media consciousness

Strategic Frame

Pattern ID: 
408
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
86
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The complexity of the world and multiplicity of perspectives can often stymie people’s attempts to interpret it in ways that make sense and that suggest meaningful action. People often can't see the connection between their own thinking and the situation they wish to address. Groups seeking to work together in some broad arena may not identify a common basis for doing so effectively. Sometimes groups can't even agree on what they'd like to accomplish much less how to go about accomplishing it. At other times their efforts may not resonate with the people and organizations they are trying to influence. A similar problem arises when people reactively base their interpretation on some prior and frequently unconscious bias or stereotype. In all of these cases, a poor understanding of strategic frames hinders their ability to make progress.

Context: 

This pattern can be used whenever people and groups need to interpret complex information or develop approaches to communicating with other groups or the public.

Discussion: 

The concept of frames was initially developed by anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1972) and was further popularized by Erving Goffman (1974). More recently, based on the work of Berkeley linguist George Lakoff, framing has taken a prominent position in progressive political discourse (2004). On a general level, a frame is a story distilled to its basic elements. It could be related to a loving family, a protective father, fairness, fatalism, laziness, freedom, the local sports team, nostalgic for the past, or fear of the unknown — the possibilities are limitless.

People all over the world are confronted with events and information that they find overwhelming. Without "frames" people quite literally wouldn't know how to interpret the world. A frame provides a link between information and data and the way that the information and data is interpreted. Seen this way, frames of one sort or another are necessary for every aspect of daily life. Human brains don't have the processing power to interpret each new situation "from scratch." Recognizing the ubiquity of frames and the fact that multiple frames can be employed by different people for different reasons to describe the same story or event has lead to a strong interest in frames.

When frames are acknowledged as independent entities, people who are interested in persuasion can begin asking such questions as: What frames do people use? How do frames work? How are they initially constructed or modified? What is the outcome when two or more frames compete?

Why does a frame work? It suggests action and shapes interpretation. When frames are shared with people or organizations they promote group action and similar interpretations — while acting to discourage disputes and incompatible interpretation. This discussion leads to types of frames, how they are formed, and how they are reshaped. Strategic frames work in two directions — they can channel action but can also constrict thought.

The framing lens can be turned around and focused on the elites and the powers-that-be as well. Mass media systems are an important subject of this. What frames are generally employed by, for example, local television news stations. A “strategic communication terms” web sites (cite) cites an example from Charlotte Ryan’s Prime Time Activism (1991) of three ways in which a news story of a child in a low-income neighborhood getting bit by a rat can be covered. Who, for example, should be blamed for this — if anybody? Is the child’s mother the culprit or should the apartment manger be held responsible or, even, society at large?

A strategic frame is a specific type of frame that has been developed as an important element within an overall strategy to encourage people to see things in a certain way. In this sense, the concept is neutral. In fact Susan Niall Bales stated that her approach to “Strategic Frame Analysis” could be used to promote tobacco use, but added that she probably wouldn’t.

When developed collaboratively, a strategic frame can also be a useful tool for groups. When people respond without reflection to an externally imposed strategic frame, they are being exploited. Different frames can be constructed for any given story, message or event. How well those frames resonate with people and what they choose to do with the ideas contained within the frame is of interest to people who are trying to influence other people. Opposing forces will employ different frames with different people to win the particular battle they’re engaged with. This is reflected in the title of a recent New York Times article entitled, “Framing Wars” (Bai, 2005)Unfortunately many strategic frames that are available to the public serve to reinforce existing stereotypes, thus preventing people from developing effective agendas for the future.

Solution: 

It is important to note that frames don’t really do the work by themselves. In addition to the important task of understanding frames that influence our actions and behavior, activists are interested in specific types of frames which have specific functions of interest, such as frames that help build coalitions; provide useful interpretations; “frame transformation” (Tarrow)] These frames must connect. In other words, the new frames must not reach too far beyond the capability of people to grasp and shape them.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The complexity of the world with its multiplicity of perspectives can confuse our attempts to interpret it. A Strategic Frame is a word, phrase, or slogan that encourages people to see things in a certain light. When developed collaboratively, a Strategic Frame can also be a useful tool for groups. In addition to understanding frames that influence thoughts and actions, activists are interested in frames that help build coalitions or otherwise motivate useful mobilizations.

Pattern status: 
Released

Mobile ICT Learning Facilities

Pattern ID: 
485
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
77
Grant Hearn
University of the Western Cape
Version: 
2
Problem: 

In many countries, the lack of access to technology and Information and Communication Technology in particular, is an acute problem of both resources and location. Solutions must focus on making scarce resources cover as much ground as possible.

Context: 

Placing fixed computer facilities in communities with government or donor funding limits the benefits to the particular communities in question.

Discussion: 

One solution that has long been available in the sphere of basic literacy is the mobile library, whereby suitable motor vehicles carry libraries on wheels to those unable to otherwise access them. This makes good use of financial resources and allows a scarce and important asset to be brought to where it is most needed and reused continually.

The provision of similar traveling computer laboratories, the drivers of which are trained computer literacy educators, could play a similar role in bringing the ICT “mountain” to the disempowered. Self-contained units with their own power generation ability will grant ICT access to many people in remote locations or simply living in communities which are too poor to support such access in other ways. Encouraging community participation in the program will help to ensure that those in the community who could most benefit by the program will be helped first. The goals of such a program would be to:

  • Bring scarce and economically empowering assets to communities desperately in need of them or otherwise simply lacking in access to these assets by virtue of their remote location
  • Contribute to reducing the geographic and economic isolation of many communities
  • Begin to bring the wider world to communities who wish to gain knowledge of it and interact with it.
  • Contribute to the knowledge and skills of those joining the exodus from rural to urban areas in an attempt to provide survival strategies that move away from begging, menial labor and crime

In South Africa a similar initiative which focuses on bringing science and technology to disadvantaged communities is already in place. A bus called the Discovery Mobile travels to communities and gives young people the opportunity to interact with a wide range of exhibits inside the bus.

Solution: 

By working together with government, donors and communities, mobile computer laboratory facilities can be established to begin to answer the needs of many communities for exposure to and training in the use of information and communication technologies.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

In many countries, the lack of access to Information and Communication Technology is an acute problem. Just as the mobile library brings books to those who lack access, traveling computer laboratories with computer literacy educators as drivers can play similar roles. In South Africa, the Discovery Mobile bus travels to communities and gives people the opportunity to interact with science and technology exhibits.

Pattern status: 
Released

Media Diversity

Pattern ID: 
593
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
66
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Democratic societies rely on diversity of viewpoints and ideas for the intelligence, engagement, enthusiasm and wisdom that they need to stay alive. This is particularly important during this current era of globalization and critical public issues that require public engagement. At the same time people all over the world are receiving more and more of their information from the mass media which is becoming precipitously less diverse. The control of much of the world's media is becomingly increasingly concentrated in a handful of giant corporations.

Context: 

Although the exact situation will vary from place to place, virtually all communities are affected by the lack of media diversity and all communities have opportunities to help promote media diversity. In the consolidating world of corporate mass media, large companies are touting mergers and monopolistic ownership practices as being conducive to diversity of programming and community representation in broadcasting. This claim of diversity is a facade that circumvents and ignores the idea of true community access.

Discussion: 

A rich, dynamic universe of public thinking helps to ensure that all sides in public matters will be taken into consideration thus promoting social — as well as economic — innovation. A paucity of diversity doesn't just jeopardize societal innovation however. It becomes a threat to democracy itself. When media diversity is too low, public opinion is less likely to provide the oversight that democratic societies require and is more likely to be engaged in public affairs and less willing to entertain new ideas.

