Media and the history of political rhetoric

Is new media really new?

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Marvin reflects on the process of social adjustment around new technology, how existing groups in society use resources to negotiate power and how development of new media technology and their platforms can intrude on these negotiations (Marvin 1988, p. 233). Electricity, being her example, opened a door for the electrical engineer to gain status in society by constructing themselves as an elite, for instance with the help of text in that they formed a discourse that was used to separate the insiders from outsiders, and the high from the low culture. One had to understand the discourse in order to partake and be a part of the group, thus a form of technological literacy (Marvin 1988, p.12). Those unfamiliar with technological procedure were outsiders, which helped confirm and strengthen stigmatization of already marginalized groups such as women, foreigners, and the poor. Marvin’s discussion skillfully shows the continuity in how the same questions are raised through history when faced with new technology. If we look at today’s idea of new media, the Internet, questions of access and literacy very much applies, as well as elites. Those less privileged will have a harder time to get access due to costs of equipment as well as perhaps a lower political interest in building out their communication system as seen with broadband (Castells 2001).

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Already weak groups such as older generations that have not grown up with the Internet or unemployed that are not able to learn the technical literacy through work will fall further behind in society. There is an ambivalence though in how new media as well can be a way of opposing old hierarchies. The Internet shows how entrepreneurs who knew how to operate the new technique were able to gain status in building successful businesses such as Apple, Google, and Facebook, while old elites such as media conglomerates have been threatened in their leading positions. Those who were literate and being able to define the Internet as something new compared to something old, attaching it with words such as democratization, and freedom, thus were able to challenge an old elite which have built a business of selling closed media content, such as music, film or morning newspapers. Like the electrical engineer, the digital entrepreneurs were able to take an expert position and use this idea of the Internet as open access to further their own purpose. Todays emphasize on the entrepreneur in the media and culture (Boyle, Kelly 2012, p. 66) as a successful individual in society, might have been influenced by a gain of status and formation of a new elite with the new technology of the Internet, similar to the electrical engineer’s a decade ago.

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Nevertheless, old elites will in the Internet era remain elites since those with economic and political power will still dictate the conditions of how the platforms may be used (Askanius 2012, p. 61). Even though anyone with Internet access can submit a video, for instance with a political message to a platform such as YouTube, the owner of the platform has and will continue to form the limits of the use, while the owner, as well as other powerful interests, can use the same platform to monitor the user for its own gain. We can also see how elites in the form of investment firms and bigger companies are acquiring these digital entrepreneurs’ growing companies (Yarrow 2013; McDougall 2011). Considering Marvin’s discussion we can reflect on the idea of today’s new elites in the future themselves becoming or being swallowed by old elites.

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