Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Draft Intro chapter - Second Media Age and cognitive mapping

Mark Poster’s ‘Second Media Age’

The above example (coming soon as blog entry) is used as a narrative to suggest the Caribbean has entered into what Mark Poster, in 1995, has termed the Second Media Age. This second media age, while not a new concept, is something Caribbean Studies has so far paid little attention towards. In order to address this situation the dissertation intends to provide the reader with a cognitive map of how the Caribbean is being produced in the second media age. In this section I want to concentrate on describing and defending Mark Poster’s concept.
In general, the second media age differentiates itself from the first media age through being more interactive. This is due to the first media age being based on a broadcast model, creating the circumstances of film, radio, and television having a small number of producers sending information to a large amount of consumers.[1] This meant a film, for example, could reach a significant amount of the world’s population. These people would then be consumers of what Guy Debord referred to as the spectacle. In academic terms, the broadcast model of the first media age generated a debate between those arguing for the democratic possibilities (McLuhan, Benjamin, & Enzensberger), and those arguing the immanent dangers to liberty and freedom (Adorno, Habermas, & Jameson).[2] While these debates composed interesting insights for media and cultural theory, the development of new media technology has, to a certain extent, shifted the foundations of the debate as ‘new media may be seen as creating a major force that is uncontainable by’ theories of the first media age.[3] The limitations of the first media age theory then require exposure through beginning with the critics of the broadcast model – Duhamel, Adorno, and Habermas.
For Duhamel the invention of mass cinema held no benefits for consumers: ‘a pastime for helots, a diversion for the uneducated, wretched, worn-out creatures who are consumed by their worries…, a spectacle which requires no concentration and presupposes no intelligence.’[4] As part of the broadcast mode, cinema, from Duhamel’s perspective, created nothing more than a spectacle for the viewer consume. His opinion echoes a high humanist critique, which installs a boundary between art, which he enjoys, and everything else (film, radio, and television) to valueless entities.[5] This view is shared by Adorno, and to a lesser extent Habermas. For Adorno, as Poster points out, the broadcast model unsettled a perceived autonomy of the subject. The reactions to television and radio are not those of the ‘liberal’ subject, but are instead the hegemonic view of the masses. In simple terms, the first media age was nothing more than a cultural industry, producing homogeneous people unable to think for themselves, ‘For Adorno and Horkeimer the broadcast model of the first media age was the practical equivalent to fascism.’[6] The result, for Adorno and Duhamel, is they ascribe to a view of equating the first media age as the production of homogeneous masses. They therefore subscribe to the view that art should be classified as separate from the first media age as only art can preserve heteronomy.
Like Adorno and Duhamel, Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere concludes with a similar position. His main fear is the disappearance of the public sphere as the first media age emerges into society. The problem is the retreat of what he calls the lifeworld, which provides the opportunity for communicative action and deliberative democracy. However, in his latter work, Habermas is able to argue there is an emancipatory potential for the media through bringing information to a larger audience. Yet, this still allows for a yes/no response on the part of the individual, and is certainly far away from his proposed ‘ideal speech situation’.[7]
The critics of the first media age are then concerned with a centralist media structure, where producers have the power to disseminate information/propaganda to a large amount of consumers. Their view of the first media age is not too different from Marx and Engel’s claim that ‘the ideas of the ruling class are every epoch the ruling ideas.’[8] In this scenario the ruling class would be the producers in the first media age, who the creators of ideology, (re)producing values and structures to homogenise the masses, which ultimately pacifies (class) antagonisms. The result is the ‘freedom’ of the viewing subject comes under threat from the first media age.
While not being naïve, there were also defenders of the first media age, who were able to argue for ‘emancipatory’ potentials and possibilities. Marshall McLuhan, for instance, considered the first media age as part of the larger epoch of the electronic age. In his (in)famous maxim, ‘the medium is the message’, McLuhan adopts an approach to media technology that focuses not on the content but rather on the medium. The main argument is ‘media technologies carry distinct temporal and spatial specificities to which correspond definite frameworks of perception.’[9] The implication of McLuhan’s ‘theory’ is electronic mediums/media will reshape perceptions of the world. The electronic age is therefore one of integration through the implosion of previously established boundaries/fragmentation created through past mediums (e.g. print). One of the advantages of McLuhan’s argument against the centralist media structure, identified by Adorno, Duhamel, and Habermas, is opposing the simplistic structure they propose. For McLuhan these critics are unaware of the significance of the electronic age. Rather than experiencing the homogenisation of the masses, McLuhan argue the electronic age would see a re-tribalisation of people through electronic mediums, which presents a more decentralised understanding of media technological. However, as should become clearer when I define the second media age, McLuhan’s position is easier to defend in the contemporary world through the emergence of digital technology and the Internet.
Another cautious defender of the first media age, and quite different from McLuhan, was Walter Benjamin. In contrast to Duhamel and Adorno he ‘manages to avoid disdain for the cultural products disseminated by electronic media.’[10] The autonomy of the subject is therefore not completely lost as the cultural industry removes possibilities for communicative action. This is because the first media age, for Benjemin, has an egalitarian property, which provides the opportunity to bring art into the everyday life of people. The consumer of art, through film, radio, and television, is also a critical consumer through having the ability to question, contemplate, and challenge what they see and hear. His interpretation of the media then provides the idea that there is a play of forces present, which means he neither dismisses nor celebrates the arrival of the first media age. The result is Benjamin’s response to the broadcast model is certainly not a one way dissemination of the producers to the consumers as argued by Adorno and Duhamel.
For Poster these debates have become ineffective as media technology has developed and the broadcast model is no longer the only media model. The second media age, which is defined through multiple producers, distruburtors, and consumers means ‘an entirely new configuration of communication relations in which boundaries between these terms collapse.’[11] The issue then becomes one of trying to come to grips with the model of the second media age, which means considering: cyberspace, the Internet, virtual reality, and digital technology. Instead of considering the problem of the relation between the spectacle (film, television, and radio) and the consumer, the main problem becomes one of conceptualising the issue of interactivity. To illustrate this point David Holmes distinctions of the first media age and the second media age can help out:

