It was my great honor to be invited to make a spotlight presentation for the Chinese Internet Research Conference held at Hong Kong Polytech University this year! Thanks to David Herold, the organizers, and the steering committee for the flattering and daunting task! I still vividly remember that in 2007, I was also very fortunate to be given the top student paper when CIRC was held in Texas A&M hosted by Randy Kluver. Now seven years later, I ask myself what better I can offer to the community. I am not sure whether I have become a better researcher but at least, I am no longer alone. This time I have two fabulous collaborators, Dai Jia and Yang Tian, both from Tsinghua University. Their diligent working attitude and generous support have been the most critical reason why the paper is all possible.
I opened the presentation with an example of China's current first lady, Peng Liyuan. While the international society sees Peng as the first ever Chinese first lady who can rival Obama's Michelle, many Chinese know Peng as a popular star. She has appeared in the first ever Spring Festival Gala and since then, her songs have been hits in China. Some media reports praise her for enhancing the national image by smiling and posing to the cameras. And for many Chinese, the fact that we know her, or her voice, so well has brought a sense of familiarity to the new leadership. Both the internal and external roles Peng has played in China's political life have every thing to do with her life of being a popular singer.
I continued saying that this is definitely not just a Chinese case. The blurring boundary between popular culture and politics has been witnessed around the world. This observation has brought some scholars a great deal of uneasiness. Popular culture turns people from rational citizens to passive spectators, who watch their favorite stars preform but make no actions themselves. They may also become fanatic followers, who blindly do whatever their idols ask them to do. The fascination with celebrities makes citizens pay more attention to superficial qualities such as how one looks or how one speaks, and ignore the substantial criteria of being a politician such as experience, policy ideas, and visions.
However, this worry is nothing new. As early as in the Ancient years in China, poets (popular singers at that time) already used poems (popular songs at that time) to mock and criticize the emperors and their empires. I argue that what we should worry about isn't whether popular culture is good or bad for politics (because politics is never simply good or bad). What we should worry about is why we still know so little about popular culture and politics, the endless seeking for pleasure, the strong desire for emotions, the structures of feeling! I argue that it is because our theoretical perspectives to examine politics are limited. One idealistic perspective sees everyday politics as deviant cases from the ideal model of democracy, such as rational debate indicated in Habermasian public sphere. Another realistic but a bit cynical perspective sees politics as power competition. It is all about exchange of interests (e.g., Bourdieu's theory of capitals). It is my argument that we should look at politics as performance. If we take this perspective, our focus is no longer on what is right and what is wrong. Politics is a matter of aesthetics and taste. We should ask, what is preferred, what is enjoyed, what is appreciated. We also would not see politics as a battle between the powerful and the powerless. How does the powerful repress the powerless, how does the powerless fight against the powerful. Instead, we talk about a relationship of performers vs. audiences. The dynamics of this relationship is much more subtle and complicated than simply being a competition among powers. Think about it: A show is not a show without audiences.
If we see politics as performance, we may ask why celebrities want to perform politics. An obvious reason is to say celebrities use these political issues to keep their names in news. But why news? Why not the list of parliament members? It is because the importance of mediation is unprecedented nowadays. Although popular culture has always been a part of political communication, what marks our age is the extreme importance of mediation. We now have celebrities who are famous for being famous. They have no distinctive background, they have no outstanding achievement, they are not even pretty. Think about Furong Jiejie. What has made them so well known is the repeated exposure in media coverage.
I concluded the theoretical part of this presentation with a research agenda, dictated by the perspective of politics as performance. I ask:
Although there is another methodological point I made about network analysis, I hope readers can stop at the theoretical points and think about how a perspective of politics as performance could inform our inquiry about Chinese Internet. A digital copy of the presentation is not posted in response to the conference audiences' concern of leaking privacy information of the celebrities and their followers. You are always welcome to write to me for the slides!
Our special issue on "Youth, ICTs and Civic Engagement in Asia" is published in International Communication Gazette!!! Thanks to my co-editor and project head Emmanuel Lallana, and dear collaborators Clarissa David, Mohammad Sahid Ullah, P. Vigneswara Ilavarasan, and Joanne Lim! Speical thanks to the editor, manager, and proofreader of this journal too. They are all so professional that this issue gets published smoothly and timely. Highly recommend my colleagues to submit to this journal!
