Perception Is Reality

Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

This evening I met with some friends from highschool that I haven’t seen or heard from in five years. We used to wander aimlessly, picking fights, playing hookie and what not. Times have changed. People have changed. And that too, for the better.

I was very impressed to see my friends develop intellectual depth and the enterprise of knowledge: They demonstrated free-thinking. Since most of them are related to the media industry, and one of them politics, the conversation that stirred was inevitably one that was interesting.

With all that has happened in Pakistan for the past year, including Black Saturday, November the 3rd, and so on, one must take a step back and ask the question, “what is really going on here?” Who is steering this nation? Is it the media that had been given such free reign (In my opinion, Geo television was a major element in steering our country into the abyss)?  It is agreed upon that these media conglomerates have certain agendas and are of certain political leanings (which was evident on the 23rd of June, 2008 when the pro-MQM interview was aired on Geo Television). And with political affinities and backing which “control” the masses, the question arises: Really, what is a democratic, free media? One that is not restricted by the government but still swayed by political affinities and funding? What is the definition of democracy, of free media?

It is my opinion that while people either back Musharraf or the Chief Justice, Mohammad Iftikhar Chaudhry, or Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), or MQM, choosing one side without analysing the opportunity cost (for a lack of a better term) of that decision will inevitably lead to serious narrow mindedness. For example, while many Pakistanis agree that the CJ should be restored and all that jazz, the adverse effects have been felt on the media: the use of resources including fuel to conduct a nationwide rally, the shutting down of businesses for a few days leading to a reduced velocity of money circulation, effects on the stock market due to sentiments, and global repercussions of the actions taken by institutions covered in the media.

So, essentially, my muse leads me to the following: Who controls the media? Is one control over the other a better form? And with punch lines such as “shaping the views and opinions of today,” are you really presenting a democratic electronic media? Are you really giving people free-reign over their intellectual thought patterns? Here’s hoping someone will say something.

Thanks to Asma Ansari who works at BBCL for arranging the reunion, you’re awesome!

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The TIME magazine and 4-bar Twix: A great combination, indeed. Whenever I take an international flight, whether it be down to the United States or across the Atlantic to Pakistan, I usually pick up these two items. It’s a ritual. Picking up the magazine from the airport means that you get the latest issue – before it’s even released. And this issue was of particular importance: It was TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people.

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Culture Jamming

 

Recently, I read an article regarding culture jamming by Kalle Lasn. Broadly speaking, culture jamming is our “belligerent attitude” towards authority, or our instincts to go against authority where information flows from the “powerful to the powerless” in a trickle down style. Culture Jammers are then those who take big risks and commit themselves to “small, spontaneous movements of truth.”

Lasn states that culture jamming may be relatively new term, but it is an old movement. Take for example the punk hippies movement, the Surrealists, Anarchists, and so on. However, the most important movement is the Situationist International founded by Guy Debord. These individuals believed that the reflexive way of acting and reacting, living and existing in capitalist societies were killing the “real” way of living life and concentrated on the “novelty” as a way of life. The SI spoke of the everyday way of life (advertising, tv, and commodity consumption) as “spectacles” and were thoroughly against it.

So without, getting into too much detail, what do these jammers do in order to revive the authenticity of life? In order to break free of this mass-culture, what do you do? The idea was called derive or “the drift” which was borrowed from the Dadaists but was defined by the SI as “locomotion without a goal.”

You float through the city, open to whatever you come in contact with, thus exposing yourself to the whole spectrum of feelings you encountered by chance in your everyday life. Openness is key (Kalle Lasn).”

Lasn talks about Marcus’ idea about the “democracy of false desire,” that is how our society and all the media in large offer us the illusion of choices, however, in actuality reducing them to a select number of products or commodities such as action movies, political scandals, ball games, and so on.

Fast forward into actual practice, Lasn talks about Demarketing Loops. Uncooling what is considered cool now and bringing back the authentic version of life. No more Nikes and Calvin Kleins, privately owned media, fast food, cars, and essentially, consumption. So, not buying basically means not buying into consumer culture, which losens the grip of corporations on us as “consumers (Lasn).” Downshifting into the slow lane of life, thinking green, consuming green, thinking about social costs and benefits, family life, and so on. The more you have does not equal to more happiness or joy. Forget McDonalds, make your own burgers. Walk into a class room lecture dressed as a professor (in a satirical way, ofcourse) and talk about educational propaganda. Or wake up in the morning and jump into a tub full of water and ice. Shocks the body, doesn’t it?

This is exactly what Lasn talks about. Jumping into the tub is a mindful, spontaneous decision and doesn’t follow the mentally learnt schemas of culture and society.

Basically, then, we want to “reverse the spin cycle… Demarket our news, our entertainments, our lifestyles and desires – and eventually, maybe even our dreams” that have been constructed by the media. Everything is a simulation of life: a hyperreality, where the goal to be achieved in the capitalist system is so ideal that it does not exist except by enhancement through digital technology.

To read more on Culture Jamming, click here. Then take action.

