damonpackwood

Kind of a Book Report – Networking the World (Mattelart, McLuhan and My People)

In Culture, Technology on January 2, 2013 at 10:35 pm

I read some good books last fall and I wrote about two pages on each of them. They were grad school assignments but they have a more blogger vibe about them then a full academically sound paper which wasn’t the purpose of the assignments. Since they relate to some of my last few posts I think it’s a good idea that I throw them on Danger Brain. Maybe it’ll help to shed light on where these ideas are coming from and why. There are a few of them, so  just like I did for the well liked Blogaboutech Mixtape series (which is long overdue for a new entry. I know.) I’m giving this series a name. After all, it’s… Kind of a Book Report. 

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While discussing Marshall McLuhan with a friend I had a thought. We – and by we I mean the people of first world countries – have moved well beyond the Modern age, the Information age and we are fast approaching something entirely different. It is a very unique moment in history. It has only happened a few times throughout the history of the world and because of that most of us are completely unaware of the degree to which things are going to change in the most dramatic of ways. Being aware of this, I thought to myself, studying it even, is very powerful. So, what do I do with that power?

After reading, Armand Mattelart’s Networking the World, what is perhaps the most academically dark piece of reading I’ve ever read, this is what I walked away from. (I believe that was Mattelart’s intention as he describes a growing dystopian world with no advice on how to resist it).

My friend and I were discussing McLuhan’s belief that television technology would bring us back to our more natural tribal state and that McLuhan believed Blacks and Native Americans would prove to be good at this. The reason is because they never let go of their tribal roots. I’ve found this idea fascinating for two reasons: 1) Blacks and Native Americans suffered the most during the Modern age. I find it interesting that the first Black President of the United States – a sign that Blacks may be adjusting to the Modern age – has come at the beginning of a brand new age, one that will see dramatic changes in how we live. 2) A study by the Kaiser Foundation in 2010 found that Blacks and Hispanics between 8-18 years of age consume for media far more than their white counter parts. McLuhan was right. 3) Standing before a new age that will depend heavily on qualities and characteristics that are culturally embedded into the everyday behavior of Blacks and Native Americans is a reason for optimism. Considering how well the Modern age went for those people they should be jumping at the opportunity to become media and techno-literate, to get ahead of this cultural change, to become masters of a techno-tribal future. I was excited about these possibilities until I read Networking the World and had a conversation with my good friend who just graduated from business school.

Having graduate from business school my friend was adamant that in order for Blacks and Native Americans to find mass success in this new age they need to move from being users of media to being creators and owners of media. In short, Blacks and Native Americans must create tech-centric businesses, own them, build them to profit and sell them in order to use that money to acquire and/or build more.

Although, what he was saying to me seemed to make perfect sense there was still this uncomfortable and nagging feeling I had. Later, I asked myself, “Is the sum total of our cultural knowledge measured by its economic viability?” The idea that this might be true seemed terribly depressing but I did understand his point.

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I thought of the Yale graduates, three non-African American men who created a website called Rap Genius, a WordPress-like website that allows users to post the meaning behind rap songs. We know that rap music is a black male dominated art form so we also know who their users are. It is unlikely that Black people are going to Rap Genius to learn about the meaning of music that comes from their own communities so one can argue that the audience for this site is not Blacks or Hispanics for that matter. One could argue that Rap Genius it is a website that makes its money on the exploitation of the musical and cultural advancements of Black people. The success of Rap Genius bears no success on the Blacks and Hispanic people who created the art form. My friend would say, and it is difficult to disagree, that Rap Genius is indicative of the need for Blacks to become masters, not users, of their own techno-tribal culture.

However, If Mattelart is correct in his statement that the saturation of media and media technology are based solely on socioeconomic control by corporate businesses and as a result “ethnocentric hegemony over global communication networks” then is a financially successful technology business the answer to liberation? What this piece of reading has made me think about is the age that we are moving towards. It is an unwritten age that is ripe with possibilities due to the seemingly limitless possibilities of our technological advancements. Is global capitalism the only lens available to us to imagine what this new age could look like?

Perhaps, my friend is looking at this new age the wrong way. McLuhan boldly stated that Native Americans and Blacks were born ahead of their time. The answer to a viable alternative to the world that Mattelart envisions could lie in the governing rules of the Native American people, rules they used to negotiate with the first European settlers. Take for example, their view of the land as an analogy of our potential view of information. Their belief that the land belonged to no one is why most were so welcoming. It wasn’t until the land was misused that they began to have a problem. I’m painting with an incredibly broad stroke, of course, but you can see where I’m going with this. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a technological age where information is free so long as that information is not exploited? This techno-tribal idea, one that seemed so infantile by the early settlers perhaps because it was so ahead of its time, could be the lens that Mattelart may be looking for.

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