Table 1.1 The Historical distinction between the First and Second Media Age:[12]

First Media Age (broadcast) Second Media Age (Interactivity)
Centred (few speak to many) Decentred (many speak to many)
One-way communication Two-way communication
Predisposed to state control Evades State control
An instrument of regimes of stratification Democratizing: facilitaties universal
and inequality citizenship
Participants are fragmented and constituted Participants are seen to retain their
as a mass individuality
Influences consciousness Influences individual experiences of
space and time

Despite oversimplifying the differences between the first and second media age Holmes’ table is able to capture the differentiating aspects of the two periods. Through identifying the interactivity of the second media age Holmes, and Poster, understand ‘the imminent appearance of bidirectional, decentralized media, such as the Internet.’[13] Whereas the first media age created an interface of the spectacle to consume, the second media age technologies have a more ‘democratic’ interface, which means the producer and consumer division implodes into one another. Even Benjamin’s sympathic understanding of the first media age is only plausible from comprehending media through a broadcast model. His thesis of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction relies on considering the reception of the consumer, and not how the consumer could be part of the productive process, which is a key element in the second media age.
The answer to considering the interface and interactivity of the second media age, for Poster, is to develop theories (and ontologies) that rethink the relation between media technologies and humans, which ‘allows their mutual imbrication to be investigated.’[14] The works of Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and Donna Haraway are those most likely to advance the possibility of comprehending the social landscape of the second media age.[15] This is why I have elected to construct a Deleuzian ontology, which will introduce the reader to the machinic thought of philosopher Gilles Deleuze (and psychoanalysis Felix Guattari) through the concepts of: becoming; machines; and assemblages. The advantage of this machinic thought is the ability to provide a posthumanist ontology[16] that can consider the new assemblages of the second media age ‘that erase the humanist subject and bypass the human/non-human opposition.’ [17]
The concept of the second media age is not one without its problems and requires a defence of choosing this concept to ground the dissertation. The first main problem comes with the question of periodisation, something Poster has also considered. The use of periodisation could suggest a clear division between the first and second media age, which implies the first media age is over and/or surbordinated to the second media age. Used in this fashion the period of the second media age serves as totalising concept. In conjunction with Mark Poster I intend to avoid any such totalising periodisation through implying the Caribbean has entered into a new age:

