Week 2: Joel Arellano’s Response To Reading/Viewings

Charlie Gere introduces Digital Culture by declaring his aim to disenchant the reader from the charm of digital culture. He is alluding to Max Weber’s interest in forces of rationalism and secularism to liberate mankind from superstition, but Gere inverts Weber’s formula, applying the term ‘enchantment’ instead to the mistaken belief that the hyper-rationalism of the digital age is a panacea. On the contrary, Gere urges caution against such excessive exuberance in digital tools which still very much require our help.

Gere first delimits digital potential by recalling Turing’s infinite computer, which would nonetheless be incapable of comprehending the nuances of mathematics. From there, Gere proceeds to catalogue the various oppressive and bellicose purposes which have spurned the evolution of computers from the 19th century through the Vietnam War. He’s not finished yet, but it’s apparent that to Gere, computers generate more problems than they tend to solve, and I expect he’ll submit a plea for human intervention at some point soon.

The truth of his argument is apparent in the videos assigned. Camera phones have made video recording available to ordinary citizens around the world, and though this has empowered many, it has created serious challenges. The ease of capturing and sharing digital video can threaten individual privacy and safety, and the sheer volume of footage available is often overwhelming, which discourages engagement by viewers. For example, EngageMedia’s unwieldy website houses thousands of raw videos produced to advocate on behalf of abuses in SE Asia, but the lack of organization, context, and narrative in many of the videos renders them ineffective and propagandistic. Clearly, digital technology alone doesn’t solve human problems.

That is why WITNESS partners with EngageMedia and other organizations. In addition to equipping amateur videographers with digital resources and frameworks for effective production, WITNESS staffers review, verify, and contextualize raw footage, then amplify it across media platforms to help elevate the messages above the mass of undifferentiated clips online.

WITNESS’s example supports Gere’s suggestion that digital culture cannot solve problems which require a human face. Viewers need and want to be guided through the volume of digital content available to them, which means presenting information in a meaningful way. Doing so requires human empathy and cultural awareness, so the study of communications is essential not in spite of, but rather due to, our evolving reliance on digital culture.

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2 comments to Week 2: Joel Arellano’s Response To Reading/Viewings

  • summerh@uoregon.edu

    All very eloquently put Joel. You touch on a lot of great points here I think. Most importantly though is that digital culture cannot solve problems which require a human face. I also agree that the way WITNESS is organized vs EngageMedia, makes their content not only easier to digest, but also lends to their credibility and effectiveness.

  • Grace

    This will sound rather geek-ish but when I finished reading the assigned chapters in the book and started the online viewings, I realized that reading further on into the book might have provided a stronger context to what I’m seeing. Chapter 2 ended on a note where corporate behemoths like IBM are in control and are in the process of transforming the world of computing into the very model of social organization that the Western democracies are supposed to be fighting against.

    I think that the ground zero for the Big Bang in user-generated media is where our present readings leave off, as Gere himself hinted at the start of the book, and again, technology is just a part of it, though admittedly, a very big part. Vietnam, the punk movement and anything rebellious that ever walked and talked in the late 60’s and 70’s will be defining the next phase of the digital culture and will be the spiritual grandparents of the Arab spring and all the present-day events that are contributing to the explosion in user-generated content.

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