Posts Tagged ‘media’

Ahead of the upcoming IPCC report into global climate, and climate change, the news agenda seems to been largely dominated by stories asking why global warming has paused for the last 15 years (see the BBC, the BBC again, the torygraph and the NZ herald among countless other examples).

A substantial part of this seems to be the repeat of familiar claims that 1998 was the hottest year on global record, and if global warming scientists were right there is no way that we should not have a seen a hotter year during the past 15 years. Hence, climate change has paused, the models and data suggesting that human fossil fuel emissions were to blame for late 20th century warming were wrong, and that consequently any argument for restricting emissions in future are null and void.

Which of course ought to lead to the question, who says that 1998 was the hottest year on record? Well the answer to this is somewhat complicated, but also somewhat revealing. It aint NASA, who run GISStemp (the Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis) who have 2010 as the hottest year on record followed by 2005, with 9 of the 10 hottest years occurring after the year 2000 (with 1998 as the only pre-2000 year in that list).  It also isn’t NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) who compile a global temperature record at the National Climactic Data Centre (NCDC), whose data again places 2010 as the hottest year on record, followed by 2005, with 1998 in third, and 9 of the hottest 10 years on record occurring after the year 2000 (ie after global warming has allegedly paused). Which leaves the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre and and University of East Anglia’s Climactic Research Unit record HadCRU. The CRU is of course the unit who were the subject of the Climategate faux controversy where sceptics hacked emails, published some excepts from private correspondence out of context claiming fraud and data manipulation generating global headlines, and which were subsequently found by numerous independent investigations to have found no evidence of wrongdoing. The latest version of this temperature series is HadCRUT4v which again shows that 2010 was the hottest year on record, followed by 2005, followed by 1998.

So where does the 1998 was the hottest year claim come from? Well, HadCRUT4v is the latest, and most accurate temperature record maintained by the Met Office and CRU (for a detailed explanation of what’s changed look here). If we ignore that and instead use their previous version, HadCRU3v, then, and only then does 1998 appear to be the warmest year on record. So why did this old record suggest a different year to the NASA and NCDC records (and indeed the latest version of the CRU record)? Well the main reason for this was the different methods used to generate global temperatures. Of course none of these institutions are able to measure the temperature in every place in the world, they use stations in various locations, and the places where there tend to be the fewest stations tend to be the polar regions (where there also tend to be the fewest people). And one of the things we know quite well, is that the Arctic has been the fastest warming region on the planet. Whereas GISStemp interpolates values between measured locations in the Arctic, HadCRU3v left them blank as unknown, which introduced a cold bias into their dataset compared with the others, and explaining why it has been replaced by a dataset which features a greater number of stations and which correlates much more strongly with the other datasets.

So the ‘pause’ in climate change is something that only exists if you exclusively look at a now obsolete and known to be biased dataset generated by a group who those using this data have previously claimed to be frauds. And decide to ignore that 1998 was in any case a super El-nino which had a dramatic short term effect on global weather – hence the other 9 of the 10 hottest years on record all occurring since the year 2000. If you used 1997 or 1999 as start dates there wouldn’t appear to be any pause in any dataset (outdated or otherwise), but cherry-picking the year when specific short-term conditions made things abnormally hot added to cherry-picking a now obsolete dataset allows sceptics to make the global warming has paused argument (see this excellent skeptical science post for details on cherry-picking)

So why are so many mainstream media outlets focussing upon this as the main story in the lead up to the IPCC report? Probably because it’s a more sensationalist and conflict-driven story than one which reads science has been slowing progressing, turning a 90% confidence in predictions in 2007 into a 95% confidence by 2013, allied with a big PR drive from a number of the main players in the climate denial industry.


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I’ve just had an article published as part of the spring/summer edition of Necsus, the European Journal of Media Studies. Necsus is an open access journal, so you can find the full text HERE.  My text is a look at how notions of scale and entanglement can productively add to media ecologies as an emergent way of exploring media systems. If looks at case studies of Phone Story and Open Source Ecology, and examines how in both cases a multiscalar approach which looks across content, software and hardware can be productively applied.