We live in an age dominated by computers and the internet. Words such as cyberspace, information highway and technology are ingrained in our minds. However, we need to understand how these advancements in human civilization work, and embark on a discourse as to whether these technologies really do dominate our lives and what other factors come into play. This paper discusses three authors and how they address these questions. I will discuss their key points individually, find common ground between them followed by the argument I find most convincing.

In the article “Cyberlibertarian Myths and the Prospects for Community,” (Winner 1997), the author discusses cyberlibertarianism and the problems associated with it. Cyberlibertarianism is fundamentally the libertarian ideology of complete civil liberty, applied to the internet. A key element of cyberlibertarianism is of technological determinism. According to the theory, “we are driven by necessities that emerge from the development of the new technology and from nowhere else.” Winner opposes the idea that as individuals, we have no influence or social choice about the adaptation of technologies. According to Winner, cyberlibertarianism does not take into account key social and political concerns such as who will gain or lose from the transformations of society due to networked computing and what will eventuate when power is concentrated amongst a few large firms (oligopoly).  Cyberlibertarianism is also notorious in its blatant rejection of “attempts to guide technological development in ways shaped by publically debated, democratically determined social choice” (Winner 1997).

Professor Winner goes on to outline a few dilemmas of cyberlibertarianism, one of them being related to online communities. In cyberlibertarian philosophy, one’s goal online is to be connected to other people by virtue of shared interests. Yet, in actual communities this is very difficult. The philosophy ignores completely the problems underlying society, obligation to the community, diversity and what to do about the underclass (Winner 1997).

Winner asserts that we need to take into account complex communitarian concerns “when faced with personal choices and social policies about technological innovation.” We ought to elucidate important moral and political consequences of technology rather than to overlook them and study the problem domains surrounding ideas such as community and democracy and the effects on communities of networked computing (Winner 1997).

The second article, “Cyberspace and the End of Politics” (Mosco & Foster, 2001) talks about two organizations namely the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF) and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and how these institutions have promoted certain myths about cyberspace, one of them being the end of politics. As the authors put it, “Myths are stories that help people deal with contradictions in social life that can never be fully resolved…and provide ’euphoric clarity’ by eliminating complexities and contradictions (Mosco, Foster p.219).” Myths about cyberspace, then, are independent of social relations because they remove the problems associated with communities, helping people deal with contradictions in such a sphere. The authors criticize the idea that myths particularly with regards to cyberspace disregard the social and political institutions (Mosco & Foster, 2001).

Mosco and Foster assert that according to the myth, the end of politics in cyberspace comes from the end of vertical relationships (hierarchy) to a move to horizontal society. Everyone is on the same level of power as opposed to having some who are higher up in the hierarchy than others (Mosco & Foster, 2001).

The authors go on to talk about information technology and capitalism. The idea according to the myth is that these two can “end all injustice and create a world where all are equally free to pursue life as entrepreneurs.”  We get this idea in the Winner article with drawbacks such as cut throat competition which is completely overlooked in these myths (Mosco & Foster, 2001).
Another aspect Mosco and Foster discuss is myths of origin. They explain this by talking about how the event at Cheyenne Mountain led to a myth being born. The key concerns, as the authors put it are not about the SDI and its feasibility, but rather that a myth was created, carrying in itself the notion of end of politics (Mosco & Foster, 2001).

In “Internet Research: For and Against” (Agre, 2004) the author looks at the internet and its place in institutions from a technical standpoint. The author’s argument surrounds the topic of distinguishing internet research from other studies of technology and why this distinction is made (Agre, 2004).

Agre asserts that computers are distinctive in their relation to discourse about the world. He talks about the social shaping of technology and the “presuppositions that a technology can make about people who use it” He gives examples of the solar-powered lamp and the VCR and how the designer “tried to enlist the user into a certain social role.” Agre states that computer science needs to operate on discourses in order to see and understand the social controversies surrounding them. What the author is then trying to convey, is that technology does not exist independently, or disembedded of social and political institutions, rather he states that “social forces shape technology all the time.” Discontinuity or a sudden change in history is a false notion as it “trivializes a complex reality.” To this effect, the doctrine of technological determinism is flawed (Agre, 2004).

The author claims that an innovation will only be grounds for change when it is aligned to certain values or principles of institutions. This shows that social and political factors cannot be discarded as they are integral to the process. Agre says, “An application may fit better into an organization if it is aligned with the existing ecology of practices (Agre, 2004).”
Agre concludes that “the internet has disserved us, teaching us a false model of institutional change.” Essentially, he claims that the internet is not as much a revolution as it is an evolution in how institutions function and the concept of democracy (politics) still persists (Agre, 2004).

