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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Virtual (R)evolution 


Aleks Krotoski's BBC2 documentary was everything you'd expect of old media on a Saturday night - plenty of clever eye-candy. We had talking heads, the usual suspects, glamourous locations, our presenter in slowmo silhouetted against sunsets and always with a Macbook and i-phone (was this subliminal advertising?). There was gushing enthusiasm about the 'levelling' effect of the web, promising a utopia of person-centred libertarianism, and much furrowing of brows over corporate interest and authoritarian hierarchies. But the basic and optimistic premise that new technology puts the power of self-expression, communication and information in our hands is flawed. To live that particular dream we have to be born in the right place, to have the social, cultural and economic resources not only to get a Macbook and an i-phone, but also to know what we're supposed to do with them. In other words we need to be one of the lucky (?) 20% of the world population. There was a small parallell in the way the BBC flashed a hashtag onto the bottom right of the TV screen just after the opening credits - fine if you're one of the Twitterati; meaningless if you're not. To be fair though, it wasn't all sweetness and light. There is, apparently shopping (in Cardiff), and dating (in Manchester), and pornography (in Harrogate - shock/horror) and it's all virtual, whatever that means. And then there's also the emergence of A-lists and editors - filters and blocking; but no mention of the Great Firewall of China. Apparently it's all down to a conflict between freedom and control, and you get the feeling that Aleks wants us to join in this global Last Battle - on the side of freedom and in the spirit of a particular imagining of sixties counterculture. This just goes to show that even BBC2 can fall into the trap of making the complex simple and presenting us with an either/or debate rather than a set of unresolved or unresolvable issues. Anyway, I stayed the course, I'm linking to the website and I've learnt that the blogosphere is in crisis. What blogosphere? Which crisis? And I'll probably watch Part 2 next week. Will you?

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