Interactivity 2

New media, politics and society- Second edition

by Alec Charles (Author)
©2014 Monographs IX, 238 Pages
Series: Peter Lang Ltd., Volume 41


Two years is a long time in the world of new media – a world of phubbing and selfies, of cyberbullying and neknomination, of bitcoins, Prism surveillance and Google Glass. Much has occurred since the first edition of this book: from the extraordinary social media responses to the deaths of Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela and Peaches Geldof, to the Twitterstorms occasioned by allegations against a late peer of the realm, the rise of the UK Independence Party and the popularity of The Great British Bake Off. The Egyptian revolution has come undone, the Turkish government has banned YouTube, the American President has looked beyond Facebook and the British Prime Minister has started to tweet. World leaders at a 2014 summit even played an interactive nuclear war game. Emergent technologies have been held responsible for the demise of a television presenter in a snowball-related incident, the disappearance of a Pacific island and the appearance of an unfeasibly massive squid. Drawing upon developments in social networking, crowdsourcing, clicktivism, digital games and reality TV, this study asks whether the technological innovations which sponsored such absurdities might ever promote progressive modes of social interaction and political participation. Perhaps somewhat absurdly, it suggests they one day might.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Engines of Change
  • Chapter 2: Electronic Politics
  • Chapter 3: War Games
  • Chapter 4: Reality Television
  • Chapter 5: Social Networks
  • Chapter 6: Public Knowledge
  • Chapter 7: The Twitterati
  • Chapter 8: Revolutions
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Grateful thanks for their support are due to my friends and colleagues Kelly Hallam, Emily Harmer, Peter Harrop, Luke Hockley, Michael Higgins, Dan Jackson, Brendan O’Sullivan, Phil Potter, Bill Rammell, Heather Savigny, Mick Temple, Liesbet van Zoonen, Garry Whannel, Tim Wheeler and Dominic Wring. Thanks are also due to my students, whose feedback and suggestions have been invaluable, and to all those who kindly gave their time to contribute their comments to this study: Jaak Aab, Danah Boyd, Moira Burke, Iain Dale, Gonzalo Frasca, Jane Griffiths, Aleksei Gunter, Joe Hewitt, Andrew Keen, Adam Kramer, Davin Lengyel, Tim Loughton, Austin Mitchell, Mark Oaten, Mart Parve, Larry Sanger and Linnar Viik. Thanks also, of course, to all of my friends and colleagues at the University of Chester. Particular thanks are of course due to Lucy Melville at Peter Lang for her continuing support and for her suggestion that it might be time for a second edition – and also to Alessandra Anzani at Peter Lang for her assistance in the editorial and production processes. And thanks of course to all on Facebook and Twitter.

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Engines of Change

We should not call the Internet the Internet. We should instead, says James Curran, call it the internet. Curran’s point is rather less flippant than it sounds. He observes that nineteenth century liberals had once believed that popular journalism would become an ‘autonomous agency of rational and moral instruction’ and had therefore capitalized the ‘Newspaper Press’ and suggests that we have applied the same idealizing or fetishizing attitude to the internet, arguing that it is now time to drop the awestruck capitals and see what this medium is really all about (Curran, Fenton and Freedman 2012: 60). That was the first change upon which I decided when coming to produce a second edition of this book. The second was to do the same thing with World Wide Web.

We might also come to interrogate the term ‘new media’ – which, like Oxford’s New College (founded in 1379, but – by just 55 years – the newer of the University’s two colleges dedicated to the Virgin Mary), is starting to sound a little old. We will, however, let it stand for the moment, for the purposes of this book, though we might usefully think of the term as being under threat of erasure, or indeed simply in ironic air quotes. The survival of this term is not merely because there is not as yet another phrase in common usage which better serves the intended meaning; it is precisely because the innate inadequacy of the designation ‘new media’ seems quite appropriate in itself. It conjures the instability and uncertainty of these forms, and also their inherently and interminably emergent, provisional and aspirational qualities. The newness of new media signals a direction of travel. That is both what defines them and what prevents their definition: their refusal to stand still. Our dissatisfaction with the term ‘new media’ aptly then mirrors their own dissatisfaction with themselves, their constant dynamic imperative to upgrade.