You can download the entire issue HERE!
A table of content is found here.
The “Youth, ICTs, and Political Engagement in Asia” project spanned over three years from 2009 to 2012 and officially closed on November 15, 2012. The five-country (Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, India, Bangladesh) comparative study was funded by International Development Research Center, Canada through ideacorp, the Philippines, after a competitive review process. A grant of SGD 170,000 was utilized to conduct 143 in-depth interviews and 41 focus group discussions. About 35 researchers were recruited, trained, and organized to contribute to this project. The project has been presented as a panel at the 19th Asian Media Information and Communication (AMIC) conference and the 2012 conference of International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR).
We have completed an administrative report on this three-year journey we have taken part in. The process has been anything but comfortable, expected, or business as usual. We took great pain in detailedly documenting this process and hope that our experience would add into the practical wisdom about working in this region. For example, one sad loss is that we were unable to sustain a research partnership in Sri Lanka, a country that I set my own feet in and has inspired me tremendously. Although this administrative report would not be counted in any research institutes as academic publications, it nevertheless provides a rare account of doing research in developing countries and its various challenges. If you are wondering how tough a researcher's job could be, please click here.
When the project started, Noynoy was still the son of Corazon and had little interest in contesting for the president. He was still free enough to participate in the anniversory event held by one of our Philippine partners. One blogger journalist asked a question about his hairstyle and he was not annoyed at all. Now the then fresh face in the Philippines politics became the 15th President. It is hard not to think that the young activists we have interviewed would become someone important enough to reset the trend and open up a new era of Asian history. One of our responsibilities is to articulate such potential based on what young activists themselves have told us and envisioned their future. Our Filipino collaborator, Dr. Clarissa David and I co-authored a short piece on the significant trends of digital activism among Asian youth and presented the findings at the CeDem Asia conference held in Singapore last year. Our presentation slides can be viewed here. The short reflection is now available online here.
Last but not the least, our academic outputs are forthcoming as a special issue in International Communication Gazette. Each of the five countries produced a focused paper on the most salient aspects of youth activism through ICTs found in their country. You will expect to see them out in March/April this year. But we have done much more than the five papers. Each of the five countries also compiled a background report of the very basic information of the country, including youth population, ICT penetration rates, participation policies, media policies, youth policies, development of new media, and political culture and climate. These reports can be found here.
I was invited to deliver a keynote lecture for the 22nd International Youth Forum in Seoul, organized by The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and The National Council of Youth Organizations in Korea. It was a great opportunity for me to ponder on what I have done in the last three years when trying to run a six-country comparative research project. I really did not want to lecture my audiences as they probably have heard much in school. The four words in the title are among the most meaningful to me in the recent years. It is a speech that targets myself as well.
The two sections on Change and Youth are presenting the factual observations I had during my research trips. The last two on Failure and Excellence tried to convey a message: Excellence does not require success and heading to a highly possible failure is a brave choice that already indicates excellence.
Allow me to insert an excerpt here:
"Alright. It seems that failure is a given fact and success is only the beautiful scenery we enjoy on our way to greater failure. So what are we trying to achieve here? What are we challenging ourselves to get? What are we risking our comfort for? If it is neither success nor failure, what is it?
It is excellence.
Excellence, by definition, means the fact or state of excelling. To excel is to surpass the ordinary standards. As long as we are trying to surpass what have been achieved by either others or ourselves, we are excelling or we are headed towards excellence. A sportsman excels when she breaks her own record. A student excels when she learns new knowledge. A politician excels when she speaks for the neglected. Excellence is different from success because it is more about your own pursuit than conforming to how others judge you. It is you who decides what to excel, how to excel, and when to stop. As long as a person excels in her own regard, we should show our full respect."
I truly thank my colleague Catherine Candano for reviewing the manuscript and giving me feedback.
A full manuscript can be found here.