The journal also features an interview with Toby Miller and Richard Maxwell, the authors of Greening the Media, a book released last year which is one of the first full-length pieces to look at issues pertaining to the ecological costs of media technologies (both old and new), and a series on interesting essays which look at the intersection of media/film studies and ecology from diverse perspectives. Outside of the Green material, there are essays by Sean Cubitt (who was my PhD external examiner a few months back) and Jonathan Beller which are well worth a read.


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Last year’s iDocs conference at the Watershed in Bristol was a lively and engaging event which looked at a range of critical, conceptual and practical issues around the emerging field of interactive documentary. It focused on several key themes surrounding the genre: participation and authorship, activism, pervasive/locative media and HTML 5 authoring tools.

The conference featured a number of practitioners involved in fantastic projects, such as Jigar Metha’s 18 Days in Egypt, Brett Gaylor, who made the excellent RIP: a remix manifesto and is now at Mozilla working on their popcorn maker, an HTML 5 based javascript library for making interactive web documentaries,  and Kat Cizek (via Skype) whose Highrise project is well worth a look. There were also more theoretically inflected contributions from the likes of Brian Winston, Mandy Rose, Jon Dovey and Sandra Gaudenzi (among many others) which made for a really stimulating couple of days.

The Digital Cultures Research Centre at UWE asked me to document the event and produce a short video summary, and the video above is the outcome of that.

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This week I start doing some work as a researcher for the Digital Cultures Research Centre at the University of the West of England, looking at a range of notions surrounding postdigitality.

The working hypothesis I’ve been given to function as a jumping off point is that ‘the digital’ in ‘digital cultures’ is on the verge of becoming a redundant term since all significant global cultures are all already digital.’ If this is the case how should the research centre strategically reconfigure its interests to maintain relevance within this postdigital moment.

My main experience with notions around postdigitality thus far comes from documenting the Postdigital Encounters Journal of Media Practice Symposium in 2011, which featured a range of interestingly contradictory takes on the postdigital:



I’m looking forwards to engaging with the DCRC staff around this issue, and spending some time thinking about the underlying value of a discourse which is currently fragmented and largely dominated by some fairly insubstantial rhetoric on blogs and newspaper articles, but which appears to touch on some far more interesting material around the rematerialisation of technologies, the Internet of things, pervasive media, and smart cities and connected communities.

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Over the weekend of the 11th and 12th of June I was at BarnCamp, a fun filled weekend of tech activist related tomfoolery organised by the Hacktionlab network. On the Sunday I gave a talk about the Social and Ecological costs of Technology, which was recorded by the Catalyst radio collective, who launched a 24 hours a day seven days a week at BarnCamp. The talks are available for streaming here.

The first talk on the audio stream is on the Luddite movement and the contemporary relevance of their actions ahead of the bicentenary of the Luddite rebellion in 2012, the second is some thoughts on technology, the self and upgrade culture, and my talk is on third, about 35 minutes in.

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On Friday I was in London for an unconference hosted by Furtherfields.org at the University of Westminster, London which approached the subject of re-rooting digital culture from an ecological perspective. Here’s the brief for the event:

Over the last decade the awareness of anthropogenic climate change has emerged in parallel with global digital communication networks. In the context of environmental and economic collapse people around the world are seeking alternative visions of prosperity and sustainable ways of living.

While the legacy of the carbon fuelled Industrial Revolution plays itself out, we find ourselves grappling with questions about the future implications of fast-evolving global digital infrastructure. By their very nature the new tools, networks and behaviours of productivity, exchange and cooperation between humans and machines grow and develop at an accelerated rate.

The ideas for this transdisciplinary panel have grown out of Furtherfield’s Media Art Ecologies programme and will explore the impact of digital culture on climate change, developing themes adopted in grass-roots, emerging and established practices in art, design and science.