If we look at the above discussed authors, we see that they indeed share common ground. Their basic argument is this: technology and the internet in particular, are not divorced of society and politics and to assert so is to be naive. Technological determinism and the idea that life on the internet is disassociated with real life are incorrect affirmations. These authors, then, are opposed to the utopian ideas of the internet, insofar as they create and sustain myths related to it and discount the reality that there are problems associated with such that are completely neglected. There are however, differences in their analyses, in that, they look at the problem from different perspectives. Agre approaches the topic from a technical point of view whereas Winner’s approach, although somewhat sarcastic, is socio-political. He talks directly about the internet and cyberspace. Mosco and Foster approach the discussion from a political and cultural perspective, discoursing about the internet through the concept of myths. Although they do not seem to provide solutions to the problems, or ways of thinking, they do a good job at demonstrating the problem of myths through examples of the PFF and the SDI.

The argument I find most convincing is that of Winner. The argument is straight forward with sufficient background on the topic with several examples. The concepts were fairly easy to relate to. The most important thing however, is that the author provides solutions, or at least encourages one to think differently about the accepted views of the internet. He asks questions then leaves us to answer them in light of his argument about the cyberlibertarian theory. This makes Winner’s reading and argument very effective, not only for the social science community, but also for the general public.

The internet is an integral part of our lives whether it comes to the individual user, to an institution, or to society as a whole. However, it does not exist on a separate plane, and it is erroneous to say that it operates independently of society and politics. Myths have been created which disregard the complex reality, trying to propose a simple solution. We have to understand that these myths are fallacious and that society is not technologically deterministic.

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It should be as popular as American Idol: Robert Scoble of Scobleizer, along with his teammates have launched FastCompany.TV.

Robert Scoble is encouraging (as always) for the site to be a medium of two-way communication between the FastCompany team and its viewers. Alongside posting a comment like one would on a blog, Scoble has added a field where one may post a vlog response to a video. This is reminiscent of YouTube, ofcourse. However, Robert mentions that people may post a video response to YouTube and link it to the comments.

The idea of user-generated content is not new: Al Gore’s Current.TV has been at it for several years now with content submitted purely by its users, rated and commented by other members of the Current TV community. What makes FastCompany different, however, is that it is “re-purposing” television. As far as I understand, it is not meant to be content made by members of the community, rather, it is important information that needs to get out where TV’s minute time slots do not suffice.

Good luck to Robert Scoble, and congratulations for this achievement.

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I do not know how many of the people in North America (and the wider world for that matter) are aware of the fact that Pakistan had banned YouTube from being accessed in the country. Other than reasons that have been mentioned on various online news syndicates, there remains speculation as to what happened.

Some claim the ban was initiated due to very offensive motion images against Islam. Pakistan, being an Islamic state, may have proceeded to enforce the ban to protect the image of Islam. On the other side of the coin, the ban may have been enforced to protect the Pakistani Muslims from being angered by the video clip and therefore rioting. Maybe this was done to protect the Dutch from causing another worldwide scene of hate and anger.

Some say the government banned YouTube because it had videos which were against the government, making parodies of many. There is a particular video of Musharraf and Bhutto which shows them in bad light. It is morally incorrect according to myself and many like-minded individuals to show a deceased person in bad light. But here’s the video:

What I want to focus on, however, is the former reason and incorporate the notion of democracy. Pakistan is an independant, democratic nation and as such, free speech is encouraged so long as it does not cause harm or terrorism and hatred. The video, along with the blasphemous cartoons of the Holy Prophet did stir worldwide controversy in which the muslim nation went through a considerable amount of suffering. Many as well as this blog here claim that this was just freedom of speech. We need to understand that our understanding of freedom may differ from people in the east, in the middle east, and even down south. How can we then discount this notion of range of meanings in a world which is increasingly becoming more globalized? Have we all forgotten tolerance? And when was Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or Bhuddism shown in bad light? Christians may be called sinners as they knowingly sent the Prophet Jesus Christ to the cross. Yet not all of us would think this way. Even the Papal institution runs a city completely under its eccentric law. Do we then call this Christianization? Like Islamization? What do these words even mean?

Please do not get me wrong. This is not a controversy I am trying to stir up, I would merely like people to understand the duality of meanings of words and notions.

What do we do now?

I apologize for having taken so long for this post. I’ve been tied up with university stuff.

On the plus side, here’s an interesting topic: Persistence of vision.

This term refers to a theory in science in which an image that the eye is sees stays on the retina for a brief time period until it is replaced with another image.
In Film, this theory led to the creation of “motion pictures” as we know them. By tricking the eye, a number of images could be presented to a subject and, by this theory, they would not see the images as static, rather as moving, giving this illusion of motion. This is where all the film making or motion picture finds its roots.

Barsam, in his book “Reality Perceived and Recorded” talks about this theory and technologies associated with it. He talks about the devices invented to show motion, by scientific (mostly for scientific purposes).

Persistence of Vision may be explained through the initial work of the Lumiere Brothers in their film about the men breaking down the building, particularly the brick wall. This was a first motion picture.

Another example, also by the Lumiere Brothers is the train arriving at the train station. This again, demonstrated this scientific theory using projection and filming apparatus.


About the Author…

Born in Karachi, Pakistan in an Adventist hospital, I grew up in a city where on one side I experienced poverty and oppression, while on the other I had the good fortune of Tabish Bhimani being a member of an upper middle-class business family...more...

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