Recently Prof. Yang Guobin listed eight books on new media and China published since 2010. The list is here. He mentioned that there were at least eight books on the same topic published before 2009. I wonder what the eight are and send a help request to my academic friends all over the world. Here are what I found so far. I would love to complete the list if you find any books missing.
-------------Books that exclusively focus on China and ICTs-----------------------
China in the information age : Telecommunications and the dilemmas of reform / Milton Mueller, Zixiang Tan.
Westport, Conn. : Praeger published with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., 1997.
1Chinese Reform and the Information Economy
2Channeling Growth into the National Hierarchy: The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications
3Socialist Competition: Lian Tong and the Golden Projects
4Privatization, with Chinese Characteristics
5Controlling the Computer: China Confronts the Internet
6Trade and Foreign Investment
7Conclusion: Principles and Scenarios
Telecommunications and development in China / edited by Paul S.N. Lee.
Cresskill, N.J. : Hampton Press, 1997.
1Telecommunications and Development: An Introduction / Paul S. N. Lee
2Learning From the Evolution of Telecommunications in the Developed World / Benjamin J. Bates
3A History of Telecommunications in China: Development and Policy Implications / Zhou He
4The Political Economy of the Communication System in China / Leonard L. Chu
5Uneven Development of Telecommunications in China / Paul S. N. Lee
6Telecommunications and Development in Shanghai: A Case Study / Jianguo Zhu
7China's Use of the Internet: A Revolution on Hold / Bryce T. McIntyre
8China's Satellite Technology: Developments, Policies, and Applications / Junhao Hong
9The China-Hong Kong Relationship in Telecommunications / Michael Zhaoxu Yan
10The Beginning of a New Era: Privatization of Telecommunications in Taiwan / Georgette Wang, Fan-Tung Tseng
11China's Telecommunications: Options and Opportunities / John Ure
12The Impact of Foreign Linkages on Telecommunications and Development in China / Zixiang (Alex) Tan
13Creating a Telecommunications Free Trade Zone in Greater China / Milton Mueller
You've got dissent! : Chinese dissident use of the Internet and Beijing's counter-strategies / Michael Chase, James Mulvenon.
Santa Monica, CA : RAND, National Security Research Division Center for Asia Pacific Policy , 2002.
Ch. 1Political use of the Internet in China
Ch. 2Government Counterstrategies
China and the Internet : politics of the digital leap forward / edited by Christopher R. Hughes and Gudrun Wacker.
London; New York : RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.
Introduction: China's digital leap forward / Christopher R. Hughes, Gudrun Wacker
1ICTs in China's development strategy / Xiudian Dai
2Internet growth and the digital divide: implications for spatial development / Karsten Giese
3The Internet and censorship in China / Gudrun Wacker
4Network convergence and bureaucratic turf wars / Junhua Zhang
5(Re-)Imagining 'Greater China': Silicon Valley and the strategy of siliconization / Ngai-Ling Sum
6What's in a name? China and the Domain Name System / Monika Ermert, Christopher R. Hughes
7Fighting the smokeless war: ICTs and international security / Christopher R. Hughes
Civil society and Internet revolutions in China / Tai Zixue
Ann Arbor, Mich. : UMI, 2004.
Chinese cyberspaces : technological changes and political effects / edited by Jens Damm and Simona Thomas.
Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York : Routledge, 2006.
Introduction / Jens Damm and Simona Thomas
-- Government policy and political control over China's Internet / Eric Harwit and Duncan Clark
-- In the crossfire of demands : Chinese news portals between propaganda and the public / Johan Lagerkvist
-- Comrade to comrade networks : the social and political implications of peer-to-peer networks in China / Michael Chase, James Mulvenon, and Nina Hachigian
-- China's e-policy : examples of local e-government in Guangdong and Fujian / Jens Damm
-- Industrialization supported by informatization : the economic effects of the
-- Internet in China / Xie Kang
-- Net business : China's potential for a global market change / Simona Thomas
Historicizing online politics : telegraphy, the Internet, and political participation in China / Zhou Yongming.
Stanford : Stanford University Press, c2006.
