Notes on Media

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Just another weblog. Lasse Bo Timmermann.

The ‘Flow’ of the Web 2.0 – Cyberspace Revisited?

In a talk at the Web 2.0 Expo Danah Boyd provides a nice overview on how social media could shape the way of experiencing the ‘flow’ of information on the Web. The speech is published on her blog and reading it something came to my mind which keeps puzzling me since. Boyd basically describes the shift from broadcast media to networked media. The goal for us then seems to be in achieving a state in which one is actively embedded into a constant flow of information. Further, tools should be used to distill the relevant parts of this information stream. The summary she provides gives comprehensive overview on the goods and bads we can expect of the described development. Four core issues are pointed out that arise from the increasing use of social media and personalized media streams. Towards the end she calls for an active participation in this process and also to help people to reach this state. What keeps puzzling me, however, is the somewhat utopian tone of her address that reminds me of the old cyberspace days.

“[…] to live in a world where information is everywhere. To be peripherally aware of information as it flows by, grabbing it at the right moment when it is most relevant and valuable, entertaining or insightful. Living with, in, and around information.”

she writes. For my sense her words are strikingly close to what William Gibson writes about cyberspace in Neuromancer.

“A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts […] A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”

There are obvious differences of course. The ‘flow’ of the Web 2.0 is certainly not a hallucination and not described like that. However, it seems rather abstract to me. The idea of information everywhere and a peripheral awareness brings one close to Mark Weiser’s idea of ubiquitous computing, so rather the opposite of the cyberspace’s virtual reality, but not necessarily less utopian. The general tone of being within the stream of information, being surrounded by it and hence liberated from the constraints of the centralized broadcasting model nevertheless leaves me with an uncanny feeling. It leaves me uneasy because it seems too passive from the user’s perspective. Just plug in to the ‘flow’ and dive into another realm?

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Filed under: Conference, Cyberspace, Web 2.0

Of Phones and Food

I already stumbled upon the number of 4.1 billion cellphone subscriptions worldwide quite a while ago. My feeling, however, was that the indication for a reduction of the digital divide is flawed by the fact that many of the people in Western countries are subscribed more than once. A remarkable fact, pointed out by Bruce Etling on the Internet & Democracy blog, seems to allude to the opposite. He points to an announcement by the UN which states cell phones will be used to distribute 22$ vouchers among Iraqi refugee families in Syria. This indicates that we have indeed reached a very strange point at which cell phones seem to be more accessible than food as Matthew Cordell points out. For me this significantly questions how important the discussion about a digital divide still is and how telling the numbers of worldwide cell phone subscriptions really are. What is it worth if the whole planet is connected to global communication networks if many still don’t have access to food or water? What does this tell about the potential of the Internet to improve everyday life?

Filed under: Cyberspace, Internet, Mobile, Politics