Approaching a Third industrial revolution: let’s talk about “new media”

    21 Nov 2021

    The modern era is a clash of several trends. On the one hand, many countries have moved from the era of “industrialism” to “post-industrialism,” or the information society. If this was relevant only for Western countries in the 70s, now it applies to almost all GCC countries.

    In Western sociology and political science, the American scientists Daniel Bell and Alvin Toffler are the undisputed classics of the “information society” theory.  Talking about the information society, I use the term “third wave” introduced by Toffler as a synonym. I’ve mentioned his concept in this column.

    In addition, the 2010s brought us a new terminology to denote the near future – the “Third Industrial Revolution.” Energy expert Oleh Savytskyi mentions it in his article for “European Truth” and at his social media notes:

    “Thanks to the UN “Race to Zero” campaign and the mobilization of investment capital through GFANZ and other initiatives, COP26 officially launches the Third Industrial Revolution. The possibility and necessity of it the great visionary and naturalist economist Jeremy has persistently told the EU, US, and Chinese governments for the past 15 years.

    According to Rifkin, the new industrial revolution is already unfolding due to the convergence of three key technologies, the “three internet”: high-speed and universal 5G communication internet, smart grid network with renewable energy sources and energy storage systems, and logistics internet of automated vehicles and navigation.

    Communication, energy, and logistics “internets” are integrated into the general Internet of Things, built into society and the environment.”

    It’s time to rethink all the communications experience of the last 20 years. If we recall 2001-2006, then the “new media” developed like an avalanche, a phenomenon described by the Russian author Oleg Kireev as “media activism” (in the book “Media-activist Cookbook,” 2006).

    (Oleg Kireev (1975—2009) was an art- and media critic, editor, curator, and activist. He has participated in several media-political campaigns (“Against all parties,” 1999) and actions (“Barricade at Bolshaya Nikitskaya,” May 1998). He is the founder of the Ghetto collective in Moscow, which is dedicated to cultural and political analyses. He was the author of articles on art and politics that have appeared in the Russian and international press).

    I find admiration for the phenomena of “media activism” in other sources, for example, in the book by Douglas Rashkoff (“Media Virus: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture,” 1994) and the book “Philosophy punk: more than noise” (1999) by Craig O’Hara. All of them have worthily complemented the already classic “countercultural” books such as “Do It!: Scenarios of the Revolution” by Jerry Rubin (1970).

    Let’s return to Kireev’s opinion. This publicist gave too much importance to the “low threshold of entry” into the media. He stated that in the late 1990s, almost everyone in the “developed” countries had the opportunity to take a camera, a computer, and be a media. Even if it is a media consisting of one person.

    Anyway, I admire Kireev’s excellent quote, confirmed by the next 15 years of development of the Internet – “No less alienated leisure industry replaces the industry of alienated labor.”

    Also, he recommended “finding in the capitalist system” temporarily autonomous “zones of uncertainty. These are areas at the forefront of technology development, in which relations have not yet been streamlined, approaches have not been developed, and the problems that arise each time have no precedent.”

    First of all, Kireev meant abandoned houses and spaces in the real world and uncontrolled Internet space in the virtual world. Today, such an “uncontrolled zone at the forefront” can be called the field of cryptocurrencies, NFT art, and blockchain technologies in general. People worldwide were in demand for cryptocurrencies independent of central banks and private banks, and thanks to new technologies, they created such an offer. In the following years, “crypto-anarchists” will invent something else that is not controlled by the state. So the dystopian prospect of a “global China” or a totalitarian “global Soviet Union” has so far receded.

    Twenty years of development of “new media” have shown that everything is not so simple as media activists imagined. The profession of a journalist has not disappeared but has acquired a touch of professionalism. Now there are professional journalists who know how to filter and present information to the masses, and non-professional bloggers. The second type of media actors may appeal to the masses but also produce “post-truth” and propaganda.

    With the advent of the Internet and then social media and affordable means of recording, at first glance, the need for professional media has disappeared. A person can receive news from bloggers or groups on social networks. But a mediator between the news and society is still needed – even if it does not work “at a certain salary rate.”