1Telegraphy, culture, and policymaking
2Telegraphy, newspapers, and public opinion
3Telegraphy, political participation, and state control
4Public telegrams and nationalist mobilizations
5Telegraph power : textual and historical contexts
6China and the Internet : proactive development and control
7Negotiating power online : the party state, intellectuals, and the Internet
8Living on the cyber border : Minjian online political writers in China
9Informed nationalism : military Web sites in Chinese cyberspace
The Internet in China : cyberspace and civil society / Zixue Tai.
New York : Routledge, 10/2006.
Chinese Cyber Nationalism: Evolution, Characteristics, and Implications / Wu Xu
Lanham : Lexington Books, c2007
-- Evolution: Enlightenment in the ivory tower
-- Say no to Indonesia's anti-Chinese riot
-- Sino-U.S. cyber wars
-- Post 9/11 transition of priority
-- Direct confrontations with Japan
-- Definitions: Chineseness
-- Cyber public sphere
-- Chinese nationalism
-- Chinese cyber sphere
-- Cyber nationalism
-- Chinese cyber nationalism
-- Reflections: Key players
-- Policy makers
-- General online public
Technological empowerment : the Internet, state, and society in China / Yongnian Zheng.
Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, c2007.
Politics of technological empowerment: science vs. democracy
-- Information technology, nation-state building, and social movement
-- Regulatory regime and political control
-- The Internet, political liberalization, and political democratization
-- The Internet, civic engagement, and public distrust
-- Interaction strategies, collective action, and political consequences
-- Information technology, state-society relations, and political changes
The Internet and rural development in China : the socio-structural paradigm / Jinqiu Zhao.
Bern : Peter Lang AG, 2008.
China's information and communications technology revolution : social changes and state responses / edited by Xiaoling Zhang and Yongnian Zheng.
Abingdon, Oxon [England]; N.Y., NY: Routledge, 2009.
1Historical imagination in the study of Chinese digital civil society / Guobin Yang
2Dancing thumbs: mobile telephony in contemporary China / Zhenzhi Guo, Mei Wu
3Regulating e gao : futile efforts of recentralization? / Bingchun Meng
4In the name of good governance: e-government, Internet pornography and political censorship in China / Guoguang Wu
5Chinese intellectuals and the Internet in the formation of a new collective memory / Junhua Zhang
6From "foreign propaganda" to "international communication": China's promotion of soft power in the age of information and communication technologies / Xiao Ling Zhang
7Web engineering in the Chinese context: "let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend" / Kieron O'Hara
8The political cost of information control in China: the nation-state and governance / Yongnian Zheng
The power of the Internet in China : citizen activism online / Guobin Yang.
New York : Columbia University Press, 2009.
1Online activism in an age of contention
2The politics of digital contention
3The rituals and genres of contention
4The changing style of contention
5The business of digital contention
6Civic associations online
7Utopian realism in online communities
8Transnational activism online
Jack Linchuan Qiu (2009). Working-Class Network Society: Communication Technology and the Information Have-Less in Urban China. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
--------------------Books that contain chapters on China and ICTs--------------------
Asia.com : Asia encounters the internet / edited by K.C. Ho, Randolph Kluver, and Kenneth C.C. Yang.
London ; New York : RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.
1Asia encounters the Internet / K. C. Ho, Randolph Kluver, Kenneth C. C. Yang
2The state of Internet use in Asia / Tim Beal
3Catching up and falling behind: inequality, IT, and the Asian diaspora / Anthony P. D'Costa
4Cyberspace, surveillance, and social control: the hidden face of the Internet in Asia / David Lyon
5Global technology meets local environment: state attempts to control Internet content / Carolyn Penfold
6Piracy, open source, and international intellectual property law / Debora Halbert
7From real to virtual (and back again): civil society, public sphere, and the Internet in Indonesia / Merlyna Lim
8Malaysiakini.com and its impact on journalism and politics in Malaysia / James Chin
9Who is setting the Chinese agenda? The impact of online chatrooms on party presses in China / Xiguang Li, Qin Xuan, Randolph Kluver
10Clicking for votes: assessing Japanese political campaigns on the web / Leslie M. Tkach-Kawasaki
11The Tamil diaspora, Tamil militancy, and the Internet / Shyam Tekwani
12Construction and performance of virtual identity in the Chinese Internet / Karsten Giese
13Opening a Pandora's box: the cyber activism of Japanese women / Junko R. Onosaka
14Support and spewing: everyday activities of online Hindu groups / K. S. Arul, Maragatha Muthu Selvan
15Communication and relationships in online and offline worlds: a study of Singapore youths / Waipeng Lee, Brenda Chan
Open networks, closed regimes : the impact of the Internet on authoritarian rule / Shanthi Kalathil, Taylor C. Boas.