Ben Bagdikian is generally credited with the sounding of the alarm on media concentration in the U.S. His book, The Media Monopoly (1983) revealed the disturbing fact that 50 corporations owned the majority of US media companies and this trend towards concentration was continuing. That trend has continued unabated for the 20 or so years since the original publication and now five corporations own approximately the same percentage of media output in the U.S as the 50 did in 1983. Today media corporations argue that when a company is able to monopolize a market, they can provide a more diverse array of cultures and voices than if that media landscape was broken into independently owned outlets. To use radio as a simple example, executives claim that when a corporation owns the majority of a market, the number of different formats increases dramatically. While it may be true that different formats increase, it's doubtfuil that this reflects an increased diversity of opinion. Many media corporations use the opportunity to record one radio show which they then rebroadcast from all of their other stations with similar formats, sometimes "localizing" the show with a few references (pronounced correctly hopefully).

A lack of media diversity invariably means media concentration and media concentration exacerbates problems of media homogeneity. The problem of media concentration extends beyond mere banality; it represents a major threat to the ability of citizens to act conscientiously and to govern themselves as democracy requires. Media concentration brings power above and beyond what mere information provision would demand; illegitimate political and economic power invariably comes with the territory and the nearly inevitable cozy connection with political elites leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that is extremely difficult to break. When media concentration reaches certain levels, it then can keep an issue out of the public eye and, hence, off the public agenda. An important and relevant point of fact is the virtual blackout on stories involving media consolidation over the past two decades. Intense media concentration also allows companies to more easily work with government to pass legislation in its favor, notably overturning laws that combat media concentration; and not stepping on government toes because of possible retribution. It may already be too late. As Bagdikian notes, "Corporate news media and business-oriented governments have made common cause."

The U.S. is not the only victim of media monopolization: Conrad Black in the U.K. and Canada, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, and Rupert Murdoch in Australia (and, now, after a special act of congress, in the U.S. as well) [more?] and many others are huge players in national markets while global media consolidation is now proceeding ahead in increasingly troubling ways.

In the 1990s, when use of the Internet was beginning to explode into the among the general population — or, more accurately, of people who are relatively well-off economically, especially those who live in countries that are relatively well-off economically — some of the digerati were quite eager to dismiss any protestations over media monopolization in the "smokestack" (i.e. non-Internet-based) media industries that included broadcast, print and others. They reasoned that the inherent nature of the Internet made it more-or-less immune to human tinkering, in contrast to humankind's inventions. Not only was it inalterable but it would soon prove the obsolescence of the old-fashioned media and, at the same time, provide diversity of viewpoint despite corporate or government efforts. Within several years of the Internet's inception it has become incredibly commercial and now, 10 or 15 years later, a mere handful of sites accounts for half the number of sites first seen as their web browser is invoked. This is not to say that the Internet is not important. It's absolutely critical as millions upon millions of political actions initiated by civil society has demonstrated. And it's absolutely clear that citizen activism will be indispensable to prevent control from being seized gradually or not-so-gradually by corporate and/or government bodies. It's also clear that older forms of media should be not abandoned to corporate entities &mdash even if you believe that the Internet will put them all of business anyway!

Our media and information systems do not exist in a sealed bubble independent of the capitalist structure. Because you must either own or hold stakes in a news or entertainment company to have any semblance of control over its content, the rich control our news and entertainment. While community-operated media does exist in nearly every city, its saturation and distribution into the communities is extremely low because of financial restrictions. The news and entertainment offered by these resources are vastly diverse from the corporate-owned outlets, often representing conflicting accounts and stories. Because the conflicting programming often represents the viewpoints of a different social class than of that which owns the corporations, this programming rarely makes it into the mass media. The corporate owners claim they can provide an adequate diversity of community voice, when in truth the diversity they provide is severely limited by their moneyed interests.

People can get involved in the struggle in many ways. One of the most direct ways is to create and support independent media. This not only means developing videos, comics, zines, blogs, etc. with alterative points-of-view, it means developing funding and distribution approaches, and fighting for representation within the political system. For while it may be true that globalization and new communication technologies change the rules of the game, there are still likely to be rules and for this reason civil society must be vigilant: changes in protocols, domain name registry, domain servers, etc. etc. can have vast repercussions.

One of the most effective approaches, however, remains the development of public interest policy that promotes media diversity. Although critics of this approach are likely to scoff at its quaint, "smokestack" modus operandi, governments in democratic societies have an obligation to support democratic systems and the democratic experiment may be terminated earlier than anticipated by its original proponents if they fail in this duty.

The policies that governments can enact fall into two broad categories: those that limit the enclosure by the big corporations into various regions or "markets" and those that promote media diversity by promoting alternatives to corporate mono-cultures such as government subsidies or tax breaks to independent media or specific set-asides for radio or television spectra, etc. Media diversity represents both a desired state for the media environment and an absence of concentrated ownership of media. For that reason people need to fight for both: media diversity and diversity of media ownership.

Solution: 

Democratic societies require diversity of opinions. Although government is often negligent in this area, media corporations cannot be allowed to assume too much concentration. As in other realms, power corrupts, and media corporations are of course not exceptionss to this rule. Citizens must vigilant to ensure that a diversity of opinions is availale and that citizens have access to the media. Diversity of ownership of media is one approach that is likely to promote diversity of opinion in the media.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Democratic societies rely on diversity of viewpoints and ideas for the intelligence, engagement, enthusiasm and wisdom that they need to stay alive. At the same time people all over the world are receiving more and more of their information from the mass media, whose control is becomingly increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few giant corporations. Citizens — and government — must be vigilant to ensure that citizens have access to Media Diversity of opinions.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wikimedia Commons

Indigenous Media

Pattern ID: 
446
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
55
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Miguel Angel Pérez Alvarez
Colegio de Pedagogía, UNAM
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Lack of representation in media production results in reduced diversity of ideas and perspectives in the media. This often results in manipulation, lack of political participation and knowledge about rights. It lessens opportunities to engage in politics or to assume responsibilities in government. Indigenous people who are denied their voice will find it difficult to fight oppression, work with allies, or maintain their culture. Without the means to make their voices heard, communities become atomized within themselves and invisible to the outside world.

Context: 

Indigenous people in rural and urban areas in developing and developed countries around the world need to create

Discussion: 

This pattern could be applied in urban areas and in rural areas where communities have suffered years of economic and social stagnation. Indigenous media is different from media that is produced by and for other underserved groups such as ethnic and sexual minorities, women, and youth. For one thing, indigenous people often don’t know how to engage the media from their village far from electricity, telephones, press, or radio or television stations. For another thing, the knowledge that is intrinsic to their culture may be localized. It may be centuries old, embodied in stories or other non-written forms and endangered.

Information is essential for development and it is now urgent to empower indigenous people with media technologies and knowledge. There are many activities which indigenous farmers could undertake to help improve their lives with better access to media. If, for example, the farmers of Chiapas in Southeast Mexico could sell their products directly to the companies they could improve their economic situation. Currently intermediaries buy coffee in poor villages for a few coins which is then sold to big companies at great profit. Access to the market depends on knowledge and the technological means to capitalize on it.

We know that this is not only a problem for the poor. Many people around the world have problems related to lack of media access. The fact that large corporations control the media becomes a matter of life and death because the media is the de facto gatekeeper of important information related to health and safety. Indigenous people often lack the power, knowledge and technology to produce their own information and their own media. The Internet could provide a new way to communicate. For example, in the south and south-east areas of México, there are new Internet access centers but these are only for people who already know how to use computers and the Internet, knowledge that many indigenous people don’t have.

Indigenous Media simultaneously addresses many needs of marginalized indigenous groups. Thus embracing this pattern entails education and training, policy, resources (time, money, people, for example) in addition to access to the technology itself. An e-mail campaign or a panel discussion on a radio show can help organize a campaign against a group of intermediaries or to denounce bad legislators. In Mexico's rural communities such as Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca radio stations managed by indigenous farmers and satellite gateways to the Internet can make the difference between intimidation and free speech. Some notable examples from around the world include Radio Tambuli Radio Network in the Philippines, the Deadly Mob aboriginal organization of Alice Springs, Australia, and the Koahnic Broadcast Corporation in Alaska.

