It truly is a great time to be Internet savvy these days. Though there isn’t much hope of us progressing past the age of media monopoly (this article by Josh Quittner at TIME Magazine gives a pretty good overview of the current era of big players), there is a very promising cultural upgrade in Media 2.0, and it may change the game altogether.
That is, that in many cases the new kinds of media, those being media ‘platforms’ such as social networking platforms, give us ways to either circumvent traditional media and ‘gate-keepers’, for instance, government and big business, in order to fully express our perspectives, or offer on-line capabilities that empower citizens everywhere to tailor their on-line experiences to what they really want them to be.
Interestingly, this new generation of media conglomerates are both working toward the traditional goal of dominating the media market, and more importantly, also working towards the ultimate satisfaction of a ‘prosumer’. The needs of a modern citizen have changed in direct alignment with the development of the Internet. A distinctly humanist flavour has become a foundation of many new platforms; Wikipedia was founded on an open-sharing policy that aims to remove the cost of traditional knowledge sharing platforms and give all citizens access to “the sum of all human knowledge”, and Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg is famous for his obsession with his vision of empowering the individual; in The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick, he writes of Zuckerberg (1),
“For him, the most important thing that Facebook can do is to give people tools that enable them to more efficiently communicate and thrive in a world in which more information surrounds us all no matter what we do. “
An indication of our new roles as simultaneous producers and consumers can be seen in Facebook’s relatively recent globalized capability, which was actively developed by the global users of the Western model. The translation of the original website was achieved using a translation tool that involved international users translating one or more words for each new language e.g. Spanish or French, then a vote on the best word for each translation was held for speakers of the language to generate the official new Facebook software (1). This effectively involved the ‘consumers’ in the process of producing, and they therefore became ‘prosumers’.
So now that the gap between the producer and consumer is narrowing rapidly, will the role of ‘the media’ change so that we become the media? Will our role as citizen reporters become so enhanced so as to nullify traditional media in a new society where the ‘one to many’ model is obsolete? And what does this role mean for quality control in terms of legitimate sourcing of information, as opposed to rumours and the disappearance of proper research? And how will the rules that govern traditional forms of media evolve to suit this new media landscape?
This process is changing society, but we have only just begun to see the effects of the technological revolution of media, as far as I’m concerned. There is definitely an almost unimaginable potential for the world to progress in this direction and for ‘media’ as we know it to dissolve or completely evolve to incorporate the global population in reflecting our lives, but we are still too closely tied to traditional media and its powerful economic and cultural hold on public opinion. Marshall McLuhan summed this up very insightfully in his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (2), when he predicted,
“Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man- the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of society.”
(1) Kirkpatrick, David 2010 The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World, Simon & Schuster Australia Pty Ltd, NSW Australia.
(2) as cited by The Facebook Effect (above) in Chapter 17, pp 332. Details of book cited: McLuhan, M 1964 Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McGraw Hill, New York.