Washington, D.C. : Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, c2003.
Ch. 1The Conventional Wisdom: What Lies Beneath?
Ch. 2Wired for Modernization in China
Ch. 3Channeling a "Limited" Resource in China
Ch. 4Catching Up and Cracking Down in Singapore, Vietnam, and Burma
Ch. 5Technology and Tradition in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt
Ch. 6Beyond Blind Optimism
Media and cultural transformation in China / Haiqing Yu.
Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY : Routledge, 2009.
Prof Maria Kozhevnikov from Psychology and I are co-teaching a course the first time this semester. The title was inherited from Prof Byungho Park (KAIST Business school) when he was still with CNM and proposed this module. I have consulted Prof Shyam Sundar's courses on media psychology extensively and I would like to thank him to make all his syllabi available online. I also learned a lot from my colleague Prof Hichang Cho to organize this graduate level seminar. Therefore, the reading list I am attaching here is by all means a collective product. I post it here in hope of getting comments from other teachers/students who are interested in this emerging interdisciplinary field and would love to know more about good readings especially with regards to virtual environment and distributed cognition.
This module represents quite well my recent interest in new media psychology (e.g., needs) and behavior (e.g., multitasking). What drives me to search for more interpretative frameworks is the simple fact that we are now almost unable to tell in which moments the media are influencing audiences or the users are controlling the media. It is no longer relevant to ask what media do to audiences or what audiences do to media. The two actors, users and artifacts, are constantly and immediately doing things to each other. Another interesting take of this module is that although the title puts cognition in the first place, the content reflects a deep dissatisfaction with cognitive science and its focus on human minds. A paradigm shift that seems to come out is the theorization of context and its philosophical ground that sees human actors as fundamentally bounded by their environments. However, it does not mean that we shall give up the effort to study cognition. It is only that cognition does not only reside in human brains. Believe me, this shift is anything but an easy change of viewpoint. I spent (and will spend) much time debating with my students on this shift because it seems so "soulless" to put "things" at the same level as "people" in terms of agency. Well, let us see whether a soulless search can lead to the discovery of human condition, the conditions under which we are being human.
Suppe, F. The structure of scientific theories. University of Illinois Press. (Read: pp. 135-151 (b) Kuhn)
Harrison, S., Tatar, D., & Sengers, P. (2007). The three paradigms of HCI. http://people.cs.vt.edu/~srh/Downloads/TheThreeParadigmsofHCI.pdf
Walther, J. B., Gay, G., & Hancock, J. T. (2005). How do communication and technology researchers study the Internet? Journal of Communication, 55, 632-657.
Methodology - experiments
Shadish, W. R., Cook, T. D., & Campbell, D. T. (2002). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for generalized causal inference. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (Read: Ch. 1 & 8)
Mitchell, M.L. and J.M. Jolley. (2007). Research Design Explained, 6th edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. (Read: Ch. 11).
Walther, J. B. (2001). Is a picture worth a thousand words? Photographic images in long-term and short-term computer-mediated communication. Communication Research, 28(1), 105-134.
Methodology – cognitive ethnography
Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Read Ch. 1 introduction)
Suchman, L. A. (1992). Plans and situated actions: The problem of human machine communication. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Read Ch. 6 cases and methodology).
Bodker, S. (1996). Applying activity theory to video analysis: How to make sense of video data in HCI. In B. A. Nardi (Ed). Context and consciousness: activity theory and human-computer interaction, pp. 147-174. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Information Processing Paradigm
Proctor, R. W. & Vu, K. L. (2009). The Cognitive Revolution at Age 50: Has the Promise of the Human Information-Processing Approach Been Fulfilled? International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, v. 25, p. 729- 784.
