Sunday, 18 April 2010
Choirs and Castells
This video is the outcome of a collaborative online project set up by the composer Eric Whitacre who, in harnessing the potential of social networks and digital media channels, has established a virtual choir. I think this is a really nice example of the possibilities of these channels and a case which rather poetically demonstrates some of the main points of social media theorists like Van Dijk and Castells.
The concept of ‘The Network Society’, coined by Van Dijk (1999) and discussed by Castells in The Rise of The Network Society (1996) is explained as being to do with the potential replacement of the public sphere in terms of a physical space by the increasing development of online networks. Communication- ‘interpersonal’, political debate, marketing & advertising, information dissemination etc- is no longer restricted to direct face-to-face conversation, print or broadcast media as we all know, with the internet now revolutionising information flow, leading to new terminology such as ‘information’ or ‘network societies'.
The term ‘society’ suggests an all-inclusive framework, which infers that this is a global phenomenon. However, with internet usage and digital technologies predominantly being diffused within the public’s of North America, Western European and East Asian countries, to talk in terms of a ‘global network society’ ignores those countries where the technology is still absent or currently in development. Therefore, many scholars have acknowledged this in writing on the concept of the ‘Digital Divide’. This not only takes in to account the parts of the world where internet use is still relatively low, but also considers the effect of demographics in relation to how this impacts upon availability of the internet to potential users and how varying factors can limit their understanding of information technologies. For example, consider the demographics of the members of the virtual choir, here performing another piece:
Although the choir boasts members from 12 different countries, the majority of the members are from the USA, with some from Western Europe and only a few from South American and Asian countries. In addition to this, it appears that the members are of a very limited age range, from around early 20’s to late 30’s. Although this is a very focused example, it represents the main users of the internet quite well- the “Participating Majority” as Van Dijk (2006) outlines, who are younger and predominantly middle and working class and who use the internet for recreational purposes (like online choirs!). In contrast, the “Disconnected and Excluded” who can be of lower classes, are ethnic minorities as well as of the older generation. There is a danger here as Van Dijk (2006) explains,
“One thing is for certain: people who do not have access to the new communications networks, nor the skill to use them or to process and select information distributed by them, will be powerless.”
I think it is important to consider these theories in terms of how the internet and networks can be used by PR practitioners within campaigns. The example of the virtual choir demonstrates the innovative ways in which social media can be used to produce very sophisticated results as well as how people can collaborate and communicate on complex projects without having to ever meet in real life. It demonstrates the reach of these communications channels and the fact that people are engaging with these technologies and in increasingly developed ways. However, it is still apparent that many important publics are excluded from the network society who should not be ignored. Although it is vital for organizations to understand and integrate social/digital media within campaigns they also need to be careful not to alienate those publics who are not yet online.