BEYOND THE SPOKEN WORD

5 Mar

Media is communication. It is a carrier enabling forces to interact with various other elements such as society and culture; often resulting in complex relationships. These complexities develop through what media is able to facilitate, and what it communicates. It can, through the transformation of communication, which is now beyond the spoken word, de-stabilise what was once stable.

It is argued that there are various social and cultural significances of technology. To explore this statement, and certain ramifications of these complex relationships between media and culture, technological determinism should be looked at. Murphie and Potts (2003) state, “Technology is the agent of social change”. Various political examples serve to justify their claim. Most recently, the conflicts within the Arab Spring exemplify the complexities between technology and culture, and also that technical capacity is linked to the idea of progress (Murphie & Potts pg 11). The below video summarises the influence of technology, specifically social media in accelerating political uprisings in the Middle East.

Namely, it allowed an active audience to use social media to communicate their views. It also filled the ‘gaps’ where their mainstream media lacked. Academics argue that, “culture, as the context within which people give ‘meanings’ to their actions and experiences…” (Tomilson 1991 pg 7). Media has facilitated the communication of culture.

Therefore the notion that society is shaped by its dominant technologies does resonate; “new technology creates a new potential and possibility for human thought, expression or activity” (Murphie & Potts pg 13). Furthermore the influence of social media on the Arab Spring is an example of this potential.

The New York Times reported extensively on The Arab Spring and the ‘Twitter Revolution’ publishing various articles dealing with central aspects of technological determinism:

 “Borderless digital movement that is set to continually disrupt powerful institutions, be they corporate enterprises or political regimes… The number of Web users in the country [Egypt] increased to 13.6 million in 2008 from 1.5 million in 2004. Through blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the Web has become a haven for a young, educated class yearning to express its worries and anxieties.”

Therefore McLuhan’s argument that “technologies are extensions of human capacities” is obvious when examining the role social media played in the Arab Spring, society was saturated with images and sounds of disenchantment which were able to reach a large audience, turning into “far-reaching cultural effects” (Murphie & Potts pg 13). An active audience could use technology focused on immediacy (#Egypt was the most used tag on twitter in 2010).

This does not mean that twitter directly caused a change in leadership, but it does mean that twitter created an opportunity to express disenchantment of the leadership and vent frustrations about repression. This was the premise of the protests, and Twitter allowed these to be heard. Technology is therefore so influential in many aspects of society that it cannot be seen as neutral. It can though, be seen as a dynamic process and system of communication. Reliant on its technical capacities that allow it to function and subsequently influence culture and accelerate social change.

References:

Murphie & Potts, ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in, Culture and Technology, 2003. London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38

Tomilson in: Semati, M. ‘Media, culture and society in Iran: living with globalisation and the Islamic State’, Routledge, New York 2008

Vargas ‘Spring Awakening’ in New York Times, February 2012, sourced from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/books/review/how-an-egyptian-revolution-began-on-facebook.html?pagewanted=2&sq=arab%20spring%20twitter&st=cse&scp=15

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