Non-indigenous people can play a role in support of this pattern. They can organize training programs in the 3,100 new access points are installed in the municipalities around Mexico and/or in Internet cafes. Many institutions and international agencies whose programs include technology in rural areas can donate equipment, access to the Internet (maybe via satellite gateways), and Internet streaming. NGOs with training and learning programs can work with indigenous farmers and others to learn how to apply media access technology. Mino of the Ashaninka native people in Peru who was instrumental in establishing Internet access for his people stresses that indigenous people must not allow non-indigenous people to monopolize information. For that reason, he and others in his group carefully observed every technical installation that was carried out in his village.

Unfortunately the pattern language and other educational tools are not available in native languages and are useless to most indigenous people. Many of these stakeholders have experience with ICT who can share their stories of success and failure, but they can't express their thoughts in English.

Radio, print media, television, all have potential to help shape public opinion. When rural farmers acquire Internet skills and can access media, they can apply this knowledge to create their own information and communication systems. Ultimately, indigenous people can promote success by communicating with other indigenous people around the world about their experiences.

Arts of Resistance, Alternative Media, Roles in Media, Influencing the Design of Information Technologies, Mobile ICT Learning Facilities for 3rd World Communities, International Networks of Alternative Media, Control of One's Representation, Solidarity Networks, Ordinary Protagonists and Everyday Life

Solution: 

Encourage the development of indigenous media that is controlled by indigenous people themselves. People outside the indigenous community can become involved — but only in consultation with the indigenous community.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The lack of participation and influence by indigenous communities in media production results in reduced diversity of ideas and perspectives. This can result in lack of political participation and knowledge about rights. It lessens opportunities to engage in politics or to assume responsibilities in government. Indigenous people who are denied their voice will find it difficult to fight oppression, work with allies, or maintain their culture.

Pattern status: 
Released

Alternative Media in Hostile Environments

Pattern ID: 
433
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
53
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Despots despise the visibility that a truly free press can provide. It is their unchallengeable iniquity that would receive the most intense airing. Under oppressive regimes, the circulation of information, literature, and other art forms can be dangerous. People can be harassed, beaten-up, imprisoned or even executed for possession of forbidden information — or the means to create, reproduce or distribute it. Journalists face even greater challenges and require an extensive collection of techniques to get the news out to all who need it.

Context: 

This pattern focuses on journalism during hostile conditions in which citizens have a greater need to engage with the forbidden knowledge and share it with members of their community. The future of reform often depends on the success of this collaboration between journalists and citizens. The ideas in this pattern (including new distribution practices, for example) also can be used in the US or other countries that have a nominally free press yet one that is dominated by a few strong voices with deep pockets.

Discussion: 

The world can be very hostile to independent and alternative journalists and to people who read and think. Even countries where there are no legal restrictions to a "free" press have major problems. The journal Index on Censorship and the organization Reporters without Borders regularly report on the barbarities visited upon journalists worldwide. Despots know that the truth can damage their reputations and ultimately their regime. Although the truth is difficult to hide forever, postponing its arrival, limiting its exposure, and casting aspersions on its accuracy may be adequate for their purposes.

A hostile environment is one in which coercion or force — either formally through laws and police — or informally through thugs or contract killers is employed to stifle the free flow of ideas. The most common form of choking off the flow of information that could be damaging to the government, corporations or wealthy individuals is distraction. Serbian media during the Milosevic years with its breezy lightweight confections of schmaltzy pop as well as nationalist songs and slapstick served up in many cases by scantily clad women, provides a good example of this.

One appendage of the unfree press (at least as conceptualized in the U.S.) is a ruthlessly efficient secret police that stomps out every aspect of alternative point-of-view the instant that it surfaces. This modus operandi seems to be uncommon in practice (and would no doubt be the envy of all the despots). The defenders of the status quo, though loutish and dangerous, are often capricious and incompetent, and they are generally stymied by insufficient resources. The ambiguity of the laws and the ambiguity of the presumed offenses also can work in favor of the journalist.

The former Soviet Union and its satellites provided the fertile soil for an independent press that operated on the margins of the law for several decades. This is the classic "samizdat" distribution in which readers painstakingly and secretly copied by hand or via typewriter and carbon paper, multiple copies of entire books which were then passed on to others who would do the same.

In the "developed world" journalists and other media workers are specialized: one person intones the news of the day, using video clips that another person edited which was shot by another person during an interview conducted by another person as ordered by another person. When the political climate turns nasty and journalists are beaten-up, threatened or killed by government soldiers, paramilitary troops or thugs, when resources dry up or when disaster or wartime situations erupt, journalists habituated to the strict division of labor may be unable to adopt the more flexible and improvisational mode of news production when that becomes necessary. Journalists with overspecialized, deep but narrow, skills will find that they are unable to respond quickly and flexibly when their tried-and-true practices fail due to unexpected circumstances.

Alternative news distribution involves a canny cat and mouse game between those who believe in the free distribution of information and those who don't. Living within an actively hostile environment, it will be necessary to keep changing the way that business is done to meet new challenges. Unlike journalists in the US or other developed countries, journalists must adept in many modes of reporting, many approaches to distribution, a variety of tactics and strategies and the inventive use of what's available to get the job done, as befits what B92 journalist Veran Matic calls a "universal journalist, not an encyclopedic polymath who is informed in different fields, but a professional familiar with print journalism, radio and television, online journalism and information distribution mechanisms." This is what I call a bricoleur-journalist who sends the sounds that accompany the scene at voting station in Africa can go directly over the air via a cell phone with an open line to the radio station. Audio cassettes, printed broadsides or, more commonly today, DVDs can be distributed when the plug is pulled on a radio station (as it was three times during B92's early years of confronting Milosevic). And bricoleur-journalists in different cultures and settings, such as Chinese pro-democracy or environmental activists, will assume any number of local variants.

An interesting, unexpected issue seems to surface from time-to-time by the underground media (and society in general) after the fall of an oppressive regime. (fate of art and literature) Ironically, many people who worked closely with clandestine media over the years now feel unsettled in the post-soviet environment. After communism fell the former trickle of information became a tsunami of mostly commercial offerings. When information was scarce and in danger of extinction possessed an almost sacred allure. Now the same type of information is lost in the flood, just more anonymous flotsam and jetsam in a torrent of images and sounds.

Samizdat or clandestine journalism doesn't always succeed of course. Translating the success of the samizdat or underground press to other regions under oppressive regimes is far from automatic. A potential audience that is interested in the material must exist — as with the media in any situation — and there must be some way to get the material to them. Some of these people earnestly want social change and believe there is some degree, however small, of hope that this outcome is achievable. Interestingly, and somewhat contrary to conventional wisdom, some people in the potential audience are motivated by their desire to know the truth whether it helps to actually change the situation or not. At any rate, the larger and more active and supportive the audience is, the more likely that the alternative press will succeed. On the other side of the equation are the journalists — potential and actually — and the absence of either audience or journalists can prevent the enterprise from being successful.

Although precarious, alternative media production actually builds civic capacity. According to Anna Husarka who worked for Poland's Solidarity Information Bureau in 1989, the journalism they practiced "was a political blueprint for the democratic struggles that dismantled communism." It is also important to note that traditional "news" is not the only "product" of an alternative media project. The B92 enterprise (which started as a college radio station in Belgrade) now includes Radio B92, Television B92, B92.net (Web site), B92 publishing (books and magazines), B92 music label, B92.Rex cultural centre, B92.concert agency, and B92.communications (Internet provision and satellite links) amply illustrates the rich potential of a "media" that chooses to embrace the widest range of outlets. One of their biggest and most successful projects was "Rock for Vote," the biggest rock tour in Serbia's history, "a traveling festival with 6 to 8 bands playing in 25 cities and towns throughout the country." The tour was organized while organizers and activists "were being molested, harassed and detained by the police on a daily basis." In spite of that 150,000 citizens attended the concerts. Most importantly the results of the 2000 elections demonstrated that their main objective was attained: "80% of first-time voters did go to the polls after all ... casting their ballots to bring about fundamental changes in the country."