Yet the insertion of a period may suggest not a passage from one state of being to another but a complexification, a folding of one structure upon another, a multiplying or multiplexing of different principles in the same social space. Periods or epochs do not succeed but implicate one another, do not replace supplement one another, and are not consecutive but simultaneous[18]

The second media age is not to be thought of a new distinct evolutionary stage of human development, but rather the emergence of new media technologies the form assemblages to coexist and produce the Caribbean. Adopting such an approach allows for recognition that the emergence of something new does not imply the disappearance of that which went before. The period of the second media age then has to coexist and is not a privileged reference point for explaining all things producing the Caribbean.
The concept of the second is also used in the spirit/technique of what Levi-Strass terms as bricologe. As Derrida writes, ‘the bricoleur, says Levi-Strauss, is someone who uses “the means at hands,” that is, the instruments he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there.’[19] The implication is a new discourse is not created, but rather transformed and altered through borrowing and extending another person’s concepts. The metaphysics of the presence (i.e. contemporary discourses) can then offer methodological tools as an analytical gesture for the researcher and the reader. The intention is therefore to borrow from another in order to create a unique use for the instruments around him. The advantage of bricolage is the dissertation does not claim to be engineered out of nothing, but rather borrowed, repeated, and altered from other discourses available.
The main reason for choosing the concept of the second media age is I believe it to be an empirical concept. While the concept is formed/disseminated through language it aims to represent the shifting dynamics of experiences of media. The concept is then an example of what David Hume would term as a Copy Principle, which is when an idea (the second media age) is derived from an impression or impressions.[20] The idea then relates to the outside world, and intends to consider how ‘we’ are experiencing the world differently. Poster then attempts to contemplate the world from an affirmative perspective through creating a concept that relates to a change (becoming) in the world. This type of empiricism is defined through not trying to find the ‘universal or eternal, but to find the conditions under which something new is produced (creativeness).’[21] The basic assumption of the second media age is therefore the state of things have transformed from what they were. The coherence of the second media age then must come from experiences elsewhere that reinforce, challenge, and alter the concept. The empirical sections of the dissertation should be thought of providing this (in)coherence to Poster’s concept, which brings it into contact with actual experiences of the second media age producing the Caribbean.

The Second Media and ‘The Need for Maps’

