I’m part of Georgetown’s Communication, Culture & Technology program. Supposedly, that means I study the intersection between communication and society, and consider the role technology plays in informing that intersection. Or something like that. Until this point in my academic career, though, my experience has focused almost entirely on “Communication”; it’s dealt very little with “Culture” and absolutely ignored “Technology.” So lately, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the “T” in “CCT.”
I’ve been thinking about smart phones and laptops, about PDAs and portable DV cameras. I’ve been thinking about the ubiquity of social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and the instantaneity of communication they afford us. Finally, I’ve been considering these technologies’ knowledge-creating capacity, and the breakneck speed at which they’re revolutionizing not only the ways we communicate, but the ways we create and receive information, too.
While attending a speaking event last week, the importance of this last consideration was impressed upon me. The speech was on the shifting responsibilities of media and government in the digital age. It explored the variety of technical, ethical and political issues raised in a world where technology offers virtual omniscience to any user who seeks it. It ultimately asked: As we become increasingly reliant on emerging, immediate communication technologies—on blogs, YouTube videos and from-the-frontlines Twitter updates—and as these technologies inevitably alter the modes by which people acquire information, how will we address issues of journalistic integrity, informational legitimacy and institutional responsibility?
It offered no answers, as none yet exist. This intrigued me: Our information landscape is changing—quickly—and we have no idea where it’s headed.
Take the example of video blogging, which in the last couple years has saturated the mainstream. Today, the amount of time and resources it now takes an amateur videographer to capture footage, process it, upload it to YouTube and get it onto the net is negligible. A few years ago it was far from negligible, and a costly process to boot. Compounding this development is the fact that, now, many people own smart phones with built-in cameras and one-click uploading capabilities. This allows for the near instantaneous stream of information from actuality, in near-real time, to YouTube, Facebook and beyond. (Of course, predating 2005 YouTube didn’t even exist; the fact that we now take its existence for granted only highlights its rise to omnipresence.)
As amateur video continues to permeate headline news, we are provided with evermore frequent reminders of the shift. Sometimes, videos themselves are the subjects of controversy, as in the recent case of a Rutgers University student who committed suicide after the online release of footage depicting him during a sexual encounter. Other times, it’s the immediacy of what amateur videos capture that’s newsworthy—whether it’s the execution of a deposed dictator or the beating of an unarmed protester.
Historian Mark Poster holds that the invention of print journalism allowed for “political processes [to be] received, reviewed, and discussed by citizens, by individuals presumed to be actively concerned with public affairs.” If this is the case, then perhaps the emerging landscape will allow for political processes to be not only received, reviewed and discussed by citizens, but also to be instigated, defined and predicated by citizens. Indeed, if citizens are the gatekeepers of the information upon which politics is often based, who is to say they cannot serve such functions?
Surely, the importance of these possibilities and their attendant implications cannot be understated; they are presently redefining the standards for news making, for accountability and for transparency that we have for years abided. Within the admittedly esoteric realm of Communication, Culture and Technology, these issues have converged to reveal a path whose future has yet to be written. As a young scholar, no other fact could be as exciting.