One thing which left me somewhat confused was why the event was billed as an unconference, when in reality it was a fairly straightforward event with three speakers and a short Q+A after. Listening to three presentations (with accompanying powerpoints and prezis) and then having the chance to ask a few questions at the end is not a participant driven meeting, its the same format as you find at any conventional conference panel.

The first speaker was Michel Bauwens, founder of the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives. Bauwens began by prescribing the central problems of the contemporary socio-economic system with regards to sustainability and equity. The first problem he outlined was that of pseudo-abundance: the aim of achieving infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources and the externalisation of ecological costs from our limited understanding of economics. The second problem he delineated was that of artificial scarcity: the ways in which intellectual property is enforced via patents and copyrights which create scarcity around assets whose cost of reproduction often approaches zero with digital networked technology. This Bauwens argued, leads to the stifling of innovation, which prevents the types of solutions to ecological crises being developed as commonwealth, outside of a profit driven market framework. The final problem Bauwens diagnosed was that of social justice, as exemplified by the cavernous (and growing) divide between rich and poor on a global level.

Bauwens’ suggestions around potential solutions to these problems is primarily through commons based peer production. In commons based peer production, individuals are able to voluntarily self-aggregate into distributed networks based on coordination through networked telecommunications. While Bauwens presents this as an entirely new phenomena, afforded by the massive increase in computational power and networked connectivity associated with the information revolution, it is worth mentioning that voluntary self-aggregation and democratised and decentralised ownership of projects has long been a foundational concept of anarcho-syndicalist thought. What appears to be different about P2P networks in the contemporary context however are their ability to connect peers outside of a localised context through digital telecommunications networks, and also for the projects to be scaled up accordingly in terms of size and scope. These affordances have the potential to enable commons based peer production to out-compete market based initiatives in many circumstances, however what is potentially of greater significance than the efficiency gains P2P networks can provide is the alternative set of values they tend to embody.

Bauwens used examples of numerous forms of consumer electronics as instantiations of planned obsolescence, whereby the company making the product has a financial incentive to create a product which has a highly limited shelf life, and whose design is not modular, so that failure of individual components leads to users replacing the entire device. While the manufacturer profits each time this cycle continues and new items are bought, the ecological costs increase, however these are externalised from the market transaction. By contrast the open design methodology is based around values whereby the user/designer (the term prouser was suggested) wants their device to be as durable and long lasting as possible, and for a modular design to exist which eanables them to easily replace any parts which are damaged over time. Consequently the argument Bauwens promoted was that the values of the open design movement present an ethical alternative to market production whereby ecological sustainability and social justice can be built into the production process itself.

Bauwens argued that this argument was not merely utopianism but was based on a material analysis of the prescient features of contemporary capitalism, which he argued already needs commons based peer production in order to remain profitable.

The second speaker was Catherine Bottrill of Julie’s Bicycle, an organisation which works with arts ‘buisnesses’ to reduce their carbon footprint. While I’m sure the organisation does good work, the scheduling seemed somewhat odd. Following a talk about the problems of contemporary capitalism and the necessity to replace it with a system with alternative ethical values created via grassroots and decentralised P2P networks we had a talk which seemed to imply that if the major record labels reduced their carbon footprint slightly and their star acts planned their world tours slightly differently there would be no ecological crisis.

It was problematic that Bottrill didn’t address any of the concerns or solutions Bauwens had just raised, and one slide in particular caused (presumably) inadvertant entertainment with her diagnosis of contemporary challenges to society. First came recession, second came the Middle East Crisis, followed by cuts to Arts Council funding. I’m not sure what came next because I was laughing too hard. On a more serious note though, for a group of uniformly white middle class people at a posh London university to listen to someone raise arts funding cuts as a major social problem above the other aspects of the government’s austerity programme; cuts to disability benefits, cuts to welfare, cuts to education, the privatisation of the NHS etc was somewhat depressing.