As mentioned above, some media operations that developed during a period of hostility have had a difficult time making the transition from a post-war or post-oppressive regime. On the other hand, Gazeta Wyborcza, one of Poland's leading underground newspapers in the 1980s, which was started in a kindergarten classroom became one of the most influential and commercially viable dailies in Poland [Smillie, 1999].) B92, in least in the immediate aftermath of the troubles in Serbia, continued innovative programming that reflected their terrifying past. For example, they launched a Truth and Reconciliation process that included radio shows and a series of books about the wars (including the Srebrenica crimes) and disintegration of former Yugoslavia. They also convened a conference "In Search for Truth and Reconciliation" in 2000 that was attended by journalists, intellectuals and representatives of NGOs from all former Yugoslav republics took part and another conference "Truth, Responsibility and Reconciliation" the following year that featured experiences of other countries in similar processes. Radio B92 also set up a special documentation archive on the wars which included testimonies, documentaries, video footage, books and other documents. They also arranged "exhibitions, screenings of documentaries and public discussions on these topics are being organized throughout Serbia" (Matic, 2004).

Solution: 

Producing — and consuming — or other types of cultural or journalistic media with hostile societies can be hazardous to emotional as well as physical health. It is often a unrewarding enterprise at the same time it can be absolutely critical.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People in oppressive regimes can be harassed, beaten-up, imprisoned or even executed for possession or circulation of forbidden information, literature, or drawings. Journalists face grave challenges and require an extensive collection of techniques to get the news out. Alternative Media in Hostile Environments focuses on journalism during hostile conditions in which citizens have a greater need to engage with forbidden knowledge and share it with members of their community.

Pattern status: 
Released

Culturally Situated Design Tools

Pattern ID: 
499
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
49
Ron Eglash
rpi
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The characterization of inadequate information technology resources in disadvantaged communities as a "digital divide" was a useful wake-up call. At the same time, this metaphor is often taken to imply a problematic solution: the one-way bridge. The one-way bridge sees a technology-rich side at one end, and a technology-poor side at the other end. The one-way bridge attempts to bring gadgets to a place of absense, a sort of technology vacuum. This view can have the unfortunate side-effect of making local knowledge and expertise invisible or de-valued.

Context: 

One of the alternative approaches which avoids the one-way assumption is that of Culturally Situated Design Tools: using computer simulations of cultural arts and other pracitces to "translate" from local knowledge to their high-tech counterparts in mathematics, computer graphics, architecture, agriculture, medicine, and science. Current design tools include a virtual bead loom for simulating Native American beadwork, a tool based on urban graffiti, an audio tool for simulating Latino percussion rhythms, a Yupik navigation simulation, etc. Each design tools makes use of the mathematics embedded in the practive--for example the virtual bead loom uses Cartesian coordinates, because of the four-fold symmetry of the traditional loom (and many other Native American designs such as the "four winds" healing traditions, the four-pole tipi, etc). Applications are primarily in K-12 math education, but they also can be applied to design projects such as architecture, or used as a research tool in investigations such as ethnomathematics.

Discussion: 

Although we have had some strong success with these tools, their deployment--particularly in the field of education--has not been easy. In the educational context, we first have to work with community members to find a cultural practice that can be simulated. In the case of Native American practices some of the best examples in terms of ethnomathematics turn out to be sacred practices that cannot be simulated (eg Navajo sand painting, Shoshone whirling disks). Second, we have to make sure the cultural practice is recognized by the youth -- several African examples were questioned because by teachers who said African American children would see them more as dusty museum artifacts than as something they had cultural ownership of. Third we have to satisfy the requirements of standard curricula -- many interesting examples of ethnomathematics (Eulerian paths in pacific Islander sand drawings, fractals in African architecture, etc.) are difficult to use because they are outside of the standard curriculum. Fourth the software support must be easy for teachers to use -- many math teachers (particularly those serving large minority populations) do not have ready access to good quality computers for their students, and do not have good technolgical training. The students must be provided with cultural background information and tutorials, and the teachers must be provided with lesson plans and examples of use.

Solution: 

Our first design tool was developed for the "African Fractals" project (Eglash 1999). Mathematics teachers with large African American student populations reported that they could not use fractals -- there was too much pressure to conform to the standard curriculum -- and that they felt that many of the examples were too culturally distant from the students. They all felt that the examples of hairstyles would work well however. Thus our first tool focused on the hairstyles, and used the term "iterative transformational geometry" rather than "fractals." The graphic above shows the result, called "Cornrow Curves." Each braid is represented as multiple copies of a “Y” shaped plait. In each iteration, the plait is copied, and a transformation is applied. The series of transformed copies creates the braid. In the above example, we can see the original style at top right, and a series of braid simulations, each composed of plait copies that are successively scaled down, rotated, and translated (reflection is only applied to whole braids, as in the case where one side of the head is a mirror image of the other). One of the interesting research outcomes was that our students discovered which parameters need to remain the same and which would be changed in order to produce the entire series of braids (that is, how to iterate the iterations). The cultural background section of the website is divided into “how to” (for those unfamiliar with the actual process of creating cornrow hairstyles) and an extensive cultural history of cornrow hairstyles. We have found that many students, even those of African American heritage, will tell us that cornrows were “invented in the 1960s.” The history section was developed to provide students with a more accurate understanding of that history, starting with their original context in Africa (where they were used to signify age, religion, ethnic group, social status, kinship, and many other meanings), the use of cornrows in resistance to the attempt at cultural erasure during slavery, their revival during the civil rights era, and their renaissance in hip-hop. Most importantly, we want students to realize that the cornrows are part of a broader range of scaling designs from Africa (Eglash 1999), and that they represent a part of this African mathematical heritage that survived the middle passage. As noted previously, we have since developed a wide variety of design tools, ranging from simulations of Mayan pyramids (see image below) to virtual baskets. Our evaluations have been based on pre-test/post-test comparisons of mathematics performance, average grades in mathematics classes (comparing a year with the tools to the previous year without), and scores on a survey of interest or engagement with IT (specifically computing careers). All three measures show statistically significant increase (p < .05 or better) with use of these tools. In summary, we note that any attempts to re-value local or traditional knowledge in the face of oppressive histories will be challenging, and all the more so if the re-valuation has to compete with current mainstream global practices. But we feel that Culturally Situated Design Tools offer an important new position in which to engage that struggle.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Bridging the “digital divide” often means that the technology-rich side brings gadgets to the technology-poor side. This can have the unfortunate side-effect of devaluing local knowledge and expertise. Culturally Situated Design Tools can use computer simulations of cultural practices (such as cornrow hair styling, urban graffiti, beadwork, breakdance, and Latino drumming) to "translate" local knowledge to their high-tech counterparts in math, computing, or media.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Ron Eglash
Information about summary graphic: 

Ron Eglash

International Networks of Alternative Media

Pattern ID: 
810
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
43
Dorothy Kidd
Dept. of Media Studies, University of San Francisc
Version: 
2
Problem: 

A key challenge facing movements for social change is the global commercial media. A handful of western-based trans-national media corporations, working in tandem with regional companies, control most programming, emphasising entertainment to recruit urban consumers, and circulating news primarily framed by the interests of corporate business and western foreign policy. Public programming to encourage dialogue and debate of public issues has withered. Stark inequalities are increasing, in both poor and rich countries, between those with the full means to produce communications and those without, especially if we factor in the violence of poverty, illiteracy, and patriarchal, racial, and caste oppression.