Miller, G. A. (2003). The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, v. 7, pp. 141- 144.
Mayer, R. (2001). Multimedia Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 14.
Rockwell, S. C. & Singleton, L. A. (2007). The Effect of the Modality of Presentation of Streaming Multimedia on Information Acquisition. Media Psychology, 9, 179-191.
Oviatt, S., Coulston, R., & Lunsford, R. (2004). When do we interact multimodally?: Cognitive load and multimodal communication patterns. Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Multimodal Interfaces (ACM), 129–136.
Virtual environments as new media
Stanney, K. & Zyda, M. (2002). Virtual Environments in the 21st century. InStanney, K. (Ed.), Handbook of Virtual Environments: Design, Implementation, and Application, pp. (1-14). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Zimmer, M. (2010). Web search studies: Multidisciplinary perspectives on Web search engines. In J. Hunsinger, L. Klastrup, & M. Allen (Eds.), International Handbook of Internet Research. London: Springer.
Pan, B., Hembrooke, H., Joachims, T., Lorigo, L., Gay, G., and Granka, L. (2007). In Google we trust: Users' decisions on rank, position, and relevance. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12 (3). Retrieved on January 8, 2009 from
Wirth, W., Bocking, T., Karnowski, V., & von Pape, T. (2007). Heuristic and Systematic Use of Search Engines. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12 (3). Retrieved on January 8, 2009 from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue3/wirth.html
Sundar, S. S. (2007). Social psychology of interactivity in human-website interaction. In A. N. Joinson, K. Y. A. McKenna, T. Postmes & U-D. Reips (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology (pp. 89-104). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Chung, D. S. & Yoo, C. Y. (200?). Audience Motivations for Using Interactive Features: Distinguishing Use of Different Types of Interactivity on an Online Newspaper. Mass Communication & Society, 11: 375-397.
Sundar, S. S., Kalyanaraman, S., & Brown, J. (2003). Explicating website interactivity: Impression-formation effects in political campaign sites. Communication Research, 30 (1), 30-59.
Nardi, B. A. (1996). Studying context: A comparison of activity theory, situated action models, and distributed cognition. In B. A. Nardi (Ed). Context and consciousness: activity theory and human-computer interaction, pp. 69-102. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Suchman, L. A. (1992). Plans and situated actions: The problem of human machine communication. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Read Ch. 4 situated action).
Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Read Ch. 7 through the supermarket)
Zhang, W., Jeong, S. H., & Fishbein, M. (2010). Situational factors competing for attention: The interaction effect between multitasking and sexual explicitness on TV recognition. Journal of Media Psychology, 22(1), 2-13.
Spink, A., Park, M., Jansen, B. J., & Pedersen, J. (2006). Multitasking during Web search sessions. Information Processing and Management, 42,264–275
Foehr, U. G. (2006). Media multitasking among American youth: Prevalence, predictors, and pairings. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Perry, M. (2003). Distributed Cognition. In J. Carroll (Ed.) HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks (pp. 193 – 200). Moran Kauffmann Publishers: San Francisco, CA.
[The following is my complete reply to an interview request from the Straits Time in August 2009. I have no idea whether they published my opinions and if not, it is all right. I still appreciate that they pushed me to think of what I am doing days and nights and put them into some writing that tries to make a bit sense to general readers.]
The first thing we have to realize is that youth today lives on new media such as cellphones, facebook, youtube, twitter, etc. By saying “live on”, I mean they not only use new media as sources of information, which is a role that traditional media often play, but also make things happen in the sphere of new media platforms. It is no longer clear that whether activism refers to online or offline activities. Both could be considered as actions that citizens can take towards certain ends. For example, a protest in the speakers’ corner is treated as political activism. Now you can sign an online petition on the same issue and it could be treated as activism as well. Since new media become an integral part of youth’s life, it is natural that they get engaged in various activities through new media. If everyone of your friends is on Facebook and joins a group, it is very likely that you will join the group as well.
