Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Technological Affordance of the Internet: Recognizing the Power of Participation

All technologies have affordances. Anything from guns to email to blogs are created with a purpose, one which has a powerful psychological effect on us since it provides us with a behaviour option we previously lacked. These technological affordances have created a shift in the way individuals participate in society and, therefore, how society functions as a whole. Looking at several examples, while using TED as my primary one, I will convey how the affordance of the Internet has transformed our thinking and provided us with the recognized ability to have our voices heard in this interconnected global village and stimulate change like never before.    

Before delving into how TED assists in facilitating such change, it is necessary to acknowledge several important features of the Internet. To begin, we must recognize how ANYONE has the ability to communicate to the masses today. New technology, specifically social media, require participation. The “web” or "net" cannot function without it (hence the name). Whether participation be through Youtube, blogs, Twitter, Facebook… individuals can communicate to an unlimited audience. In principle, “‘anyone’ or ‘everyone’” is able to be a journalist today. There need not be a reliance or sole trust in news media anymore. This is what participatory media is about. Through engagement in this realm, citizens acquire skills needed to be a part of what Henry Jenkins’ calls participatory democracy.

The logic behind this is, with skills acquired through participatory media, such as fan culture creations, like Star Wars remakes, people can creatively speak up and gain attention in social and political arenas. For example, look at the viral protest mashup,  George Bush Don't Like Black People, produced after hurricane Katrina in an effort to raise an important political issue relating to race.  Similarly, TED, using the reputation it has built online, utilizes the Internet as a tool to find “ideas worth spreading” and raise awareness of them. TED talks happen live, but they all get posted on Youtube and their website, allowing it to reach countless more people. There are an abundance of insightful voices and messages floating around the Internet; TED acts as a filter for these. 

Clearly, the public sphere Habermas spoke of has moved from the coffee house to the computer. The new public sphere (and blogosphere)  offers greater equality since participation is not limited to the bourgeoisie. It embraces a gift economy in which we , as equal creators, all give our creative or intellectual work (such as music covers or political views) away for free in exchange for the work of others. Monetary exchanges are being replaced by information and entertainment.

So how do these affordances change the way we think and act? From the aforementioned examples, I would argue that people actually believe they can make a difference today. They have the unique ability to be heard free of charge. TED was built on that core idea. Their purpose being to filter and promote ideas they believe should go viral. Everyday there are new viral videos or articles, often short lived, such as Kony 2012, but nonetheless, public attention grabbers. Evidently, the Internet creates a world of possibility; One in which ordinary people can create and stimulate change. That’s the technological affordance of the Internet. You don’t need to be the President, or a movie star to get heard. All you need is the Internet… and maybe a Youtube account.

Welcome to the new age public sphere where anything is possible with participation. 
The world is at your fingertips.

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