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Interactivity 2

New media, politics and society- Second edition


Alec Charles

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.


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Chapter 7 Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards


That truly remarkable book, that imaginary prototype of new media inter- activity, that fantastical forerunner of the populist electronic encyclopae- dia, Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy famously noted in the late 1970s that the planet Earth was ‘mostly harmless’. While this volume has generally characterized the more ambitious claims of liberat- ing interactivity advanced by the advocates of new media technologies as possibly somewhat worse than harmless, it should again be emphasized that the central role which these technologies play in our lives might – if the scope of their impact can be properly understood – continue for the most part to facilitate our social and political interactions in ways aligned to a consensual notion of progress towards the enhancement of the public good, and might propel media and policy agendas beyond the reactionary constraints and hierarchies of entrenched institutions steeped in elitist and exclusionary structures of power. Yet, insofar as it has promised swift, easy and ultimately unsustainable solutions to our social, political and existential woes, the new media revo- lution has thus far provided a comforting but fundamentally counterpro- ductive distraction from these issues rather than the practical facilitation of the development of progressive agendas designed to address them – a function for which it clearly retains some significant potential. This chap- ter will therefore brief ly explore, through the fields of media, politics and philosophy, whether and how these interactive technologies and formats might still have a role to play in the discovery of viable solutions to these...

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