In a global context, living on new media or living with new media has been well documented in the US (see Mimi Ito’s report “Living and learning with new media”) and the UK (see Sonia Livingstone’s book “Young people and new media”).
Second, a traditional theory considers three factors as crucial to participation in activism: 1. The opportunities – new media provide many opportunities to get to know about various causes (e.g., google) and to really contribute to such causes (e.g., online donation). But we also have to acknowledge that many governments, including Singapore, now try to open more channels for youth to be active. Governments in the US and the UK are often concerned about the relatively lower rate among youth in terms of participating in traditional forms of political activities (e.g., voting). They want to engage youth in ways that are consistent with their life style. New media is one key component of their life style. A good example is how Obama tried to reach youth by youtube videos. The Singapore government recently further opened up space for civil society to initiate social changes. Some social service groups are encouraged and supported by the government. This means the opportunities are more available and visible than before. 2. The motivations – as I mentioned before, the motivations of getting involved in activism may be higher if most of people in your social networks are doing that. Social media such as facebook and twitter give users a very good tool to monitor the activities going on within their social networks. Such tools are often strong enough to organize collective actions, too. Both factors may contribute to higher efficacy and interest, which are important motivations that influence participation. 3. The ability – the tool function of new media should not be ignored because it empowers youth to make a difference. For instance, making an online video that favors a cause and getting tons of audiences viewing it are differences that youth can clearly see.
Third, the global trend of new media activism can influence local youth. The Iran Revolution on twitter, the Obama campaign on the internet, the blog influence on Malaysian elections, and so on. These are all good examples that may inspire local youth.
In short, Singapore youth now has the ability to make a difference in the social sphere. Whether they can make a difference to policy-making, it depends on both the government’s degree of acceptance (which seems increasing) and the motivation of a big enough crowd who is dedicated to the cause.
Are the differences between traditional media and new media due to the level of trust, bias, and informativeness? Let us look at the 2007 Oxford Internet Institute survey. Among Internet users, Internet is a bit more reliable than TV (6.8 out of a 10-point scale vs. 6.7) and more reliable than newspapers (5.8). Among Internet non-users, TV is the most reliable medium (6.3) but Internet is rated the same as newspaper (5.7). Is it because Internet users are mostly wild wild heads who hate anything from the Easy Easy East, aka, the traditional world? Internet users score higher than non-users in confidence in the government (!), scientists, and not surprisingly, people on the Internet. They have the same level of confidence as non-users in doctors and people in the country. Only slightly lower than non-users in confidence in people they know (3.8 out of a 5-point scale vs. 3.9).
Are new media less informative than traditional media? When rating the importance of different media for information, both users and non-users choose talking to other people as the most important channel (3.7 out of a 5-point scale). The gap lies in Internet as information source. Users rate Internet almost as important as talking to others (3.6) whereas non-users treat Internet as the least important medium (1.7). So what can we conclude? It depends on who you are talking to. Informativeness is a perception measure rather than a factual measure.
How about the places "which are more considered, more moderated, where people put their names down and identify themselves"? Are they seldom seen online? I have no answer to this question. We have to do a comprehensive content analysis in order to have an answer. What I can say is the Internet and public sphere have been paired up for a long time. Researchers have witnessed many successful trials.
If there is a fatal critique to my discussions above, it will be "your data are not from Singapore!" Yes, you are right. But are there any such data? Let me know...
Mr Lee noted there will always be a role for traditional media to present trusted, unbiased and informed opinions even if some may feel that the information generated by traditional media is rather tame compared to what’s online.
“There is a place called the Wild Wild West and there are other places which are not so wild. And the new media, some of it are Wild West and anything goes, and people can say anything they want, and tomorrow (they) take a completely contrary view,” said Mr Lee.
Acknowledging that “that is just the way the medium is”, he added: “But even in the Internet, there are places which are more considered, more moderated, where people put their names down and identify themselves. And there is a debate which goes on and a give-and-take, which is not so rambunctious but perhaps more thoughtful.” That said, he noted traditional media has seen its viewership and readership numbers going up.
A bloggers' association will be launched in Singapore. This non-profit association "aims to raise the profile of bloggers and promote, protect as well as educate its members". The association has also received media invites to cover events.
