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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 1: Engines of Change


chapter 1 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...

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