If it is accepted that the Caribbean (and the world) is in the second media age, which is not a totalising period, but rather one that has emerged into life, then the question arises: how to study the second media age? For his book Poster considers three perspectives: ethical-political; enlightenment; and cartography. The ethical-political dimension aims to consider the opportunity for transformation through ‘the ability of humans to change their circumstances.’[22] Research of this type would then aim to examine the second media age to establish the progression of political and ethical circumstances. The enlightenment notion tries to overcome the ‘confusion about the nature of domination and the character of alternatives’[23] through providing knowledge about the second media age. While cartography is the attempt to provide an ‘analysis of the conditions, or as Frederic Jameson says, a “cognitive mapping,” rather than insisting on the revolutionary character of agency.’[24] Despite the three study perspectives of the second media age having interconnects, this dissertation will largely concentrate on providing the reader with a cognitive map of how the Caribbean is produced in the second media age. This is with the hope of not connecting the analysis to any political project or ideology.
In his influential essay, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Frederic Jameson concludes with a section entitled ‘The Need for Maps.’ Discussing Kevin Lynch’s ‘The Image of the City’ Jameson suggests an alienated city is a place people are unable to map in their mind. The city is a mystery for the people. They cannot map either their location or the urban totality (e.g. the infrastructure). To overcome these circumstances a process of disalienation is embarked upon. This process becomes the practice of exploring and mapping the city. The benefits are the mapping allows the people to become (more) aware of their surroundings as they discover places then never knew existed. These places then become part of their mind as a cognitive map is created. As a city is never ‘finished’ then the process of creating a cognitive map is never complete, and is a continual process requires taking into account the becoming of the city.
It is my belief that Caribbean studies provides various cognitive maps that allow the becoming(s) of the Caribbean to be mapped. However, at present, Caribbean studies is alienated from the second media age is the same way that people are alienated from Jameson/Lynch’s city.[25] There appears a general unawareness of specific conditions, which involve second media age technology, that are relevant for the Caribbean. The dissertation is then part (and only part) of the process of disalienating Caribbean studies from this period. It is a map for the reader to create, or at least add to, their cognitive map of how the Caribbean is produced in the second media age. To achieve this map, which connects with the empirical natures of Poster’s concept, empirical data is analysis as a form of cartography.
However, the practice of cartography should always recognise the dangers and prejudices in mapping. The colonial experience of the Caribbean is evidence of this characteristic. In Consuming the Caribbean Sheller provides multiple examples of the colonists mapping the region, ranging from the cartography of botanical species and racial/ethnic categories. As form of Orientalism the white Europeans were also able to claim ‘superiority’ through mapping racial classification as form of social Darwinism that ‘seemed to accentuate the “scientific” validity of the divisions of races into advanced and backward.’[26] The mapping of ‘information’ was then a crucial art of establishing and maintaining power relations in colonial times for Western hegemony. In addition cartography is also a form of making things invisible as will as making things visible. The cartographer is unable to map all the details of a given field into their map. For example if a cartographer concentrates on proving population statistics of a given area then there may not be ‘room’ to add the geological information of the area (e.g. mineral composition). The map then selectively brings information to the forefront while other detail is absent. The consequence is there no inherently ‘correct’ map of a landscape, as this depends on the prejudicing certain empirical date over other data. I will return to this problem when I discuss the empirical data of this dissertation, which I intend to argue are legitimate prejudices for mapping the production of the Caribbean in the second media age.
In respect to these problems of cartography it may seem more appropriate to avoid mapping. A legitimate view could declare: has not the Caribbean suffered enough from cartography! While I am sympathetic to this view I also believe cartography is beneficial and almost something necessary. The aim of this cartography is to neither to condemn or celebrate the second media age, but rather analyse the conditions producing the Caribbean. This ‘type’ of cartography is similar to Michel Foucault’s in Discipline and Punish, which was able to map particularly disciplinary procedures used to produce docile bodies. The reader then ‘receives’ a cognitive map of these disciplinary procedures and can use the map as a tool to consider and research other aspects of society. The map also does not need acceptance on the part of the reader, who can challenge the empirical data, the method of cartography (style), the political implications, ethical considerations, and the absences (what is missing?). Producing a map is therefore not an objective exercise, but rather a critical exploration and experimentation on both the part of the author and reader.
[1] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995) p3
[2] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p1
[3] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p18
[4] From Scenes de la vie future (1930), as quoted by Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969) p239
[5] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p5
[6] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p6
[7] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age 12-13
[8] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology edited by C.J. Arthur (London: Lawerence Wishart, 1970) p64
[9] David Holmes, Communication Theory: Media, Technology, and Society (London: Sage, 2005) p39
[10] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p14
[11] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p1
[12] David Holmes, Communication Theory: Media, Technology, and Society p10
[13] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p19
[14] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p19
[15] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p19
[16] Posthumanist ontology simple means that humans are not the privileged centred for existence, which therefore avoids subject-oriented theoretical/ontological perspectives. The result is humans do not disappear, but they are no longer in the privileged place they took from god when Nietzsche declared ‘god is dead’
[17] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p19
[18] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p21
[19] Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference (London: Routledge, 2006) p360
[20] In David Hume’s lexicon impressions corresponds to both feeling and experience. This means that an idea has to be an idea of something. See Harold Noonan, Hume (Oxford: OneWorld, 2007)
[21] Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues II (London: Continuum, 2002) vi
[22] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p22
[23] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p22
[24] Mark Poster, The Second Media Age p22
[25] As the literature review shall demonstrate this view has a certain hyperbolic claim. To a certain extent, the creating of a cognitive map in the second media age has already started. However, this map is so far from being sufficient.
[26] Edward Said, Orientalism: Western Concepts of the Orient (London: Penguin, 1995) p206

1 comment:

Mant said...

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