Sunday, March 22, 2009

Marcus' questions

1) The comment about the “public sphere generating legitimacy” in the Networked Public Sphere readings also caught my eye, mostly because I think it’s completely untrue. I think there’s a predisposition within communication studies to think our work matters, and I think in a lot of cases, it does … but not all of them. There are plenty of communities, and countries, where the media is by and large completely irrelevant to a population’s daily life. The first example that pops into my head is from my never ending Poindexter paper – if you live in a small town, and the local newspaper doesn’t do very much, then how does that media reinforce legitimacy? If anything, it undercuts it, and people have to build their own relevance outside the boundaries of the published word. It’s the same in company towns and much of the third world – if the local media is simply Ceasar’s Wife, so to speak, and is just a megaphone for the government, then how does that build legitimacy? There are certainly public spheres and power structures in both those cases, but both are effectively independent of media.

2) Have Schudson or Fraser ever been to a city council meeting? As far as rules in a democracy go, most pretty much play it by ear – at election precincts, public hearings, the works. There’s technically a time limit for speakers at most hearings, and there are technically rules about only speaking when you have something new to say. Neither, really, are followed with great consistency. It depends on the topic, how close you are to the discussion, how emotional you are, who you know in the government, who you don’t know in the government … and that’s not to say there isn’t a certain logic to it, ‘cause if I were sitting up there, I doubt I’d cut off a crying homeowner after only 3 minutes of discussion. Most let them say their piece, and only cut them off after quite a bit longer. But if the focus is on the rules, and not everyone is really following the rules, then uh … aren’t we missing something?

3) To follow up on Teresa and David’s string, I agree – the concept of “public sphere” is a bit contrived. The traditional focus is on politics and the economy, but where do you draw the line – is Bristol Palin in the public sphere? What about the Laundromat cutting half its staff? Are the auxiliary and small items as important, or does it have to be in the New York Times to count? I think it’s an artificial distinction. I can’t remember his name to save my life, but in the early days of the Supreme Court, there was a justice that tried to make the same separation – speech relating at all to politics was public and protected, but anything else could be regulated and brought to court easily. It didn’t work at all, “politics” is just too broad.

4) I also tend to be skeptical of anyone touting revolutionary change. Yes, Friedland, Hove and Rojas are right that the internet makes it easier to connect, but I’m not sure that it’s really any different. How do you define communication, or difference? If communication is simply expressing thoughts and ideas, then it’s still the same. If it’s using the written word to express those ideas, then it’s still the same. If it’s going out of your way to find like-minded individuals, well, then that’s been going on for quite a while too.

5) And more generally speaking, where is the line between “new media” and “old media?” Once upon a time radio was new media. So was television. So is it simply a construct of context, whatever happens to be new when a study is being conducted, or is there broader context that I’m missing? Because I don’t think there is.

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