Context: 

A global network of communications activists, advocates and researchers is emerging to address these problems. This network of networks operates simultaneously on at least three planes, the construction of alternative communications media, the reform of the mainstream corporate and state media, and the support of trans-national communications networks for social change movements. Alternative media projects (zines, radio, video, television and internet sites and blogs) not only serve people seldom represented in the corporate media; they also demonstrate what democratic media might look like in their alternative content, modes of operation and overall philosophy. Communication reformers campaign to make existing local, national and global communications systems more accessible, representative, accountable and participatory.

Finally, media activists work in support of social change movements whose transnational communications networks also provide additional links for the movements to democratize media.

Why now? This is due to at least three inter-related global trends. First, the global shift to neo-liberalism presents people all over the world with a complicated, but very clear set of common problems. Secondly, the communications networks first emerged as links among social justice movements to address these common problems. Finally, the network of communications networks began to take its own shape, as groups everywhere inventively adapted the glut of consumer hardware and software from the transnational corporate market.

Discussion: 

A New World Information Communications Order (NWICO)
The trans-national movement to transform communications predates the shift to global neo-liberalism. During the 1970s, led by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a coalition of national governments of the global south, mobilized to challenge the old imperial status quo in which news, information and entertainment media were controlled by western governments and corporate powers. They called within the UN System for a New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO), for an end to the dominance of the western colonial powers, the equitable distribution of the world’s information resources, the right to communicate, and the support of alternative and community based media in democratizing communications. Rejecting this multilateral consensus, the US and UK Governments withdrew from the Commission, arguing with the commercial media industry that any measures to limit western media corporations or journalists represented state censorship of the “free flow of information.”

The US instead shifted to what we now call neo-liberalism, or the Washington agenda. They called for market rules (privatization of public resources and deregulation of government oversight of corporations) at home and abroad. The Reagan Government successfully gutted anti-trust and public interest rules, as well as public support programs at home, and pushed for the implementation of similar policies in other countries through their powerful voice in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank (WB). However, the US Government was still unable to win in the multilateral arena, failing to get culture (AV services) onto the trade block in the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT), the precursor to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Instead, they decided to work on the less powerful countries one or two at a time, and began unilateral free trade talks with Taiwan, Canada and Mexico.

During the same decade, the number and sophistication of alternative media projects and networks grew around the world. These networks emerged both from the confluence of links between social movements, primarily from the countries of the south, mobilizing against the Washington agenda; and alternative media groups inventively seizing the newly available consumer production media. Primarily based in local geographic communities, media activists began to link across their own countries, national and regional boundaries to share resources, and campaign for greater access to radio, cable and satellite, and the newly emerging computer-linked systems. They also began to support one another on common issues, including the massive cuts in public spending and state-run services, the growth in global media conglomeration, and the US, Japanese and European calls for global standards in digital systems and copyright rules.

The trans-national networks begun in this era include the World Association of Community Radio (AMARC) , and the Association of Progressive Communicators (APC ). AMARC now operates via regional organizations, programme sharing through special theme-connected collaborations (against, for example, discrimination against women, and racism) and global media reform coalitions. Formed to support the global network of women, labour, ecologists, indigenous peoples, and of activists organizing against free trade and corporate globalization, APC continues to build on the idea of communication rights, prioritizing the capacity building of women, rural and poor people, and the media reform efforts of member groups.

During the 1990s, a new set of activists demonstrated the more tactical use of the technologies and networks in political change. In 1989, the pro-democracy activists of Tienanmen Square in Beijing China used fax machines to get their message out to the world . In 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army built on what Harry Cleaver called the emerging trans-national “electronic fabric of struggle,” employing old and new media, and global media networks, to challenge the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Then, in 1997, the Korean labor and social movement activists use highly sophisticated broadband media to demonstrate against the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and also opened Jinbonet, the first Web-based interactive peoples’ news service. This alternative vision of communications took another leap forward in 1999 when the first Independent Media Center (IMC) formed in Seattle to support the protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO). Drawing from the Zapatistas, the IMCistas created a global news network. Building on the existing networks opposed to corporate globalization, and providing easy-to-use open-publishing software, the global IMC quickly grew to over 150 centers around the world.

International Network for Communications Reform
In the last five years, the network of networks has begun to flex its collective muscles to reform the dominant global media system. Coalitions of activists, often in tandem with progressive government representatives, are calling for more democratic communications at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) (); against the US push for the free trade of culture, with a Convention on Cultural Diversity, adopted by UNESCO in 2005 (http://www.cdc-ccd.org>); and for the protection of the global knowledge commons with a Development Agenda and a Treaty on Access to Knowledge and Technology at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Solution: 

More than a coalition of “Nos,” this new network of networks demonstrates that another communications is possible and already happening. Its strength is based in cooperation via social movement organizing, media reform campaigns and the adaptation of information and communications for the greater use of all. Almost all are severely challenged by their lack of sustainable funds and technical resources, and continuing inequities between members of racialized and gendered class differences and of cultural capital. However, faced with the stark realities of neo-liberal immiseration, the network continues to build, creating a complex lattice of local-local, regional (especially south-south), and trans-national links that circumvent the old colonial north-south linkages and power dynamics. If there is one glaring structural vacuum, it is the lack of involvement of US activists, and particularly those based in US communities and social justice movements. In the next five years, one of the key challenges will be for US activists to bring together efforts for media justice in the US, recognize the leadership of the rest of the world, and assist in mobilizing against the Washington agenda at home.

What can people do to help build this network? In their own area, they can help support or produce programming for their local alternative communications media. They can also find and support the existing local, national and global campaigns to reform the mainstream corporate and state media. This is especially crucial in the US, whose media and media policy affect so much of the world. Finally they can educate themselves about what’s going on in their own communities, national and especially internationally, and then help link the work of the local and global justice networks.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

A handful of Western-based transnational corporations control most media programming. They emphasize entertainment and news acceptable to business and Western foreign policy. A global network of communications activists, advocates, and researchers is working to reform the mainstream media and to construct alternative media. Alternative media projects not only serve people; they also demonstrate what democratic media might look like.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
March of Indigenous Peoples, Colombia 2008. Tejido (social fabric) of communication was key to mobilization, Victoria Maldonado, Waves of Change

Techno-Criticism

Pattern ID: 
879
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
39
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Because technology and technological systems can play out in so many ways, this is one of the longest problem statements in the pattern language. Technological systems are often portrayed as nearly miraculous solutions to problems both real and imagined. For this reason, people put faith in technology that is not always warranted. Moreover, the technologists peddling techno-utopian visions in which technology causes problems to vanish — essentially by magic — are not subjected to the same scrutiny that other societal prognosticators receive. For one reason, technologists by virtue of their special knowledge and unfathomable jargon are often intimidating to non-technologists. An unquestioning reliance on technology can result in a technocratic culture where people come to expect technological solutions. Technology puts major decisions in the hands of the technologists; degrades public discussion; diverts attention, discussion, and funds. Socio-technological systems generally have implicit trajectories. They're often implemented as "total programs" when almost by definition they are partial solutions that don't address or the social aspects either with analysis, co-design, education or funding. This is what is generally lacking when introducing computers into the classroom or in discussions about bringing inexpensive laptops to the children of Africa. The use of technology often introduces new problems including ones that humankind is not prepared for. (And then of course "technology will solve the new problems.") Introducing mandatory laptop computers in a middle school or high school, for example, soon leads to additional issues. Should students be able to use Instant Messenger during class? Download movies? Play fantasy baseball? As was pointed out in the play, Mitzi's Abortion (Hefron, 2005), based on a true story, technology can tell a pregnant woman that the baby she's carrying has no brain, but it can't provide any guidance on what she can do about the situation or how to negotiate with her insurance company to help her with financial burdens that may arise. Technology can be used for dumbing down (and having technology shouldn't be an excuse for ignorance — Why learn anything when I can simply find the knowledge on the Internet whenever I want to!). Moreover, it almost goes without saying that technology is the near perfect candidate for systems of exploitation, control, and surveillance. Machines will never be seized with doubts about ethics or morality as a human pressed into an inhuman situation may be. On the other hand, we must continually remind ourselves that technology breaks down. It is not perfect and never will be. The large number of failed tests of the Strategic Defense Initiatives, the mixed results of laptops in schools, the quiet withdrawal of facial recognition systems for "homeland security," and the potential for economic collapse due to unanticipated results of automated buying and selling all show the imperfection of our technological creations. The irony is, however, that technology might be most dangerous when it works correctly. For example, wouldn't a total failure of nuclear or biological weapons be preferable to "success?" Although Isaac Asimov presumed that humans would never allow robots to make life or death decisions or take the life of a human, the "launch on warning" computerized systems in the US (and presumably Russia) are virtually the same, minus the anthropomorphic features we've come to expect in our robots.

