So, is new media a revolution, changing society in a fundamental way, or is it a slow, very gradual process? That’s one of the many questions I have after having attended the neo-journalism conference in Brussels, Belgium.
Yesterday professor Alfred Hermida (University of British Columbia) gave his vision on The Ambient News Network. Think of Twitter as millions of voices worldwide, who are constantly talking about what they consider as being remarkable or meaningful. It’s like ambient music, and when all of a sudden the rhythm changes, we become very actively aware of that ‘music’ – probably something major unfolding somewhere.
It’s not just about Twitter though. It’s about a cultural shift. While the industrial world was linear, monolithic, hierarchical, with clearly defined borders and closures, the post-industrial world is non-linear, horizontal, open, ever-changing, so Hermida explained.
Newsrooms often are industrial: they specialize in producing finished products. Think neat articles or videos, professionally crafted, existing on their own, being published in a printed newspapers or homepages trying to be yet another perfectly finished product – even of it’s only for a day or for a few minutes.
Compare this to Twitter and to live blogging. It’s a never-ending river of updates, it’s always provisional, rough around the edges, with many voices blending in while final agreement among those voices is an illusion. Blogging/journalism is not a product, it’s a process.
Hermida said something very beautiful:
Liveblogs are the unfolding truth.
Liveblogs are fluid, open, dynamic, not stable. Through the many voices, the decentered but somehow recognizable style of the livebloggers/ DJs, there is something we could call a truth which makes itself being felt. (An idea which reminds me somehow of Walter Benjamin, but do not fear, I’ll explore that in some other post).
Then again there was a presentation by Anders Olof Larsson (Uppsala University, Sweden) about the use of Twitter for a talk show. He showed how the Twitter-traffic spiked during the airtime of the show, how the host was indeed engaging in rapid Q&A-like interactions with people on Twitter. Some of those people were more visible than others – it appeared those people had a professional background which made them more inclined to use Twitter intensively.
‘Culture changes slowly’, Anders Olof Larsson told me afterwards. Political tensions in countries often are fueled by issues which opposed people generations ago. Hermida, in his presentation, also pointed out that even though learning the technicalities of Twitter was not a big challenge for most journalists, the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial mindset was far more difficult. What we talk about here are new literacies, and acquiring those is not self-evident.
During the discussions it was also pointed out that Twitter is evolving from network which is famous for enhancing worldwide conversations into what it actually was all the time: a privately owned company with its own objectives. That is not different from most media companies and conglomerates of course. But at the same time there are a number of challenges regarding technologies and literacies: how can we help people to navigate the endless streams of liveblog-updates, tweets or other streaming media? We should keep as much possibilities open as possible to suggest our own solutions for these issues – it should not be something to be dealt with exclusively by the Twitter- or Facebook-coders, Hermida pointed out.
The audio-recording of Hermida’s keynote is available on his website, Reportr.net.