culture pessimism and media critique

In the past two weeks I read the book „A social history of the media. From Gutenberg to the internet“ by Asa Briggs and Peter Burke. Last week I concentrated more in the impact different early inventions like the printing press had on communication, media and our absorbing social behavior.

This week now, we are asked to focus on the second half of the book. It is interesting to evaluate how Briggs and Burke structured the book in general. With the intention to cover the social history of the media in the modern West in the time since the fifteenth century, they start with the “print revolution” and end with the twenty-first century and virtual life, cyberspace and the world-wide web.

The book was revised three times, so that the edition from 2010 was completely renewed in chapters on technology and cyberspace (chapter 4 and 8).

I really enjoyed the first half of the book. The interdependence of media inventions and new communication possibilities plus social and cultural life was interesting nurturing and inspiring. But looking forward to the second part of the book I was deeply disappointed.

If the book has the claim and goal to give a broad overview over media history, I would say, this attempt succeeded in the chapters 1-4 (mainly by Peter Burke). But the chapters 5-8 (by Asa Briggs) are generalizing and arbitrary.

Especially from Briggs’ focus on media convergences I was expecting a differentiated estimation of the situation. Unfortunately the topics seem to be randomly chosen and assessed rather than structured, classified and associated in a structure with each other.

Because of my yearning for a new sociocritical view on “new media” and a history of the new technological possibilities and their impact on society I was deeply disappointed.

Briggs and Burke have a distinct focus on print media, a smaller perception towards, TV and radio and a very small emphasis on online media.

Starting with the history of computers and first networks, the sociological classification of a new form of social life in this mediums are not living up to the high standard of the other chapters before.

Google is only presented as a large encyclopedic search engine. The impact on our economy (finance and advertising), social life (Conversations are often interrupted by someone, who “googles” for the missing information”) and standard of meaning (Search engine optimizing) is hardly enfolded at all.

Twitter is only portrayed in a small paragraph. Facebook is merely described concerning the history of Mark Zuckerbergs business and its economical and company technical importance. The impact these tools have on social life and their enabling of a new way of social networking are not evaluated at all.

Is it only Asa Briggs fault? Or is it more a general impotence to grasp and review the situation of media in the last 100 years- and especially the last 10 years concerning the exploding relevance of the internet?

Media convention

This week my regional church (2.8 Million members, 1293 congregations) hosted the annual “media-day” with the main focus in social media. I tried to follow the convention, which was hard, because we neither have a twitter, nor google+, nor a facebook account.

On the webpage of our regional church, the organizers provided spare general information, a few links, no schedule, no reference to the speakers. A real and extensive coverage in the internet was not available on any official place whatsoever.

Later that day, the officials published a press release, which was mainly build on an article, a news service wrote as a general coverage of the event. But it was evident that the material was more written with a focus on print media and no sensitivity for online media.

Ergo: The media convention on social media was neither covered on any social media platform, nor on any other webpage in the web, except a rough information about the event in advance and a small press release afterwards.

Amongst the heterogeneous speakers and attendants of the convention were supporters and critics of social media: A mix of web 2.0 nerds, noobs and boons.

Our bishop Ralf Meister, who deactivated his Facebook account, when assigned as bishop, was reserved and cautious, concerning social media:

“Bishop Meister doesn’t want to be swept away by the “communication-tsunami” by spreading banalities. He is fascinated by the chances in social networks and at the same time deeply wary concerning the dangers.

It occurs more and more often, Meister states, that people in social networks are systematically destroyed. Meister thinks, that in the first place a discussion about ethical questions with a focus on the Internet is essential. Furthermore he misses face-to-face communication, especially amongst kids. Above all he misses a appreciation for the enchantment by falling autumn foliage.”

(Quote of the press release)

I am not criticizing or mocking my church, I am just presenting the bare status quo.

A large church without any social media concept, talking about social media in every medium except the internet. Discussing abou the “why” and not the “how”.

Our professional handling with print media in my church finds no equivalence in the new media fields at all – and actually it is not even been searched for.

 

Parallels

It is hard to talk about the new world social media is opening.

Some do it in a technical and structural way (Asa Briggs) some do it in a wary and cautious way (Bishop Ralf Meister) and some don’t even want to engage at all (like my regional church, which is not using any social media channels at all).

 

What is keeping us from a sociocritical and sociohistorical view on the impact new media (and especially social media) on our culture and society?

And what is keeping us from developing an opinion and a professional concept for the meaning and use of social media in church contexts?

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