The final presentation was from Ruth Catlow of Furtherfields.org on ecological approaches to networks, tools and digital art. Catlow began with a delineation of network topography, referring to a 1964 RAND corporation diagram on various forms of structure

Catlow argued that while mass media networks resemble the centralised structure on the left, the Internet is a mixture of the decentralised (via the cables and gateways that make up the material apparatus of connectivity) and distributed (as each computer functions as a node in a distributed network). While this has been a traditional way that the Internet, and its potential for creating a democratic media system has been trumpeted for over two decades now, this analysis misses a crucial part of the picture. Recent research into the structure and connectivity of complex networks such as the World Wide Web (which is the most common encounter people have with the Intenet) reveals that far from a distributed system in which all nodes are equal or every blogger is a pamphleteer, the structure of these networks is that of a power law, with a few preferentially attached ‘superstars’ such as Google, Facebok, Twitter and Amazon, while the vast majority of content resides in the ‘long tail’ where it receives scant attention.

Systems as diverse as genetic networks or the World Wide Web are best
described as networks with complex topology. A common property of many
large networks is that the vertex connectivities follow a scale-free power-law
distribution. This feature was found to be a consequence of two generic mech-
anisms: (i) networks expand continuously by the addition of new vertices, and
(ii) new vertices attach preferentially to sites that are already well connected.
A model based on these two ingredients reproduces the observed stationary
scale-free distributions, which indicates that the development of large networks
is governed by robust self-organizing phenomena that go beyond the particulars
of the individual systems
Barabasi and Albert 1999

When we talk about network topology we need to engage with these findings, as while the power law functions as an attractor which partially determines the distribution of the network, there has been some research which suggests that this is not a fixed and finite determinism and that there may be methods or tactics which communities can use to make these networks more equitable. But for me, that discussion is the interesting one to be having about network topologies now, not merely a recapitulation of the earliest models.

Following this, Catlow went on to detail a number of projects which Furtherfields have been involved in, including the Zero Dollar Laptop Project; which is an innovative way of both mitigating the ecological cost of contemporary computing hardware while also providing social benefits to disadvantaged groups, We Wont Fly For Art, a project designed to mitigate the carbon emissions created by artists and the Feral Trade Cafe, a project by Kate Rich which establishes social networks to ethically trade goods.

Overall the event was worth attending, Bauwens’ talk in particular being a highlight.

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Yesterday I gave a guest lecture for to MA students at the University of Western England on Media Ecologies… Here’s a copy of the Prezi that went along with the lecture, and a selected bibliography for some key readings associated with the field. I’ll try and find some time to write my notes up into a blog post sometime soon

Link to Prezi: Media Ecologies on Prezi

Media Ecologies Bibliography


Bateson, Gregory, (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind; Collected essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology, Northvale New Jersey, Aronsen Inc.

Capra, Fritjof (1996) The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, New York, Anchor Books

DeLanda, Manuel, (1992) ‘Nonorganic Life’, in Jonathan Crary & Sanford Kwinter (eds), Zone 6: Incorporations, New York: Urzone, pp. 129-67

DeLanda, Manuel (2002) Intensive Sciences and Virtual Philosophies, London and New York, Continuum

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1972, trans 1977) ‘Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,’ Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R Lane, London & New York, Continuum

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1980, trans 1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Translation by Brian Massumi, London & New York, University of Chicago Press

Guattari, Felix (2000) The Three Ecologies, trans Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton, London, Athelone Press

Maturana, Humberto and Varela Fransisco (1980) Autopoiesis and Cognition, Dordrecht, Holland, Reidel,

Prigogine, Ilya in collaboration with Stengers, Isabelle (1997) The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos and the New Laws of Nature, New York, The Free Press


Haraway, Donna (1982) ‘Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,’ in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature New York; Routledge, 1991, pp.149-181.

