Steve Schultze on the Convergence of Pop Culture and Political Action as it Creates a New, Networked Form of Participatory Democracy

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I chose to listen to this February 9 discussion because it seemed to align perfectly with the topics in our class.

Interestingly, it turned out to be a primer for the Beyond Broadcast 2007 Conference that took place on February 24.

As such, it was both a discussion of the topic and a rough overview of how the topic would be discussed during the conference.

  • What was most striking to me was that the presentation was more a series of questions than anything else:
    • What does it mean to turn public broadcasting into something more interactive?
    • How is the changing media reshaping the way we participate in democracy?
    • How can we engage as citizens in a new way?
  • And, most importantly:
    • Does an increasingly participatory pop culture mean that people are now better prepared with the tools of citizenship, such that our democracy will grow increasingly participatory?

The talk was very interesting and exciting, with numerous examples of people on YouTube and Facebook getting more involved in the community, and then having political things to say as well. By being involved in the community already, they had the tools available to get heard on the political issues.

But, I came away from the talk with two major concerns:

  • 1) The basic requirement for citizen participation used to be, simply, literacy. But, as we create more online tools by which people can be involved in the community, or in a participatory democracy, we lay a higher baseline of what skills are required to be a citizen. As more and more culture, both pop and political, is moving online into YouTube, Facebook, and blogs, the people who are not technologically comfortable with those environments are being sidelined. This seems to imply that older people and poorer people will have less access to the national community than younger people with enough money and tech savvy to engage with different internet formats. This is especially a concern as even traditional media outlets begin to consolidate and rely on newer types of media. It seems like, by creating more ways in which some groups can engage as citizens, we have forced other groups to become lesser citizens.
  • 2) Schultze began by saying that this year's Conference was similar to last year's, but would build on it. Then the discussion progressed, with examples and stories and questions. At the end of the discussion, John Palfrey spoke up to say that the participants in the conference should be sure to look at previous discussions, so that they can find a way to move the dialogue forward. This was interesting to me, because this is such an interesting topic that it is easy to get engaged in it and excited about it and discuss what it's doing and what can be done. It's fun to look at particular YouTube videos and say how they are examples of people who were involved in pop culture getting involved in politics. But, it takes an extra step to do the background reading and to see what's been said before and to really make sure you are adding to the pot of ideas about this topic. I like thinking about this both because this field, though new and exciting, does require that extra step, and also because it seems to be an allegory for the new online media itself. it is easy for people to get excited about topics and post about them. But it is more difficult for those people to do their homework and make sure that what they post is an informed opinion. This is a major challenge that Web 2.0 will confront.