Tag Archives: Public Discourse

Metropolis – 83 years later and we’re still afraid of machines

Yesterday, I watched Metropolis, one of the most influential German silent films of all times. To be honest, I had hardly ever heard about it until recently, when an almost original version of the 1927 film was discovered in Argentina. Having seen it now, I can now understand why there’s been so much fuzz about it. With its special effects and high production cost, it must have been the equivalent of today’s Hollywood blockbusters. But more importantly, it’s a historical artifact that reflects an aspect of the modern Zeitgeist that is still with us today – the paradox of technology as progress and technology as enslavement. Continue reading

Privacy and innovation – two parts of the same story

The information society has given birth to a popular new German word – “gläserner Mensch”, meaning a human being made of glass or simply “transparent individual”. It encapsulates Germans’ widespread fears that Google, Facebook, the state and others record every bit of information about them. Unfortunately, this disproportionate emphasis on privacy and data protection threatens to suppress innovation. A call for a more balanced discourse. Continue reading

Can Google Wave revitalize online debates?

googlewave

Some days ago, I managed to get access to Google Wave; this highly anticipated, widely praised service that will revolutionize online collaboration and interaction. Well, I’m not that impressed, to be honest. It comes across like an advanced, non-linear chat programme of some sorts, which allows you to post different forms of media content and to write responses to earlier posts. Leaving aside the myth of a collaboration revolution for now, this sort of functionality may be perfect for online debates… Continue reading

Election reporting – Turning bar charts into a multimedia show

Elefantenrunde

It was federal election time in Germany yesterday. Since this blog isn’t primarily about political commentary, I shall refer you here for a more detailed summary of the results, if you’re interested. In a nutshell, Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrat party (CDU) will form a new centre-right alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats Party (FDP). Since this blog is primarily concerned with communication and all its related matters, I took a closer look at how the election night was reported by mainstream and social media. Continue reading

Facebook – an act of the devil?

Archbishop fan group

Will they ever get it? I don’t think so. Since social networking sites like Facebook have become so immensely popular, critics from all corners of society have renewed their claims that the Internet is isolating, alienating, and inevitably leading to the end of healthy community life. The latest in line this morning: Archbishop Vincent Nichols (see BBC article)

His criticism is so old it’s almost too boring to repeat. Facebook leads young people to seek transient relationships, as many of them as possible to boast about them. And when these loose relationships collapse, young people go and commit suicide, according to the Archbishop. Moreover, they forget how to interact face-to-face, loosing their ability to interpret a person’s mood and and body language. In other words, once again the end of society.

Not every friend is a friend

I do not know if the Archbishop has ever signed on to Facebook or if he was thoroughly briefed about it before making his claims. I find it unlikely, as he contradicts both the experience of most Facebook users and the current status quo in terms of academic research on this topic.

I’ve been doing a bit of work on online communication myself over recent weeks. During the interviews I conducted, all interviewees made it very clear that they use Facebook to talk to a few close friends on a regular basis. The rest of the people on their friend list are those who they just met once or were never really that close to. It’s like collecting business cards. You got the person’s details and if at any point in the future you need to contact her, you can.

Critics like the Archbishop should realize that not every contact that’s labeled a “friend” on Facebook is a true friend. In fact, many people I talked to said they started a number of separate friend lists to distinguish between those who they care about and those they aren’t that close to.

Integrate, mix, replace

Many academic an journalistic articles, as well as my interviewees, also suggest that online interaction is very closely integrated with offline interaction. If we only looked at Facebook communication, our social life would indeed be pretty sad. But Facebook is there to supplement everything else that went on before, to mix with it, or in some cases to replace it – but only partially.

Facebook and other social networking sites may even enable relationships to be maintained that were previously lost. Those students I spoke to (in addition to my own experience) all came to the UK from abroad. They say that through social media they find it much easier and cheaper to stay in touch with their friends from high school or their families back home.

Technology, the culprit

Finally, critics like the Archbishop make it sound like social networking sites dropped to the face of the earth as the source of all evil. I see that they make for an excellent culprit. But if we want to lament the decline of community life (which we have some reason to do), we should look somewhere else first. Facebook et al. only reflect and perhaps emphasize social trends that have been ongoing for quite some time, such as individualization, globalization, social exclusion, and some others.

While I wrote this, I was wondering about the Archbishops motifs to voice his criticism about social networking sites. Does he think that those who no longer go to church are now surfing the web instead? Does he find it hard to compete for the attention of young people? Does he hope they would come to his church if Facebook was outlawed?

As a side note, I find it worth mentioning that Mr. Nichols has a Facebook fan group with 222 members. Not sure whether he knows about this or how he feels about it.