Hayles, N Katherine (1999) How We Became Posthuman Chicago, University of Chicago Press

Hayles N Katherine (2007) Deep and Hyper Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Models, http://www.mlajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1632/prof.2007.2007.1.187

Latour, Bruno (1991) We have never Been Modern, Translated by Catherine Porter
Cambridge, Massachusettes, Harvard University Press,

Stiegler, Bernard (2009) For a New Critique of Political Economy, translated by Daniel Ross, Polity Books, UK

Media Ecologies

Fuller, Matthew (2005) Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Technoculture, Cambridge MA, MIT Press

Matthew Fuller (ed) (2008) Software Studies: A Lexicon, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press

Jussi Parikka (2007) Digital Contagions: A Media Archeology of Computer Viruses, Peter Lang Books

Jussi Parikka (2011) Insect Media: An Archeology of Animals and Technology, University of Minnesota Press

Jussi Parrika (ongoing) Machinology http://jussiparikka.net/

Rawlings, Tomas (ongoing) A Great Becoming http://agreatbecoming.wordpress.com/

Taffel, Sy (ongoing) Media Ecologies and Digital Activism https://mediaecologies.wordpress.com/

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Here’s a selective bibliography of some of the sources I used for my presentation at the Mediating Environmental Change: Exploring the Way Forwards MeCCSA symposium in Bournemouth earlier this month. A few people there asked if I could post these links, so here they are, I hope they’re useful :)

Media Materiality and Environment: Exploring the Ethics and Sustainability of Hardware

Basel Action Network (BAN) and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (STVC) (2002), Exporting Harm, The High-Tech Trashing of Asia, http://www.ban.org/E-waste/technotrashfinalcomp.pdf

Basel Action Network (BAN) (2005) The Digital Dump: Exporting Re-Use and Abuse to Africa, http://www.ban.org/BANreports/10-24-05/index.htm

Braungart, Michael; and McDonough, William (2009) Cradle to Cradle: Re-making the Way we Make Things, London, Vintage

Jenny Chan and Ngai Pun (2010) Suicide as Protest for the New Generation of Chinese Migrant Workers: Foxconn, Global Capital, and the State The Asia-Pacific Journal, 37-2-10.http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/the-asia-pacific-journal-sep2010-suicide-as-protest-jc-pn1.pdf

China Labour Watch (2008) Foxconn Corporation, Cornell University ILR School, http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1496&context=globaldocs

Essick, Kristi (2001) Guns Money and Cell Phones, The Industry Standard Magazine
Issue Date: June 11 2001, http://www.uky.edu/~tmute2/GEI-Web/GEI-readings/Guns,%20Money%20and%20Cell%20Phones%20%97%20Global%20Issues.pdf

Gartner Inc (2007) Gartner Estimates ICT Industry Accounts for 2 Percent of Global CO2 Emissions http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=503867

Greenpeace (2006) Toxic Chemicals in Computers Exposed, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/2006/9/toxic-chemicals-in-computers.pdf

Huisman, Jaco; Magalini, Federico; Kuehr, Ruediger; Maurer, Claudia (2008) 2008 Review of Directive 2002/96 on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), United Nations University, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/pdf/final_rep_unu.pdf

#IVF Industrial Research and Development Corporation (2007) European Commission DG TREN Preparatory studies for Eco-design Requirements of EuPs (Contract TREN/D1/40-2005/LOT3/S07.56313) Lot 3 Personal Computers (desktops and
laptops) and Computer Monitors Final Report (Task 1-8), http://extra.ivf.se/ecocomputer/downloads/Eup%20Lot%203%20Final%20Report%20070913%20published.pdf

Kooney, Jonathan G.(2007) Estimating Total Power Consumption by Severs in the U.S. And the World, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Luthje, Boy (2006) The Changing Map of Global Electronics: Networks of Mass Production in the New Economy, Edited by, Smith, Ted, Sonnenfeld, David, Pellow, David Naguib (2006) Challenging the Chip, Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry, Temple University Press, Philadelphia

