, often found inside of parentheses, indicate a pause, or that something has been left out, and I think this is an apt way to think about U.S. national politics during the second half of the twentieth century.
During the phase of broadcast politics, dialog has been replaced with a monologue, where the candidate broadcasts ideas to voters, to the political consumers that are expected to buy the ideas, but not take them, remix them, recontextualize them, and so on. Sound bites replace discourse. The ellipsis is the leaving out of truly engaged participation.
Pettitt spoke about how the parentheses are placed at different points on a timeline, dependent on different literary traditions. It would seem as if the same applies to the use of broadcast political ellipsis. Different campaigns and different candidates fit into this spectrum in different ways.
This also illustrates another aspect of what has happened with the use of the Internet by political campaigns. Making content available in digital media, is a first step in moving out of the ellipsis and into a more participatory democracy. Yet simply putting content online is not enough. The major media companies tolerate their content being provided digitally online, as long as they can control it. Yet they use every maneuver possible to prevent reshaping, remixing or appropriating of the content.
To the same extent, it appears as if political campaigns are acting like their big media brothers and trying to take advantage of online distribution, without encouraging the remixing that can bring about greater collaboration and creativity.
Will we see a vibrant culture of political remixing emerge in the 2008 cycle? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.
Friday morning, I took the train to Boston to attend Media in Transition conference. As I settled into the train ride, I took my laptop out of its case, planning to read a few papers I had downloaded for the train ride, figure out which sessions I wanted to attend, work on my own talk, and so on. To my dismay, I found that I did not have my power chord.
The day before, as I browsed my bookshelves, I found an old copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Without my new media sources, I was limited to old media, and the book would have been enjoyed almost as much as having the power chord. Fortunately I had my copy of The Boys on the Bus.
I looked out the window at the rain soaked towns slipping by. The blooming forsythia heralded the beauty of the coming season, but much of the remaining landscape was bleak.
The railway abutments in the larger towns were adorned with highly stylized works by local graffiti artists. The cement palimpsests showed layers of one artist backgrounding another. Culture has always been participatory, I thought to myself, media has always been social.
Despite having no power chord, or perhaps because of it, I found my mind in the perfect place for the first plenary.
Tom Pettitt’s idea of the Gutenberg Parenthesis provides a great framework for much of my understanding of the conference. Prior to Gutenberg, in the pre-parenthetical era, media was collective, traditional, re-creative, based on oral traditions. With Gutenberg, came a focus on autonomous, individualistic, canonical texts. In the post-parenthetical era, we are seeing sampling, remixing, borrow as new ways in which collective traditional texts are re-created. What does this do to the role of the author, and the concept of authority? How does Pirsiq’s concept of quality? How does this apply in political discourse? These are a few ideas that stuck with me from the first plenary which I hope to explore in later blog entries.
(Technorati tag MIT5)
I touched on this a little bit back in May, 2005. Back then, I had recently taken a job as BlogMaster for John DeStefano’s Gubernatorial bid in Connecticut. So, part of my answer was then, I get paid for it. I do not currently have any paid blogging gigs, but I don’t rule out other paid gigs in the future.
Related to that, there is political expression. I have political viewpoints that I want to communicate. This ties into the old discussion about whether bloggers are journalists, advocates, Group psychotherapists, diarists, or something else.
For me, I take on all these roles from one point to another, except maybe that of group psychotherapists. Depending on the role being taken on, different codes of ethics apply, but I’ve been thinking more and more about a proactive code of ethics based on ideas from psychological first aid.
I guess this gets to an underlying theme, the desire to help people around me, to bring healing and comfort, whether it be through better journalism, advocacy, or just taking about stuff, sort of like bringing donuts to a person that grieves.
As I dig through my emails, I’m finding interesting parts of conversations that don’t really warrant a full blog entry, but I don’t want to lose.
One friend pointed me to an article in Salon about how Korean-American people are processing their reactions to the Virginia Tech shootings: Killer reflection
Over on PartyBuilder, I was invited to an evening of phonebanking for the May Municipal elections. Sheila has written more about this over on My Left Nutmeg. Hopefully we will get a bunch of Democrats out in municipal elections around the state.
Laura wrote an great comment on my blog entry about the participatory nature of online experiences. I followed up with a comment to her, via MyBlogLog thanking her for her visit and comment, and asking her what she, as a composer, thinks of Mashups. She wrote a great blog post about Mashing it up
Ned Lamont was a volunteer teacher at Harding High School in Bridgeport, teaching a class on entrepreneurship. So, when he ran for U.S. Senate, many people with many different thoughts about education got involved and offered ideas.
One these people was Steve Wilmarth. Steve is very focused on the role that new media should play in education. He was very interested in the role it should play in Ned’s campaign as well, so we ended up spending a lot of time talking.
Steve runs The Center for 21st Century Skills. There mission statement states:
The mission of the Center for 21st Century Skills is dedicated to:
Creating innovative learning resources and programs that address education and industry needs for 21st century global competitiveness; business, economic, and technological literacy...
New media is an important component, including online digital video. When I helped organize a session on citizen filmmaking at the Media Giraffe conference last year, Steve came with a bunch of his students. Another educator that showed up was Julie Dobrow from the Communications and Media Studies Program at Tufts. We watched some of the amazing videos that her students had created.
This summer, the Center for 21st Century Skills and the Communications and Media Studies Program at Tufts are collaborating to create The Tufts Summer Media Literacy Institute. It looks like a great program, and I highly recommend it.
In our first show, young adults from differing parts of the state and with differing backgrounds, share their experiences on the road to becoming model employees and students. It is our belief that we can learn much from these young people, each taking their own path to achieving the American dream, making it a reality.
It provides a great glimpse into the work that the Center for 21st Century Skills has been doing, and hopefully, motivation to people to get more involved education that meets the needs of a new generation, and perhaps even encouragement to attend the Tufts Summer Media Literacy Institute.