Mirko Tobias Schäfer
Media Technology and Media Practice in the Public Sphere
The emergence of new media, most prominently the PC and the World Wide Web, revived old dreams of levelling the threshold for common citizens to participate actively in media production and knowledge creation. Do-It-Yourself cultures expanded rapidly into areas formerly reserved for professional engineers, journalists and scholars. The currently popular notion of ‘citizen scientist’ or ‘citizen journalist’ makes this egalitarian framing of media technology very much explicit. My paper criticizes this reading of technology and technology use for its inherent technology determinism and its misunderstanding of technology.
Undeniable, technology bears potential for certain uses and frequently it requires a technological development first to enable the emergence of specific cultural forms. The World Wide Web indeed had a catalyst effect on the production of media content, technological innovation and research activities in providing the infrastructure to connect globally, share information and build a growing resource of information. The common understanding of access to information as crucial factor for fostering democracy, informing a public sphere and serving prosperity shaped a powerful subtext to the development of information and computer technologies. However, the popular reading that the mere presence of freely accessible data en available technologies will create a critically and well informed public is yet another media myth. Referring to the analysis of data sets from Wikileaks and the discourse on ‘citizen journalists’ my paper revisits critically the claim for participation and maps the various media practises affecting storing, retrieving and publishing information. Consequently I will analyse and distinguish technology and media practise in order to discuss their socio-political impact and to revisit the notion of the informed public sphere of citizens.
Mirko Tobias Schäfer is Assistant Professor for New media & Digital Culture at the Department for Media & Culture Studies at Utrecht University. Mirko studied theatre, film and media studies and communication studies at Vienna University (A) and digital culture at Utrecht University (NL). He obtained a magister (master) in theatre, film and media studies from the University of Vienna in 2002, and a PhD from Utrecht University in 2008.
His research interest revolves around the socio- political impact of media technology. Mirko’s publications cover user participation in cultural production, hacking communities, politics of software design and communication in social media. He is co-editor and co-author of the volume Digital Material. Tracing New Media in Everyday Life and Technology (Amsterdam University Press, 2009) and author of the recently published book Bastard Culture! How User participation Transforms Cultural Production (Amsterdam University Press 2011). His expertise is employed by various Dutch government advisory councils, educational institutions and companies. Mirko was organizer and co-curator of [d]vision – Vienna Festival for Digital Culture. He is co-curator of the Utrecht New Media Evening and a member of the advisory board of SetUp Utrecht. In 2011 and 2012 Mirko is co-curating the Centre for Humanities-Impakt Festival Fellowship at Impakt Festival.