Miller, Toby and Maxwell, Richard (2008a) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology, International Journal of Communication 2: Feature 331-53, http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/article/computer/2008-07-24/240.html

Raphael, Chad and Smith, Ted (2006) Importing Extended Producer Responsibility for Electronic Equipment into the United States, in Smith, Ted, Sonnenfeld, David, Pellow, David Naguib (2006) Challenging the Chip, Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry, Temple University Press, Philadelphia

SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour) (2010) Workers as Machines: Military Management in Foxconn, http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/report-on-foxconn-workers-as-machines_sacom.pdf

Sells, Edward Anthony (2009), Towards a Self-Manufacturing Rapid Prototyping Machine, Doctoral dissertation, University of Bath, http://opus.bath.ac.uk/20452/2/UnivBath_PhD_2009_E_A_Sells.pdf

Sonnefeld, David A (2006) Global Electronics in Smith, Ted, Sonnenfeld, David, Pellow, David Naguib (2006) Challenging the Chip, Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry, Temple University Press, Philadelphia

UN (2001) Security Council Condemns Illegal Exploitation of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Natural Resources, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2001/sc7057.doc.htm

UN (2001b) Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo , http://www.un.org/News/dh/latest/drcongo.htm

Underwood, Neil (2011) Cheap skates guide to a $510ish Mendel ($360 if you have access to a 3d printer) http://repraplogphase.blogspot.com/2011/01/cheap-skates-guide-to-510ish-mendel-360.html

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2008) Fact Sheet on National Data Center Energy Efficiency Information Program, http://www1.eere.energy.gov/industry/datacenters/pdfs/national_data_center_fact_sheet_abbrev.pdf

Williams E. (2004). Energy Intensity of Computer Manufacturing: Hybrid Assessment
Combining Process and Economic Input-Output Methods. United Nation University. Environmental Science Technology, Volume 38. No 22. Tokyo, Japan. http://www.cs.ucsb.edu/~chong/290N/Williams.pdf

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Media, Materiality and the Environment: Exploring the Ethics and Sustainability of Hardware on Prezi

Here’s a link (it seems that WordPress doesn’t like Prezi’s embed codes) to the Prezi presentation I made for the Mediating Environmental Change: Exploring the Way Forwards symposium in Bournemouth which took place on Friday 4th March 2011. It was a really fascinating event which brought together a diverse group of researchers, practitioners and activists who work in areas around media and environmental change, and I’m hoping to find some time to blog about some of the talks which were given there. I’m also going to post up a collection of links to some of the sources I’ve used for the information contained in the presentation, and that should be up sometime later in the week.

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There’s a lot of really interesting discussion going on at the moment about the role that social media and online/offline networks have played and are continuing to play in the revolutions which have swept across Tunisia and Egypt and are emerging in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Iran.

Manuel Castells, the Catalan sociologist most famous for his writings on the Network Society, the Information Age and Communication Power is interviewed on the subject by Jordi Rovira for the Open University of Catalonia

The spontaneous social movements in Tunisia and Egypt have caught political analysts on the hop. As a sociologist and communication expert, were you surprised by the ability of the network society in these two countries to mobilise itself?

No, not really. In my book Communication Power, I devote a large part to explaining, on an empirical basis, how changes to communication technologies create new possibilities for the self-organisation and self-mobilisation of society, by-passing the barriers of censorship and repression imposed by the state. The issue clearly isn’t dependent on technology. Internet is a necessary but not sufficient condition. The roots of rebellion lie in exploitation, oppression and humiliation. However, the possibility of rebelling without being quashed immediately depends on the density and speed of mobilisation and that depends on the ability created by the technologies which I have classified as mass self-communication.

Could we consider these popular uprisings as a new turning point in the history and evolution of the internet or should we analyse them as a logical, albeit extremely important, consequence of the implementation of the Net in the world?