To me, this effort is one that tries to recentralize the net. The decentralized net has excited many people as it may refuse one authority, one perspective, or one voice. Netizens are connected through a loosely organized network, which is in contrast to both the hierarchical structure and the market structure. Different from the rigid structure of hierarchy, there are no fixed centers in networks. Collective action may emerge from anywhere as long as the causes it advocates attract enough people. What is often ignored is the difference between the market structure and the network structure. Free market is supposed to be totally decentralized. Buyers and sellers get in touch with each us purely based on needs and offers. The price system, according to Sunstein (see Infotopia), is the only mechanism that connects actors in market. Network is thus situated between market and hierarchy. Although Sunstein entertains the idea of using a price system to organize online behaviors (e.g., the reputation system on ebay or the recommendation system on myspace), netizens engage in other fashions, as much as if not more, in the market fashion. Look at facebook.
The point is, the net has never been completely decentralized. Rather, it seems to support different modes of interaction if we look at different applications. Various efforts try to make the net even more centralized. Bloggers' association is one. It creates convenience for the government to address bloggers as one section of constituency as if they share a common interest. It also provides a touch point for the commercial forces to access the mysterious and invisible internet users.
One may argue that it is impossible to put all bloggers into one association because there are millions of them. It is like having an association of voters. However, I think it is possible if we define bloggers as those netizens who express a public appeal to the rights of being bloggers. Political activists are always few compared to the silent majority. In a small country like Singapore, it may not be that hard to organize blogger activists into one association. The last question is, do all blogger activists in Singapore want to join? See this...
Association of Bloggers (Singapore) : Singabloodypore
Update: Feb 03, 2009
I now actually expect to see a successful collective action among bloggers. Whether it has to take the format of association, I am not sure. But the news piece below really shows the key problem of this association. Whether it has a cause that alludes bloggers and a structure that fits the way blogsphere is organized.
This afternoon, sitting on the small deck of Gecko, surrounded by the warm and humid air, hidden in the mild noise, I got myself ready for the long-delayed conversation. Three law professors, Lawrence Lessig, Cass Sunstein, and Yochai Benkler, are together to talk about blogs...through their writings. :)
Here is my record of this conversation. Lessig is L, Sunstein is S, Benkler is B and me is me.
S: Blogs are an unlikely venue for Habermasian public sphere because of fragmentation and polarization.
L: Whether blogs democratize should be examined within the constraint of their codes / architecture.
S: Alright. The codes for blogs are like-minded groups that are isolated from each other.
B: No. It is not true. The architecture of blogs is the power law distribution in general and the long tail distribution within like-minded groups.
Me: What is the power law distribution?
B: You guys should read Science and Nature. It means that most people still visit a few superstar websites. So fragmentation is not a problem.
Me: Even though people go to the same websites such as google.com, they could selectively choose information that echo their opinions. At the level of individual exposure, it is still fragmented.
S: I agree.
Me: But selective exposure itself has to be examined rather than being assumed. The first step of assuming preference for the like-mind might be wrong.
B: I agree. You have to provide empirical data.
Me: How does the long tail distribution help to prevent polarization?
B: It means no superstars can totally dominate a small world. Many low end sites are still connected to each other if you look at a smaller scale cluster.
Me: OK. So it prevents domination or centralization in small clusters. But how does it prevent fragmentation and polarization?
B: Well, it is actually that there is no fragmentation so there is no polarization.
L: The distributions you talked about could be changed, do you know? The codes that determine the dynamics are open to changes.
B: Oh yes. That is why we should pay close attention to how policy regulates the codes.
L: Yes, the constraints of law take advantage of codes to make cyberspace more regulatable. The government can interfere with the formation of the two distributions you mentioned.
B: But so far the government has a harder time to control cyberspace than mass media.
L: Are you sure? The government enjoys controls that they cannot have before. For example, it can even censor private communication.
Me: Probably we should not only use mass media as the benchmark. Other communication modes such as interpersonal comm. should be used as reference point, too.
I am an Associate Professor at Department of Communication and New Media, National University of Singapore.