Posts Tagged ‘social networking’
I’m continuing to meditate on Adam Fish and John Carter McKnight’s Savage Minds essay. Their argument that the penetration of social networking and online life into every area of life will allow every area of life to be charted on the market is plausible to me.
Is it plausible to you?
Uri Friedman at The Atlantic had a provocative article put up there recently, (“In Defense of Instagramming Conflict in Crimea”). Noting first that many Crimeans had been uploading pictures of themselves with Russian, or Ukrainian, troops and that many people outside Crimea were appalled by this, Friedman seemed to think that this was not only fitting given the origins of war photography in the Crimean War, but that it helped make things that were unclear clear.
Putting aside one of the explanations for this stream of selfies—a substantial pro-Moscow, ethnic Russian population on the peninsula—it’s actually quite fitting that amateur and professional photographers are experimenting with new technology this week to document Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula. A century and a half ago, Crimea served as the breeding ground for modern war photography.
The Crimean War left many legacies: Florence Nightingale, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” ski masks. But arguably its most consequential one was modern war journalism. The conflict, which pit Russia against Britain, France, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire over territorial and religious disputes in the Middle East, raged from 1853 to 1856, not long after the invention of photography and the electric telegraph. These technologies enabled William Howard Russell, an intrepid correspondent for The Times of London, to file on-the-ground dispatches about the British government’s bumbling deployment of troops, and Roger Fenton, a young London lawyer with little photography experience, to snap the first images of war for a private publisher rather than a government (Fenton actually had two benefactors; British officials chipped in). “It was the first ‘armchair war,’ which a distant public could experience as a kind of spectacle,” Smithsonian magazine once observed.
Now, photographers are once again mediating our experience of a conflict in Crimea. And they’re choosing Instagram, which launched in 2010, for specific reasons.
“Sometimes it’s a personal space just to show life as it is,” Ed Ou, a Canadian photojournalist in Ukraine, told National Geographic on Thursday. “A photograph doesn’t have to be front-page news…. What’s cool about Instagram is that you can show things that you know won’t be used otherwise and might never be seen.”
Coincidentally, Wired‘s Kevin Kelly has an opinion piece wherein he argued for the embrace of mass surveillance.
In this version of surveillance — a transparent coveillance where everyone sees each other — a sense of entitlement can emerge: Every person has a human right to access, and benefit from, the data about themselves. The commercial giants running the networks have to spread the economic benefits of tracing people’s behavior to the people themselves, simply to keep going. They will pay you to track yourself. Citizens film the cops, while the cops film the citizens. The business of monitoring (including those who monitor other monitors) will be a big business. The flow of money, too, is made more visible even as it gets more complex.
[. . .]
Every large system of governance — especially a digital society — is racked by an inherent tension between rigid fairness and flexible personalization. The cloud sees all: The cold justice of every tiny infraction by a citizen, whether knowingly or inadvertent, would be as inescapable as the logic of a software program. Yet we need the humanity of motive and context. One solution is to personalize justice to the context of that particular infraction. A symmetrically surveilled world needs a robust and flexible government — and transparency — to enforce adaptable fairness.
I’m actually inclined to agree with this. Instagramming the Crimean peninsula does go a long way towards showing, as Friedman points out, that things are still basically normal in the area. Nothing terrible has happened yet. I’m just also reminded of an essay I linked to back in February 2012, Zeynap Tufekci’s essay “The Syrian Uprising will be Live-Streamed: Youtube & The Surveillance Revolution”. What will happen, she wondered, in conflict situations where wrongs are documented and shared worldwide?
What does it mean that everything –including the most trivial but especially the non-trivial– has such a great chance of being available worldwide? Starting with the printing press, the threshold for the ability to publish has been getting lower, and the potential reach of publications has been getting bigger. We are now at the level of the person, publishing at the level of the world. The publishing revolution is almost complete.
Does this level of documentation make it more likely that the international community will be compelled to react to atrocities–which will likely come with higher and higher levels of visibility? Or will this, too, become just background noise, similar to famines or disease in Africa have become for most of the world (except the victims, of course)? Does the level of documentation and surveillance –and thus, evidence– make it harder to establish processes like the Truth and Reconciliation efforts in places ranging from South Africa to Guatemala? Will this amount of documentation of atrocities make divisions even more likely and pernicious–as the ability to forgive often needs some level of forgetting? And the Internet, it seems, does not forget. Will this all make regime bureaucrats more likely to defect—as “I was just pushing paper and had no idea all this was going on” has become an even weaker defense? Or will they cling to power to the very end as much as they can, knowing their victims and survivors have much evidence as well as awful reminders of their crimes?
I don’t have the answers but I’m quite convinced that we’ve entered an irreversible point in terms of documentation of our lives, including death and destruction—not just baby pictures and trips, parties and graduations but also shelling of towns and killing of children. There is no going back. And tools matter. Just as wars with nuclear weapons are different than wars with bows and arrows, a world with cell-phone cameras in every other hand is different than a world which depended on traditional journalists and mass media gate-keepers for its news.
If anything terrible happens in Crimea, as I noted in the comments section of Friedman’s article, everyone will find about it quickly, in vivid gory colour. What happens after that, I fear to imagine.