These popular insurrections in the Arab world constitute a turning point in the social and political history of humanity. And perhaps the most important of the internet-led and facilitated changes in all aspects of life, society, the economy and culture. And this is just the start. The movement is picking up speed, despite Internet being an old technology, and deployed for the first time in 1969.

Young Egyptians have played a key role in the popular uprisings, thanks to the use of new technology. However, according to the calculations of Issandr El Amrani, an independent political analyst in Cairo, only a quarter of Egyptians have internet access. Do you feel that this situation may – in his words, create a divide in these countries between those with access and those without access – one that is even greater than that in developed countries?

This figure is already out-of-date. Around 40% of Egyptians over 16 have internet access, if we consider not just private homes but also cybercafés and places of study, according to a recent 2010 study by the information company Ovum. And this figure rises to around 70% among young urban dwellers. Also, according to recent figures, 80% of the urban adult population has internet access via their mobile. And, in any case, in a country of some 80 million, even a quarter, which is double among young city dwellers, according to the oldest sources, this means millions of people on the streets. Not all of Egypt has demonstrated, but enough have to create a sense of unity and bring down the dictator. The story of the digital divide regarding access is old, untrue today and boring because it’s based on an ideological predisposition, among intellectuals, of minimising the importance of the internet. There are 2,000 million internet users on the planet and 4,800 million mobile subscribers. Poor people also have mobiles and, although fewer, they have forms of internet access. The real difference lies in broadband and connection quality, and not in access which is spreading faster than any other technology in history.

It would be naive to think that, given the events of recent weeks, those unlawfully holding the reins of power will just stand by with their arms crossed. Nicholas Thompson, social media expert, wrote in The New Yorker that “in Iran, the government was clearly successful to a certain point in using the internet to slow the passage of the green revolution. In Tunisia, the government hacked into the password of almost all the country’s Facebook users. If Ben Ali had not fallen so quickly, that information would have been very useful”. To what extent does power have the necessary tools to quash uprisings started on the Net?

It doesn’t. In Egypt, they even tried to disconnect the whole net but they couldn’t manage it. There were thousands of ways, including telephone land line connections to numbers abroad which automatically converted the messages into twitters and fax messages in Egypt. And the financial cost and functional effort involved in disconnecting the internet is so much that the connection had to be restored extremely quickly. A power cut on the net is like an electricity power cut today. Ben Ali didn’t go that quickly, there was a month of demonstrations and massacres. And in Iran, the internet couldn’t be shut down, with information about the demonstrations and videos of them on You Tube. The difference is that over there, politically speaking, the regime had the power to brutally repress things without causing divisions in the army. However, the seeds of rebellion are there and young Iranians (70% of the population) are now massively against the regime. It’s a question of time.

In Egypt, popular mobilisation via the digital media has created cyber heroes such as Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive. Leaders of uprisings historically led political and social movements from the grass roots, which would then play a key role in the political future, such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit in France or Lech Walesa in Poland, just to give a couple of examples. However, we now have people with important technological knowledge, but often little political baggage. What role do you think these new leaders will play in the future of these countries?

The important thing to remember about wiki-revolutions (self-generating and self-organising ones), is that leadership doesn’t count, they are just symbols. However, these symbols don’t have any power, nobody obeys them and neither would they try. Perhaps later on, when the revolution has become institutionalised, some of these people may be co-opted to be a symbol for change, although I very much doubt that Ghonim wants to be a politician. Cohn-Bendit was just the same, a symbol, not a leader. He was a student and friend of mine in ’68 and was a true anarchist, rejecting leaders’ decisions and using his charisma (the first to be repressed) to help spontaneous mobilisation. Walesa was different, a union Vaticanist, which is why he became a politician so quickly. Cohn-Bendit took a lot longer and even so is still a green at heart who although now elderly, maintains values of respect towards the origins of social movements.