    Let’s call to memory the fascination with the concept of “the Society of the Spectacle” by media activists in the early 2000s. The author of “Media Activist Cookbook” is sincerely fascinated by the French philosopher Guy Debord, and especially with Debord’s 1967 work, The Society of the Spectacle. Inspired by this text, so-called situationists defined the spectacle as an assemblage of social relations transmitted via the imagery of class power, and as a period of capitalist development wherein “all that was once lived has moved into representation.”

    Debord’s central idea was that the world of media produces its own meanings, detached from reality, and no longer describes reality.

    As a continuation of these ideas of the 70s-80s, let’s mention the scandalous article by the NY Times (2019), where the author proclaimed the “luxurification” of human relations in the information society. The new poor is the one who uses gadgets, online courses, online learning. The new rich is the one who communicates with the teacher face to face. By analogy, horses, an everyday part of transportation in the 19th century, became a sign of luxury at the beginning of the 21st century – because they are an exclusive product. In the same way, to spend a week without the Internet face to face with the masters of their craft is now a half-luxury class.

    Since recent times, when we say ‘digital economy’, we mean the service economy for the poor.

    You are poor if your doctor advises you online and not during a face-to-face meeting; poor if your kids study online rather than offline teachers; poor if you buy goods online and not in a nice store downtown.

    The fact that the rich prefer old-fashioned tutors, personal trainers, and chefs, rather than Coursera or food delivery via a smartphone, is no secret. But the author of the article, Nellie Bowles, goes further and states that there is a “luxurification” of human relations. “What we are seeing now is the luxurification of human engagement.”

    Suppose you still receive services from living people or have the opportunity to communicate with them. In that case, you most likely are a representative of the new elite, whose prestigious consumption is to abandon digital services in favor of offline.

    The poor buy an iPhone on credit; the rich give up smartphones. The poor try to make their children know how to use computers, the rich offer their heirs private schools where learning is built through communication between people. The life spent in front of the screen is now a sign of your failure in life.

    However, let’s go back to the media in the modern era. I guess the analogy is clear: the time of “elite,” professional journalists on the contrary of the ocean of “bloggers” has come.

    It is necessary to prepare for future information wars and not to comprehend the past. What will happen in the coming years? Exclusivity and verifiability of information, fact-checking, which defeats the “post-truth.” Trump and Putin have once again set precedents where politicians can lie openly (in the XX century, this tactic of information warfare behavior was called “propaganda” and “misinformation,” and in the 21st century, publicists began to call it “spreading of the post-truth” actively.) 

    In the United States, social networks and Facebook have led their algorithms to polarize society and a new form of “ochlocracy.” The “The Social Dilemma” movie is dedicated to this phenomenon.

     

     

    Numerous cases around the world confirm that special information operations still exist and special services can provoke people of aggression using rumors even in the “civilized” 2020s. By the way, resistance to COVID-19 vaccination in many countries is a sign that people do not trust the authorities and perceive a civilized and scientifically sound vaccination program as an aggressive pressure on their rights and freedoms. And this is also a problem of education and trust in evidence-based medicine.

    In 2020, we entered the world where isolation even more pushed forward both remote work and entertainment. Greta Thunberg fit perfectly into this world as a media phenomenon. Instead of hundreds of experts, there is one activist supported by her father-producer. Instead of calm arguments from old-fashioned scientists, the phrase “How dare you?” blew up the world media. The “clip generation” needed just such kind of an activist.

     

     

    Or let’s mention COP26, which erupted in the world media in November. We noticed more Extinction Rebellion rallies with brightly dressed people and more statements by Greta than well-balanced statements by politicians.

     

     

    Let’s summarize:

    • the luxury of the future is face-to-face communication and verified information;
    • our attention is a commodity, and social networks compete for it. They  develop technologies specifically to attract attention;
    • and remember the phrase of the Canadian classic of philosophy Marshall McLuhan, said back in 1980: that modern warfare extends not only to the military, but to society as a whole.

    (McLuhan coined the expression “the medium is the message” and the term “global village”, and predicted the World Wide Web almost 30 years before it was invented.)

    Let’s be subjects, not objects, in information wars!

     

    ***

    Throughout 2020-2021, the pandemic in one fell swoop finished off any doubts about the usefulness of “remote work.” And it made the “gig economy” bloom in the Post-Soviet and Western world. It’s based entirely on the Internet and opportunities connected with the global network.

    You may read our author’s column about living in the future shock era here.

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