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Strange new world

New media technologies have not changed the world. The sun has not fallen from the sky. The rivers still run to the sea. The poor remain with us, and many, many millions continue to toil on the land and to hunger in their beds. We still, for the while, inhabit these vile, frail, mortal shells. While such technologies have clearly made a significant impact upon the ways in which we communicate with each other, we remain corporeal creatures who still eat, sleep, bleed, defecate, procreate and die.

Yet it seems clear that these technologies are radically affecting the ways in which modern societies function. High street stores are closing down, our smartphones oblige us to take our work wherever we go, and nobody writes letters anymore. Bill Gates has killed off the typing pool. As the likes of Keen (2008), Papacharissi (2010) and Gregg (2011) have observed, our daily lives and labours have altered in ways unimagined a decade or so ago. In April 2014 French trade unions reached a legally-binding agreement with employers to prohibit the sending of work-related emails after six o’clock in the evening. It is not so much this agreement in itself, but the need for such an agreement, which may been seen in its own small way to signal a radical change in how mobile information and communication technologies have affected the balance of our daily lives.

When, for instance, we source our music or news or friends online, then the smart technologies which shepherd us through the web anticipate our interests based upon our browsing, networking and purchasing histories and offer us suggestions based on what they predict we might want. This leads us into ever decreasing circles of social, political and cultural exploration: we never grow beyond our original spheres of interest. 

The old-fashioned record store, now dying out, would once expose consumers to cultural and social influences beyond their own individual tastes and experiences. It would contribute to the culture and economy of the high street; it would provide retail access to those without the use of online technologies; it would sustain employment in (amongst other areas) retail, manufacturing, construction and design industries.

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The speed, ease and convenience of contemporary digital technologies often mean that we fail to become alert to their consequences and costs. These can sometimes prove extremely unexpected, in ways both traumatic and absurd. In April 2014 it was, for example, reported that a British tourist holidaying in South Africa was billed £2609.31 in mobile online roaming fees after downloading a Neil Diamond album onto her iPhone for £8.99. ‘It wasn’t a particular song that I wanted to hear,’ she told the Daily Mail: ‘I’m really not that big a Neil Diamond fan.’

But have contemporary media forms really made such a radical and permanent impact upon the overall course of human history as some (usually online) might claim? Perhaps not – perhaps not at least in an advertent, directed and constructive way, or in the way we expected and have been told they would. In fact – beyond the hype of the cyber-gurus – the emergent technologies currently most seriously touted as the potential historic game-changers – from genetic modification, gene therapies and nanotechnology to civil nuclear fission, geothermal energy and carbon dioxide removal techniques – all seem resolutely material. These are developments that might not only change our lives but might indeed save our lives and our civilizations.


IX, 238
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
clicktivism social networking crowdsourcing reality TV political participation democratic participation social capital empowerment
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. 238 pp.

Biographical notes

Alec Charles (Author)

Alec Charles is Head of Media at the University of Chester, and has previously taught at universities in Estonia, Japan, Cornwall and Luton. He has made documentaries for BBC Radio, has worked as a print journalist in eastern Europe and has written for British Journalism Review, Journalism Education and Tribune. He is the co-editor of The End of Journalism (2011) and the editor of Media in the Enlarged Europe (2009), Media/Democracy: A Comparative Study (2013) and The End of Journalism Version 2.0 (2014). His recent publications include papers in British Politics, Utopian Studies, Science Fiction Studies and Science Fiction Film & Television, as well as chapters in various books on film, television, literature and new media. He also serves as co-convenor of the Political Studies Association’s Media and Politics Group.


Title: Interactivity 2
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248 pages