Context: 

Virtually anybody who is alive today will be confronted with new technology that is likely to change the circumstances of their life.

Discussion: 

The interesting and more useful use of the word criticism is as it is used in art or literary criticism,, namely the analysis, evaluation, interpretation and judging of something. Technology, or, rather, its practice including discourse, development, use, education, funding, regulation, and disposal, in addition to its physical embodiment, deserves this type of attention like all other aspects and creations of humankind.

Although technology, and ICT particularly, has a variety of attributes — or "affordances" — that will allow / encourage new capabilities (while discouraging others) and individual people obviously will play important roles in technology use (in the small?), the extreme "weight" of the social context will always exert considerable impact. The mistake that people most frequently make is forgetting the fundamental fact that technology in all of its guises is applied within specific social contexts. In other words, the phrase Guns don't kill people, people kill people could be more accurate if it read, Guns don't kill people, they just vastly improve the ease and efficiency of doing so. Without the "need" to shoot people only a fraction of the world's arsenal would exist. There is no such thing as "technology by itself" and, therefore, it makes no sense to view it in those terms.

The Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly called "Star Wars" illustrates many of the reasons why techno criticism is so necessary. Basically untestable, demonstrably unreliable, The SDI effort escalates militarism at the expense of non-military solutions while removing large sums of money from other more worthwhile enterprises. Additional militarization of space and the development of the next-generation of nuclear weapons also cry out for very deep technocriticism.

One of the most visible, current manifestations of techno-utopianism is that revolving around the prospects of a new "$100 Laptop" ostensibly for the children of Africa. Although many people believe that computers have intrinsic "subversive" nature that would empower people around the world it's not at all clear to me why African kids would be less attracted to Grand Theft Auto or other violent, time-squandering video games, then, say, their American counterparts if a brand-new laptop computer was suddenly in their possession.

A last example provides a glimpse of what can happen when fast computers and knowledge of human behavior are combined within specific systems of power. In a provocative article entitled, "AI Seduces Stanford Students" (200_) Kevin Poulsen describes a phenomenon called the "chameleon effect" in which "People are perceived as more honest and likeable if they subtly mimic the body language of the person they're speaking with." Now scientists at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab have demonstrated that computers can exploit the same phenomenon, but with greater success and on a larger scale. Sixty-nine student volunteers interacted with a realistic human face, a computer generated "digital agent" that delivered a three-minute persuasive speech. Unbeknownst and undetected by seven out of eight students, the talking head was mimicking their every expression — eye movements, head tilts, etc.

The ominous result of this experiment was that the students reported that the echoing "agent" was "more friendly, interesting, honest, and persuasive" than the one that didn't blindly ape the facial movements of its mark. One doesn't need excess paranoia to imagine what lay in store for us when ubiquitous mass media systems, perhaps two-way, are joined with the system described above. Poulsen describes one way in which this could be accomplished.

"Bailenson [the Stanford researcher] says the research not only shows that computers can take advantage of our psychological quirks, but that they can do it more effectively than humans can because they can execute precise movements with scientifically optimized timing. The killer app is in virtual worlds, where each inhabitant can be presented with a different image, and the chameleon effect is no longer limited to one-on-one interaction. A single speaker — whether an AI or a human avatar — could mimic a thousand people at once, undetected, transforming a cheap salesman's trick into a tool of mass influence."

Ironically the people who are best equipped to apply this pattern are the people who know the most about how technology is designed, deployed, marketed, etc. Technophiles probably make the best Technocritics. This is an argument for technical education that is integrated with the humanities and the social sciences, marriage that many people in the non-technical disciplines might find as distasteful as those in the technical disciplines do. A society that was technologically literate would not "throw technology at problems" any more than they'd "throw money at problems." That, however, is not at all the same as saying that technology or money never can help solve problems —' as both resources when applied wisely can help immensely.

Organizations like Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility who have worked with issues like SDI and electronic voting and groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists and Electronic Privacy Information Center are working in this area. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists provides thoughtful discussion on matters of weapons and national security. The world is ready for discussions in this area that aren't dominated by the media and the digerati. Many policy options come to mind, but in general, they should be based on informed public discourse. One intriguing example of this is the "co development laws" in Scandinavia in the 1980s in which new technology could not be introduced without the consent of the workers. Another ripe field is that of genetic engineering of seeds and other biological entities.

Luddism is not an answer to the question of "autonomous technology" anymore than it is to uncritically embrace it. The solution is not to totally eschew the use of technology in society. Technology is an integral part of the human condition. At the same time it is important for the reasons discussed above to acknowledge and to consider how technology is presented, designed, discussed, implemented and used, just as other activities, particularly ones with similar potential for large-scale disruption should be subjected to this scrutiny. Unfortunately there is a surprising number of people who interpret any of this discussion as being "anti-technology" (which is barely even thinkable). At any rate, this reaction has a chilling effect on the idea of actual conversations on the technology (as would befit a democratic society) and has the adverse effect of reinforcing the stereotype that technologists are binary thinkers who are simply not capable of more nuanced thought.

Langdon Winner, one of the intellectual founders of technocriticism (along with Lewis Mumford, Norbert Weiner, and, even, Dwight Eisenhower) made these statements in relation to the advent of ubiquitous digital computer networks:

As we ponder horizons of computing and society today, it seems likely that American society will reproduce some of the basic tendencies of modernism.
  • unequal power over key decisions about what is built and why;
  • concerted attempts to enframe and direct people's lives in both work and consumption;
  • the presentation of the future society as something nonnegotiable;
  • the stress on individual gratification rather than collective problems and responsibilities;
  • design strategies that conceal and obfuscate important realms of social complexity.

Although technological systems can be extremely powerful, they are subject to a number of limitations that must be understood and probed thoroughly if these systems are to be deployed effectively in society. A more visible, inclusive and engaging practice of Techno Criticism could go a long way towards educating society on the myriad implications — both creative and destructive — of technology in today's world.

Solution: 

Technology often alters power relations between people, generally amplifying the power for some and not for others. The development of new military technology through history dramatically illustrates this phenomenon. The distribution of computers in society is yet another example. Generally, rich people have them and poor people don't. If computers enable people to be more productive (as computer related companies assert) then economic benefits would obviously accrue to those that have them. People need to understand or at least anticipate to some degree not only the effects of specific technological artifacts (RFID in running shoes, for example) but the socio-technological systems that they support or destabilize.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Unquestioning reliance on technology can create a culture where people expect technological solutions to all problems. This blind faith can help put decisions in the hands of the technologists, degrade public discussion, and divert attention and funds. It often alters power relations by amplifying the power for some. We need to understand and anticipate the effects of specific technological artifacts and the broader implications as well.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Baby Monkeys Playing, photograph by Richard Sclove

Mobile Intelligence

Pattern ID: 
587
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
38
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

While we make our plans the opportunity vanishes. The world changes while you're still trying to figure out what the question is. We can't think or act intelligently in relation to the world if we think statically. The main problem is that we think that things change, one-at-a-time in ways that can be readily foreseen when, in actuality, things are constantly in flux. Misunderstanding of possibilities, mob tendencies, privacy abuses, subject to manipulation and control.

