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Wikipedia, Textual Impermanence, and Me (and “Egypt’s Media Ecology”)

December 4, 2013

wikipedia2One of the many things I love and hate about the Internet is its impermanence. The fixedness of texts is always suspect, and there are only limited ways to go back through the changes to discover the palimpsest of transformations by which the text you read three years ago on…say, Wikipedia, is transformed into another.

Okay, I don’t draw that example at random. About three years ago I visited Wikipedia among other sources for a set of notes I was putting together for myself on the concept of “media ecology.” I visited the entry today to discover two major changes:

First, the article now recognizes a “European” version of media ecology that derives from the work of the great Gregory Bateson, among others, which I recognize as cognate to how I use the term.

Second, I’m there. There’s a whole section derived from my paper “Egypt’s media ecology in a time of revolution.”

Who writes this stuff?

Anyway, I figure it may not last, so I’m reproducing it here:

International application and social media[edit]

Doctor Mark Allen Peterson of in the Department of Anthropology at Miami University published an article in the Summer of 2011 comparing the media ecology of 1970’s Iran to that in Egypt in 2011. The article, title “Egypt’s Media Ecology in a Time of Revolution”[42] looks at the difference that social media made in the Egyptian uprising and makes two observations: social media extends the “grapevine” network and that social media, despite the result of the uprising, completely changes the “mediascape” of Egypt. One dramatic difference between the two uprising noticed by Peterson is the ultimate position of the media of choice during each in the end. On the one hand, Iran’s news media, the primary source of information at that time, reverted back to its original role, while the Egyptian use of social media changed the media of choice for Egypt.

Peterson’s study compared his observations to that of William Beeman, who in 1984 published an essay, “The cultural role of the media in Iran: The revolution of 1978–1979 and after” [43] on the media ecology of Iran. Beeman’s ultimate conclusion of his review of the Iranian Revolution followed that of what you would expect to find from most media ecologist:

At times newly introduced mass media have produced revolutionary effects in the societal management of time and energy as they forged new spaces for themselves. Thus media are cultural forces as well as cultural objects. In operation, they produce specific cultural effects that cannot be easily predicted.(Beeman, 147)

Although there were many similarities between the Iranian and Egyptian revolutions, such as censorship in media, including newspaper and television, the one major difference was the availability of the internet and social media as a tool to spread messages and increase awareness in Egypt. Social media in 2011’s uprising was equivalent to the use of cassette tapes in Iran in the 1970’s. The tapes provided a way to spread information that could not be as easily censored and was repeatable through the country (Peterson, 5). The rise of social media helped free Egyptians from censorship of other media. In this case, the medium was the message, a message of freedom and by the Egyptian government’s attempt to also censor this medium, they only managed to spread the message further and faster:

Although we may never know the true impact, in fact it likely sped up the regime’s fall. In the absence of new technologies, people were forced to rely on traditional means of communication, including knocking on doors, going to the mosque, assembling in the street, or other central gathering places. Thomas Schelling won a Nobel prize in part for discovering that in the absence of information, people will coordinate by selecting a focal point that seems natural, special or relevant to them. Given the protests, Tahrir Square was the obvious focal point. By blocking the Internet, the government inadvertently fueled dissent and galvanized international support for the people of Egypt.(Bowman 2011)[44]

Sense 2011, leaders of the protest continue to utilize social media as a method to push democratic reform (Peterson, 4). According to Peterson the role of social media in Egypt is also evolving the political culture as even state figures are beginning to make announcements using social media rather than more traditional forms of media (Peterson, 5).

And here’s a screenshot:

WIKIPEDIA

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