Conditions for Digital Living: India, Swe, USA

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The Open Society Foundations‘ Mapping Digital Media programme has been mapping the macro framework relevant to this micro exploration — the state, conditions and challenges of digital media landscapes in some 55 countries.

The US report was published early on in 2011, the Swedish report a while ago as well, and the India report —  yesterday.  (A project to produce the Finnish report has just received funding from the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation!)

How can these reports inform the micro-level, personal or personalized reflections of this project?

First, the basic figures of internet and mobile phone penetration tell us a lot. What chart might represent what country?

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And yet, looking at the conclusions of these studies, one issue become clear: Digitalization does not bring diversity — unless we explicitly demand it and work for it, as citizens, content-creators, consumers. Another contradiction: Infinite possibilites – more of the same.

From the SWE report:

Pluralism of voices in the media is variable. On the one hand, UGC on digital platforms is increasing dramatically, both on social media and on news media websites. Th us, the number of voices is increasing and more citizens are participating in public debate. On the other hand, there is still a considerable domination by elite sources in the most important news outlets. This pattern has not changed, despite the contradictory trend on digital media platforms.

From the USA report:

Most people now have access to more information than at any previous time, but the decimation of traditional print and broadcast newsrooms and a lack of viable methods for financing in-depth reporting in the digital age means the nation is at a delicate moment in communications, news, journalism, and free speech. It also unfortunately remains the case that race, gender, income, education, geography, age, disability, and sexual orientation all continue to unjustly shape Americans’ opportunities for both accessing and being represented in high-quality reporting. …

Simultaneously, the digital revolution has upset old business models. As a consequence, there exists a looming—though not certain—market failure in the production and circulation of publicly relevant news, especially at the local level. Traditional media are scrambling to maintain balance in the new environment, but have been slow to adapt.

From the India report:

The multiplicity of television channels within a language market has not led to significant diversity; visible variations in content are more a reflection of diff erences in the dominant interests driving or owning these channels—namely, politicians and political parties, business ventures associated or affiliated with political groups, and different sections within the business community. In short, the visible diversity, especially across television news channels, indicates a variety of dominant voices. 

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The Dark Side of Internet Freedom

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This book takes up a possible (negative) aspect of digital technology in terms of privacy and democracy.

TO SAVE EVERYTHING, CLICK HERE: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, by Evgeny Morozov

Imagine a world in which humanity—equipped with powerful self-tracking devices—finally conquers obesity, insomnia, and global warming as everyone eats less, sleeps better, and emits more appropriately. The fallibility of human memory is conquered, as the very same tracking devices record and store everything we do. Car keys, faces, factoids: we will never forget them again. No need to feel nostalgic, since that moment is surely stored somewhere in your smartphone—or, more likely, your smart, all-recording glasses—you can stop fantasizing and simply rewind to it directly. Politics is freed from all the sleazy corruption, backroom deals, and inefficient horse trading. Parties are disaggregated and replaced by Groupon-like political campaigns, where users come together—once—to weigh in on issues of direct and immediate relevance to their lives, only to disband shortly afterward. And even those who’ve never bothered to vote in the past are finally provided with the right incentives and so they rush to use their smartphones to “check in” at the voting booth.

Crime is a distant memory, while courts are overstaffed and underworked and prisons are unnecessary. Both physical and virtual environments—walls, pavements, doors, log-in screens—have become “smart.” That is, they have integrated the plethora of data generated by the self-tracking devices and social-networking services so that now they can predict and prevent criminal behavior simply by analyzing their users. Newspapers no longer publish articles that their readers are not interested in; the proliferation of self-tracking combined with social-networking data guarantees that everyone gets to read a highly customized newspaper that yields the highest possible click rate. No story goes unclicked, no headline untweeted; customized, individual articles are generated in the few seconds that pass between the click of a link and the loading of the page in one’s browser.

While there are many in Silicon Valley who subscribe to an “internet-solutionism” ideology and find such a technology-driven utopia enticing, Morozov finds this sort of future terrifying. He argues: “Silicon Valley’s quest to fit us all into a digital straightjacket by promoting efficiency, transparency, certitude and perfection—and, by extension, eliminating their evil twins of friction, opacity, ambiguity, and imperfection—will prove to be prohibitively expensive in the long run.

See more at the Institute for Public Knowledge.

Does this relate to the dystopian techno-future portrayed in the haunting Tom Cruise film Minority Report?