[iDC] How does social media educate?

Ulises arsalaan1-idc at yahoo.com
Tue Feb 6 06:49:01 EST 2007

Tobias (and all), 
I share your sentiments regarding Hinchcliffe's definition. Somehow, it is not enough.

Someone please fill in the blank: Instead of seeking to define social media in functional terms (all the hype about what it can do), we need to define it in terms of _________ . 

We tend to get excited about the presence of the word 'social' in the term 'social media.' It signifies a new era, we are told (for the sort of reasons Hinchcliffe gives). At the same time, we take too much for granted (I believe) the presence of the word 'media,' a word that hints at very specific dynamics of information consumption and social control. You wrote: 

"if these [Hinchcliffe's] 5 points [conversation, open organization, transparency, bidirectionality, and distribution] face significant difficulty throughout history, then why would a  specific technology somehow enable the realization of these [direct democracy] values?"
Precisely! This is the reason why I asked at the beginning: 

What is the educational problem in our societies to which social media is said to be the obvious answer? 
What kind of society requires the emergence of social media as an educational tool in the first place?

Consider the importance that Hinchcliffe gives to 'pull' --as opposed to 'push'-- in social media. This characteristic is important only because media has historically been associated with 'push.' Now, however, we are told that _social_ media is 'flattening the world' of communication. Why, then, continue to call it _media_? Is our collective subconscious  interjecting a moment of honesty here? When 'push' becomes a mass phenomenon, doesn't it start to approximate 'push'?

You bring up direct democracy. Here's C.W. Mills' description of direct democracy:

"The people are presented with problems. They discuss them. They decide on them. They formulate viewpoints. These viewpoints are organized, and they compete. One viewpoint 'wins out.' Then the people act out this view, or their representatives are instructed to act it out, and this they promptly do." (The power elite, 1956, pp. 299-300)
Mills was deriding this uncomplicated view of direct democracy because it does not take into account power dynamics. But our enthusiasm for social media seems to fuel this fantasy. Hey, what could be better for democracy than a healthy public sphere with increased possibilities for communication? But it's like Deleuze says: "Repressive forces don't stop people expressing themselves but rather force them to express themselves... What we're are plagued by these days isn't any blocking of communication, but pointless statements." (Negotiations, 1995, p. 129). 

If social media is to fulfill an educational purpose, it will need to contribute more than the individual's ability to make a statement, even if that statement is made in an environment with the flatness, transparency, bidirectionality, and open distribution that Hinchcliffe describes as the essence of social media.



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