Context: 

This pattern addresses the need for exploring (with the hope of improving) Mobile Intelligence. It's intended for researchers, activists, citizens and for anybody who is trying to make sense of the world.

Discussion: 

John Urry articulated the need to reconceptualize sociology in such a way to better understand and explore the "mobilities" of our era (2000). Mobilities characterize movement from one state to another in the broadest sense. A reconceptualization of social mobilities extends the core notion of people moving from one place to another, whether to fight — or escape from — a war, pursue economic opportunities that aren't available at home, visit family, attend college, make a religious pilgrimages, conduct business or visit resorts or museums as a tourist. Urry reminds us that people are not the only entities in the social universe. These new mobilities include the movement of commodities, raw materials, microbes, mobs and soccer hooligans, AK-47s and fissionable material, ideologies, tactics, criminal networks, social issues, social movements, money (legitimate and otherwise), brands, virtual communities, financial information, smuggled people, radioactivity, movies, pirated DVDs, pollution, oil, electricity, water, surveillance, terrorist cells, drugs, and credit card information. In addition to those mobilities social status of individuals and, even identity itself, can change through movement to a higher or lower economic class, becoming a citizen — or refugee — in another country, or undergoing a sex change or religious conversion.

Urry points out that sociology places social interaction at is core and is therefore the proper intellectual home for these considerations. Yet sociology as it's currently construed was created at a certain point in Western history and it often presupposes notions like structure or function that belie the inherent complexity of social interactions, forces, etc. Its area of focus is like the old "flat earth" perspective where the areas outside the known territory are simply terra incognito.. Urry advocates a new type of sociology that extends the traditional sociological tenets to a new sociology that more accurately reflects today's realities. Specifically Urry adds, networks and fluids to the traditional idea of "region" (upon which "metaphor" the "sociological concept of society is based") as important exemplars to be added to the new mix of phenomena and artifacts that need to be considered when interpreting new social realities. Networks contain structure or what Urry calls "scapes," the "networks of machines, technologies, organizations, texts and actors that constitute various interconnected nodes," and "flows" which pass through the "scapes." Fluids, unlike networks, don't move discretely from node to node along scapes but are "heterogeneous, uneven mobilities of people, information, objects, money, images, and risks, that move chaotically across regions in strikingly faster and unpredictable shapes."

Some of the patterns in this language are ambiguous and hazy and whose recommendations can be summarized with non-committal "more research is needed" statements. One may get the impression that "more research" is always needed — if you ask an academic. Given the fact that all knowledge is incomplete, it may seem impossible to avoid that "last refuge" of a scholar, who is seemingly unable to make recommendation, until, they claim, their new research — once funded — will certainly bring the results that would enable them to make recommendations. The "Mobile Intelligence" pattern is one of those (hopefully few) patterns that generally follow the line above. It will surely morph in future versions of the language, possibly by splitting into several patterns that exploit new opportunities — or confront new threats — that were undreamt of today.

The coverage of this pattern extends from the most abstract and theoretical to the nitty-gritty street level. It relates to how we think and converse in broad strokes, about social change, the environment, etc. when we take the time outside of other work, as well as our thoughts and action when we're thrown-in a situation (Heidegger, 1962). In an example of the latter, Mary Jordan (2006) reports on an emerging new type of Mobile Intelligence:

"Cell phones and text messaging are changing the way political mobilizations are conducted around the world. From Manila to Riyadh and Kathmandu protests once publicized on coffeehouse bulletin boards are now organized entirely through text-messaging networks that can reach vast numbers of people in a matter of minutes.

The technology is also changing the organization and dynamics of protests, allowing leaders to control, virtually minute-by-minute, the movements of demonstrators, like military generals in the field. Using texts that communicate orders instantly, organizers can call for advances or retreats of waves of protesters."

And in 2003, when US President George Bush on a visit to London was keeping as far from the public eye as he could, protesters set up a "Chasing Bush" system that encouraged people to announce their Bush-sightings via the SMS on their cell phones which would then be relayed to protesters who would hasten to the location. The "Flash Mob" concept, in which a "spontaneous" gathering of a large number of people at a rug store or hotel lobby has been orchestrated with the aid of fast and inexpensive access to mobile communications, provides a glimpse into the future as to the absurd and amusing possibilities that the new technology can bring. It's easy to see that mobile communications has its dark sides, a point that Howard Rheingold brings up in his aptly-titled book Smart Mobs. A mob consists of people who are operating wholly at the limbic level. While "rationality" and "cool-headed reason" may be flawed, over-rated, and mostly mythical as operating concepts, consider a world in which they were totally absent.

New technologies (such as GPS, cell phones, cell phones with GPS, RFID, "smart cards", bar codes, laptops, "augmented reality" (where commercial information can be broadcast to your goggles), wireless technologies like 802.11b, etc..) are changing and are likely to continue to change our urban settings in particular (which are already undergoing massive changes due to globalization and new patterns of human settlements). Alex Steffen on his World Changing web site quotes the following from the Breaking the Game conference (2006) both permeate urban spaces (changing their uses) and change the way we look at buildings and place (changing development).

"[A]n emerging group of artists [is] deploying sensors, hand-held electronics, and faster Internet connections are developing projects that actively intervene in the shaping and reshaping of public spaces in contemporary cities. They are integrating digital technology into buildings in order to make them adaptive and responsive to the flows of human activity and environmental forces... They are scanning the unseen electromagnetic spectrum that surrounds specific places, and turning these data into compelling audio/visual experiences that both heighten and change our perception... Using PDAs and portable laptops connected wirelessly to databases, some artists are creating alternative social maps, counter-histories and individually annotated narratives about local populations in specific neighborhoods... Still others are using mobile social software to coordinate large numbers of bodies for political action; or devising playful and imaginary spaces within the city.... We don't have to leave or disconnect from physical space in order to connect to digital spaces. Artists, architects, technologists, urban planners, and others are recombining the two, connecting individuals and groups together at a variety of scales and intensities."

It is an understatement to say that mobile communications represents a major historic shift from historical patterns of communications. The Internet (and other) information and communication technologies have helped usher in tremendous changes already, but these changes may represent just the tip of the iceberg. Mobile communication is fast and increasingly commonplace. It opens up whole new arenas of both thought and action. Like many new technologies, the opportunities for abuse are legion — and critics should not be cowed into submission by new digital salesmen and their cheerleaders in the media. Some of the dimensions by which to consider barriers, boundaries and opportunities include: accessibility (costs of producing/consuming, location, language, etc.); relative size and influence and the relationship configuration between information producer and consumer (one or few or many or mass to one or few or many or mass); privacy, regulation, and control; motivation for use; and user demographics.

Sociologists, historians and others are now realizing that social phenomena (like environmental phenomena) are inherently complex. This means that we can't really know with certainty what the effects of our actions will be. Although this has always been the case, the realization is only now getting some traction. Moreover, many people — if not most — still seem to deny its reality and think and act according to older paradigms. Accepting its reality does not mean of course that we don't know anything or that anything can happen, What is different now is the increased speed, reach, and influence of the mobility. Imagine a missile latching on to the frequency of a cell phone or myriad consequences of remote observation, sensing, and surveillance. On a larger scale, consider the vulnerability or volatility of a complex physical, social, or technological environment where critical limits or "tipping points" in many important areas are likely to be breached at the same time.

While much of our time in the future will certainly be spent trying to repulse the efforts of people who will use (and attempt to use) Mobile Intelligence to increase their dominance over others, one of the main points of this pattern is to encourage the exploration of positive possibilities that the new technology opens up. One such area is in the realm of emergency communications. What difference could it make in a situation like the Chernobyl disaster or Hurricane Katrina? We could also gather data about dangerous conditions — speed of cars, air or water quality, radioactivity and other mobile phenomena.

