Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mediated communication? Oh, just get used to the idea!

Since it is inevitable that, in a global culture, our conversation will be mediated in some way or other, our focus should not be on whether this should happen but how.  In any case, mediation always existed - you spoke to someone and prejudice - or simple observation - immediately intervened: was this person richer or poorer, more highly educated or less highly educated, better dressed or worse, taller or shorter?  Mediation, insofar as it provides a context which affects how we communicate with others, has always existed and will never disappear.

We do really have to get used to it.

In a global village, however, it is easier to assign blame - or, at the very least, apportion responsibility - for what often seem to be covert acts of mediation.  A very simple example: the very fact that MSN and other chat clients have popularised an ever-broadening range of ready-made emoticons mean that our younger generations haven't had to learn the short-hand - the code - that originally defined them.  From the codified to the picturesque and literal in one corporate bound.

What was an open secret, deliciously shared, became, quite shortly, a prosaic question of click and return.

Our ability to remember and impose and implement an action via a suitably exercised brain is, in a way, becoming impaired.  Other things come into play: so perhaps this impairment is actually a positive.  Ridden of the need to remember these sometimes irritating codes (command line operating systems are neat but define a power relationship between those who have the time to remember and occasional users - or relative IT illiterates - who never will), we can dedicate more of our brainspace to thinking and communicating creatively about the future.  For that, I am sure, is what we were built to do.

Part of the inspiration behind this website is Google Wave.  I've already described this product here and in other places.  It clearly has a great deal of potential to facilitate conversation, but - by the same measure - will also inevitably mediate that conversation.  Should we be worried?  Maybe we should - I still do not know enough about Google's motivation, objectives, business model or future intentions to know whether I should be.  For the moment, it seems to me that Web 2.0 and whatever comes afterwards will drive freemium economics forwards and ensure that the current relationship between large facilitating corporations such as Google and the rest of us will continue to be a norm rather than an exception.

As with all large corporations, as long as we are prepared to go along with a number of underlying assumptions (generally relating to the structures of capital and workforce), we can reasonably happily benefit from their offspring.  The problem is when we want to blog, tweet, wave or email using our own means of production - particularly if we have an ideological need.  What has become astonishingly cheap suddenly reverts to prohibitively expensive; what is 21st century utility becomes 20th century luxury.

Do you remember how we were prepared to be wage slaves in the 1960s because corporate concentrations of wealth paid for transatlantic telephone calls, office infrastructures and well-detailed finely-tuned career paths?

Telephone calls which I can now make from the comfort of my own home either via Internet and video-conferencing technologies like Skype or via ordinary telephone providers with monthly bolt-ons.

Whilst these days working for a corporation means designing your own career path, completing your own sick notes online and paying for your own Christmas parties.  Why work for a corporation any more?  Well, indeed - it's a good question.  Where's the added value these days when a company job no longer means a job for life - or a pension worth its salt?

Those days, weeks, months and years spent counting the seconds to retirement ...  Oh, no, not any more.

On the other hand being a consumer of the products and services these massive organisations serve up and produce is a different matter.  Producing your own stuff on the back of their efforts is a far more attractive affair.  Suddenly, what these corporations produce has become sexy, often free and completely liberating.

A simple example closer to home.  We have just contracted Skype's worldwide unlimited landline calling service as we prepare for my son's expedition to the Far East.  For around £8 a month, we can make unlimited calls across the world, to both landlines and mobile numbers.  Now there is a truth here we must recognise: only with the modern 21st century corporate landscape at our side would our small family - from the point of view of our more than modest means - even be able to contemplate funding his plane flight, insurance and communication needs.  My socialist colleagues at other socialist blogsites might find my lack of vigorous resistance to such structures criticable; indeed, they would say that in a properly socialist world my small family would have the leverage it needed to send its offspring to wherever they pleased - but in the meantime, Gmail is better than any other email service I might choose to fund for myself, whilst Google Apps supplies a whole host of services for up to 50 members at little more than $12 a year, domain registration and blog included, YouTube is playing a long-term game as the number of daily hits tops the billion, airlines transport us for a fraction of the cost of even twenty years ago, trains whisk us to Paris in a matter of hours, companies like Sony, Apple and JVC make gadgets that allow us to play games, communicate and film videos, and the greatest and most creative minds in the world spend long hours into the night, huddled together in constant concentration, as they make films, TV, music and books - just for all those small families like mine.

Also, of course, for the money.

But it's up to them to sort out how to monetise it.

That ever-present dilemma in a world where - suddenly - so much is free, or practically so.

And half the planet now walks around with a palm-held computer in its multitudinous pockets which we call a mobile phone, with thousands of times more computing power than was the norm those twenty years ago for a startling fraction of the price.

Yes, socialism - on its own, fully formed and implemented - could do all these things; could have done all these things.  But my gut instinct tells me that like any belief system, it is discrete and does not cover all eventualities; nor, indeed, do all of its proponents care to understand that essence of a human being is their attachment to an idea of diversity.

Those human beings who reject diversity are also rejecting their essential humanity.

Socialism is a belief system because it still requires a leap of faith.  Capitalism is a tool because it is currently used to do things - bad things to a lot of people as well as some good things out of (pure and naked) self-interest.

I believe in the need for every empowered individual to own their means of production.  But it's not socialism that has taught me this importance - it's capitalism.

In reality, I suppose socialism has taught me that as well, as I watched how mind-numbing its implementation in the ex-Yugoslavia managed to be.  To own the means of production in a world where work rules is a fundamental and key factor in determining how liberated one might be.  It all depends, of course, on whether you believe in a world of work; whether, in fact, you believe that a world of wage slaves is an ennobling thing to contemplate.

Personally, I don't.

The world that this video describes, in its collaborative approach to human intercourse, seems much more attractive.

Further details on how this better world of thought might be implemented can be found at this marvellous blogpost.

What am I really trying to get at in my own meandering way?  That, in 21st century virtualities, where reputations rise and fall through the connected decisions of millions upon millions of souls, we can become empowered individuals through the freemium economics of the grand ogres of capitalism; it doesn't only have to be via Marx and Engels.

We can break free through using the very tools that capitalism creates to ensnare us, because - even as what we do is mediated fiercely - what we are will, long-term, remain a constant.

Each generation is born anew.

Each generation is destined to start again.

Afresh is the tonic for every human soul.

And that is - finally - what'll really protect us from ensnarement.

You can get me whilst I'm alive but, as yet, you can't change me before I'm out of the womb.  Let's keep it that way.  Not this way, but that.

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