For some years now, Islamic fundamentalist movements have used new technology to promote their causes. The Muslim Brotherhood, which launched its own Wikipedia (Ikhwan Wiki) last year, reasserted that Islamists of all kinds “have exploited the internet to the full, despite the efforts of their adversaries.” This organisation, which could become the main beneficiary of a future election and which links together a great number of people committed to the total application of Islamic law, arouses suspicion among many trained young people who have led this uprising via new technology. How does this paradox make you feel?

Anyone who doesn’t use the internet now for their projects is backwards, with the exception of respectable eco-fundamentalists who write by the light of a candle (generally on a solar-powered computer). Consequently, both Islamists and even terrorists, also use it. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll win elections. To start with, they have been on the margins of recent social movements. And their election predictions in free elections do not get over 20% in any survey. Their organisation and tradition may lend them certain weight, but they do not represent the vast majority of an essentially young movement favouring freedom. They have been used by the regime to shock the world and the United States. It reminds me a little of when Franco used the fear of communism when everyone thought that the communists would secure a high return and then the PCE didn’t get over 10%, although in Catalonia the PSUC enjoyed significantly more support for a short time. Be that as it may, if the military does not keep its promises, if there are no free elections, if the demands of the fundamental working-class struggles unfolding in Egypt are not met, if there is violence against the population, then in that radicalised situation there may be Islamic armed resistance, but not by the middle-class Muslim Brotherhood.

The international media ? which the Egyptian regime tried to censor and even physically attacked ? together with Egyptian citizens who used the digital media, have enabled the shackles of information censorship to be shaken off. Months ago, Wikileaks achieved maximum return on its leaks in uniting the leading presses which published the vast amount of information that it held on its website. Is this alliance between conventional media and new technology the path we should be following in the future if we wish to successfully fight these huge challenges?

Large media corporations have no choice. They either ally with the internet and people’s journalism or they will become marginalised and financially unsustainable. However, that alliance plays a decisive role for social change. Without Al Jazeera there would have been no revolution in Tunisia.

In your article in La Vanguardia entitled Comunicación y revolución from 5 February, you ended by reminding readers that China had prohibited the word Egypt on the internet. Do you think the conditions are right for a popular movement similar to the one sweeping the Arab world to happen in the Asian giant?

No, because 72% of the Chinese support their government, because the urban middle class and mainly young people are extremely busy getting rich and the problems of the peasants and working class, China’s real social problems, are not on their radar. The government is taking excessive precautions, because censoring by system antagonises a lot of people who are not really against it. Democracy in China is not a problem for most people right now, unlike Tunisia and Egypt.

Events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt are yet another example of the inclusion into our daily lives of new forms of communication, such as SMS, blogs, podcasts, RSS, wikis, Twitter and Facebook, which have led to what you term “mass self-communication”, the upshot of developing the web. Can this new type of globalised and atomised communication, fed by the contributions of millions of users, change our way of understanding interpersonal communication or is it just another powerful tool available to us?

It has already changed it. Nobody who is on social networks everyday (and this is true for some 700 million of the 1,200 million social network users) is still the same person. It’s an online/offline interaction, not an esoteric virtual world. How it has changed, how this new type of communication changes it each day is a question to be answered through academic research, not by sitting around gossiping. And that’s where we are now and that’s why we have conducted the Project Internet Catalonia at the UOC.

In December, the German Ministry of the Interior announced the creation of a cybernetic war defence centre to repel spying attacks, while in Tallin (Estonia), in an ultra secret NATO laboratory, leading IT specialists are working to prevent the evolution of conflicts in a world increasingly dependent on the internet. Bearing this in mind and having seen what is happening in the Arab world at the moment, could it be said that cyber attacks will be the war of the future?

They are in fact the war of the present. The United States considers cyber war a priority and has allocated it a budget ten times larger than that of all other countries put together. And in Spain, the armed forces are preparing themselves quickly for the same thing. The internet is the space of power and happiness, of peace and war. It’s the social space of our world, a hybrid space built on the interface between direct experience and experience mediated by communication and, above all, by internet communication.

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