Solution: 

We can think of Mobile Intelligence in at least three ways: (1) intelligence about a variety of mobilities; (2) intelligence that can be used in different situations (where the intelligence itself is mobile or "portable"); and, (3), mobile intelligence that moves us forward; in other words the intelligence mobilizes people. As researchers, activists and citizens, we can consciously ask about the "mobility" of our intelligences — and reconceptualize them as necessary.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

We can't think or act intelligently in relation to the world if we think statically. The problem is that we think that things change, one-at-a-time when things are constantly in flux. The answer changes while you're still trying to understand the question. One of the main points of Mobile Intelligence is encouraging positive possibilities that the new technology opens up, such as emergency communications.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Two Figures in an Interior, Franciszka Themerson, Wikimedia Commons

Media Literacy

Pattern ID: 
463
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
35
Mark Lipton
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Bias free media may be impossible. For that reason people need to be able to identify and assess media bias. Some have argued that media has become so vivid, so ‘real’ that people can ‘live’ in them. Media literacy is the process of decoding and making sense of all media. It allows us to critically view media and to evaluate the role that media play in our lives. When someone is media literate, he or she has the skills to identify the ideological implications and manipulative means of media systems and practices. Unfortunately, exposure to media does not necessarily suggest that people have the critical skills to understand how media systems work or how they are relating to media messages. Further, there is very little training in media education. In most places in the world, public education resists the changing media environments. Also, teachers are not given specific instruction in the workings of media, nor are they trained in the methods of media practices. Of course, it must be mentioned that in some places in the world, media has a foothold in the curriculum of public education but rarely does this curriculum come with the pedagogical training educators need to reach their audiences. The study of media has developed into complex systems of understanding, analysis, and synthesis. Yet, media study is not thought of within the context of traditional academic ‘disciplines.’ As a result, we live in a world where ubiquitous media messages, without critical appraisal impact our world.

Context: 

Masterman, in particular, stresses the student's development of "critical autonomy" as a primary objective of media education. In Teaching the Media, he argues that the key task of media teachers is to "develop in pupils enough self-confidence and critical maturity to be able to apply critical judgments to media texts which they will encounter in the future" (24). Thus, the primary objective of media education is not simply to foster critical awareness and understanding, but to develop a student's awareness of his or her role as an active agent when engaged by all media, no matter the context. The "critical autonomy" approach to media education differs from its predecessors in three ways. First, the pedagogical practices of this approach stress investigative strategies; that is, teaching and learning are emphatically student centered and inquiry oriented. Second, the process of making meaning through critical investigation is emphasized; that is, strategies of decoding are stressed within pedagogy. And third, visual literacy and media literacy, rather than an exclusively "print-oriented" literacy, function as the criteria for evaluation of student work.

Discussion: 

Until very recently if somebody complained about the media, the typical response was to "turn off the TV." Suddenly it has become commonplace to think of media not as an autonomous system but as an important element in a cultural environment that, like the physical environment, needs to be monitored for degradation and corruption. We need to be able to recognize biases and other problems that we encounter with existing media systems. All messages are made with some sense of the people receiving them. People filter these messages based on their beliefs, values, attitudes, behaviors, and past experiences. Every media message is communicated for a reason — to entertain, to inform, and usually to persuade. Behind every message is a purpose and point of view. The advertiser’s purpose is more direct than a program producer’s, though both may seek to entertain. Understanding their purposes and knowing whose point of view is being expressed and why is crucial to being media literate. Yet the basic motive behind most media programs is profit through practices like the sale of advertising space and sponsorships. These reasons are also important to consider because all media messages are owned. They are designed to yield results, provide profits, and pay for themselves. All news and entertainment programming, including film and television, try to increase their audiences to attract advertising dollars. Understanding the profit motive is key to analyzing media messages. Messages are communicated through the use of elements like sound, video, text, and photography. But most messages are enhanced by the use of visual and technical elements– through camera angles, special effects, editing, or music. Analyzing how these features are used in any given message is critical to understanding how that message attempts to persuade, entertain, or inform. Because messages are limited in both time and purpose, rarely are all the details provided. Identifying the issues, topics, and perspectives that are not included can often reveal a great deal about the purposes of media messages. Because media messages tell only part of the story and different media have unique production features, it helps to evaluate multiple messages on the same issue. This allows you to identify multiple points of view, some of which may be missing in any single message or medium.

These are but some of the issues to be discussed when considering the problems and challenges associated with the term media literacy. Other approaches include concerns about monitoring ownership and the political economy of these systems in the global economy, about interpretation, evaluation and critique of media messages, about knowledge of how media impact and influence, and about how to address the changing needs of a world where media constantly evolves.

A critical autonomy approach to media education addresses these concerns within an educational context. As part of the school reform movement of the past decade, media education scholarship assumes a student centered pedagogical practice in which the student is viewed as an active, aware participant in learning, a lifelong learner, and a self-motivated and self-directed problem solver. This image of the learner is an essential consideration not only in the design of media education, but also within the larger pedagogical frame in which the curriculum is negotiated. According to Boomer (1992), negotiating the curriculum means deliberately planning to invite students to contribute to, and to modify, the educational program, so that they will have a real investment both in the learning journey and in the outcomes. Negotiation also means making explicit, and then confronting, the constraints of the learning context and the non-negotiable requirements that apply. (14) Masterman argues further that "if students are to understand media texts . . . then it will obviously be helpful if they have first-hand experience of the construction process from the inside" (26). To this end, media education includes media production, what Masterman dubs "practical work," as a pedagogical practice which enables students to create media products. Thus, students are actively engaged both with the production of media and the workings of the classroom.

As a result of their interest in student centered learning, scholars of media education aim to develop curricula which consider the forms and practices of education and of pedagogy. Curricula which are inquiry oriented tend to offer activities which stress critical strategies, and pedagogy centers around the creation of a dialogue -- i.e., not just discussion, but the kind of talk that leads to dialectical thinking. In this context, divergent readings of texts are positively valued for their potential to stimulate further analysis and thus growth in understanding. The aim of media education is to encouraged a heightened self-consciousness about the processes of interpretation and meaning making and provide people with an opportunity to recognize that everyone uses a selective and interpretive process to examine media texts. This process and the meanings obtained depend on psychological, social, cultural, and environmental factors. In this view, then, media education strives to enable people to understand how media texts come to have a range of meanings or readings ascribed to them, and to develop even richer, more critical readings.

Contemporary media educators are also beginning to challenge traditional notions of literacy. Literacy, by definition, refers to the ability to read and write. But scholars insist that there are "languages" other than print, such as those related to the mass media, which also need to be considered within the definition of "literacy." Visual literacy, for example, has been described by Messaris (1994) as "greater experience in the workings of visual media coupled with a heightened conscious awareness of those workings" (2). And Masterman has argued that since both print and visual literacy involve "the deconstruction of texts by breaking through their surface to reveal the rhetorical techniques through which meanings are produced" (127), any education for "literacy" should focus on that process, rather than on the symbolic form of a particular set of "texts."

Solution: 

Education and educational practices need to shift to address the changing media environments. We need to perform more public media criticism. We need to engage with media more closely to keep them in check and to be informed as to how we are responding and why. We need to be more serious about our media environments and foster greater awareness of the impact and influence media systems have on daily life. We must arm all people with the knowledge, skills, and values a media education program provides – granting people access to new technology and information about its workings and ideological implication. Finally, we need more alternative communication systems to counter these problems.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Media Literacy allows us to critically view media and to evaluate the role that media play in our lives. Media Literacy helps develop awareness of our roles as active agents when engaging media. We must arm all people with the knowledge, skills, and values that Media Literacy provides. We need to grant people access to new technology and information about its workings and ideological implications and to develop alternative communication systems.

Pattern status: 
Released
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