"Sweeping the Globe": Appropriating Global Media Content Through Camera Phone Videos in Everyday Life.

Author:Ritter, Christian
Position::Report
 
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Introduction: Technological Convergence and the Aestheticization of Societies

With the development and dissemination of digital information and communication technology (ICT) and in particular the World Wide Web (WWW) in the 1990s, the possibilities for translocal communication in everyday life have greatly expanded. In 2000, the first commercial mobile phones with integrated cameras emerged on the market in Japan. Since then, camera phones have--together with other mobile cameras and webcam technology--enabled the simple and mobile production of audio-visual media. Even if the "digital divide" indicates that access to as well as use and impact of ICT must be evaluated differently in different countries and regions, camera phone videos have established themselves beyond industrialized countries as an everyday means of communication. This development can be seen, for example, in the connection between the rise of the "Arab Spring" and the appearance of "witness videos" (cf. Snowdon 2014) on video sharing platforms such as YouTube.

This technical and medial intertwining of communication goes hand in hand with altered references between practices, symbols and narratives of a global popular culture and local everyday cultures that the American media scholar Henry Jenkins describes as characteristic of today's "convergence culture." Jenkins stresses the coexistence of different contexts as a key feature of this socio-cultural change:

Convergence: A word that describes technological, industrial, cultural and social changes in the ways media circulates within our culture. [...] Perhaps most broadly, media convergence refers to a situation in which multiple media systems coexist and where media content flows fluidly across them. (Jenkins 2005, 282) Since the early days of the WWW, the communication options of digital ICT technology, in particular the possibility of translocal networking, has been associated with the idea that shared creativity and the collective development of (aesthetic) knowledge make new forms of social enabling possible. However, from an empirical point of view, such technical utopias have rarely been realized on an everyday level.

It is undisputed that in the course of the social-cultural changes that German sociologist Andreas Reckwitz has called "aesthetic capitalism" (Reckwitz 2012), and which have been promoted through the development and dissemination of digital cameras, more and more social actors have started to use the WWW to distribute their own photographs and videos. Empirical studies in Switzerland (Willemse et al. 2014, 34) and Germany (Busemann 2013, 395) point out, however, that not all such artefacts are shared via the infrastructure of the WWW. Our study on youth culture's use of camera phone videos in Switzerland, upon which this paper is based, shows similar results: the teenagers and young adults interviewed used distribution platforms such as YouTube only in exceptional cases to distribute their videos (Holfelder/Ritter 2013, 18; Holfelder/Ritter 2015, 31-33). This is not surprising if one considers that the simple possibility to produce and disseminate media content through the use of ICT does not necessarily mean that all young people (as suggested by the term "digital natives") actually act in a sociocultural or socioeconomic context, which promotes the self-confidence or the habitus to do so--or suddenly acquire it when the technology becomes available. Moreover, it also does not necessarily mean a lower level of digital literacy if young people do not automatically upload their films to the WWW. On the contrary, the opposite is in fact the case. Our interviews showed that youngsters are acutely aware of the fact that once videos have been put online it is almost impossible to remove them from the WWW. In this context, young men and women also take into consideration the people who feature in the films they record. This attitude is reflected in the following statement made by a 21-year-old trainee polytechnician:

Normally this is generally not so good for the colleague. One should actually coordinate with him if he gives permission to publish something. But the problem today is that everything stays in the net as soon as it is uploaded. [...] You cannot delete it definitively. (1) This digital literacy is, however, closely connected to knowledge and qualifications previously acquired by young people in their respective social contexts. This also applies to shared knowledge about which things should be filmed, how they should be filmed, and which aesthetic and formal qualities play an important role. Following this argument, an assumed persistence of social structures and practices--what we call the "long arm of 'real life'" (Schonberger 2000)--appears to be an appropriable approach for the analysis of ICT communications. As will be shown in this paper, the relationship of persistence and recombination in the process of socio-cultural change is of interest on two levels: in terms of the social structuring of communication and in the practices through which everyday communication is realized (cf. Schonberger 2015). Following Michel de Certeau (1984) as well as Henry Jenkins' concepts of "textual poaching," (1992) the study focused on the intermedial practices by which teenagers and young adults appropriate popular cultural symbols and narratives, but also the ICT and camera technology, for the construction and negotiation of identity. (2)

Vital in this process is the idea of the socio-technological "enabling potential" (3) of digital ICT technology for realizing media combinations (i.e. of image and sound) and intermedial references (i.e. reference to mediated role models) that in John Fiske's terms can lead to the development of "agency". (4) This understanding of media technology allows us the analysis of different forms of action and, thus, differentiatedy forms of socio-cultural change in the context of everyday communication. (5) Against this backdrop, we will discuss two key hypotheses from our study.

First we will show that processes of collective creativity do not take place primarily in the virtual environments of the WWW (i.e. in the joint production of media content "online") as much as they are mediated through them in the collaborative reception and production of digital photographs and videos face-to-face and "offline". We will show that such processes have both a translocal and a local dimension: translocal because symbols and narratives from the WWW are being appropriated at the same time in different places by different actors and in varying social, cultural and institutional contexts; and local, because processes of appropriation take place under specific spatial and social conditions that decide (among other things) how, by whom and with which intentions audio-visual media content is produced and (possibly) distributed on the WWW. Thus, the transcultural dimension of media appropriation is addressed. Following Wolfgang Welsch's concept of transculturality, symbols from the global media context pass through classical cultural boundaries quite naturally (Welsch 1999, 197).

Second we intend to show that content, space and technology are appropriated in a situation-based way by the use of camera phones and can be made productive for the development of "agency" (e.g. to demonstrate friendship, to foster social relationships, to aestheticize oneself or to experiment with body images and gender roles). However, these "offline" forms of empowerment in dealing with digital ICT and camera technology do not mean that in the creative process hegemonic ideas of social identity are automatically undermined. The examples we have looked at tend to indicate that society's interpellation for creativity contributes to a mode of subjectivation corresponding to "aesthetic capitalism" and, through this, existing stereotypes are rather updated than criticized.

From the perspective of a cultural media and technology studies approach, and based on videos collected in the field and on the WWW, we will show how global media content is appropriated in local contexts by teenagers and young adults and negotiated in the local context by means of filming with a camera phone, the joint viewing of these videos and--in some cases--their release on the WWW. One way to understand this appropriation in terms of the socio-cultural change associated with digital media is to take a look at the relationship between persistence and recombination, which--as model of cultural analyses--will be discussed in the following.

Persistence and Recombination: A Model for the Analysis of Cultural Practices in Socio-Cultural Change

In the theoretical concept of persistence and recombination, the appropriation of media content is not analyzed in terms of the assertion of something new, but primarily in terms of that which existed previously. It is about the interaction of persistence and recombination. This perspective emphasizes the antecedent, the persistence. It aims to explain the transformation from "the old" into "the new", or simply put, how "the old" is renewed. Importantly, the relationship between old and new, tradition and innovation, persistence and fading away is neither understood as dichotomy nor as dialectical interplay. This means that regardless of the changing technological conditions in which appropriation of social practices take place, existing socio-cultural practices persist, migrate or flow into the outwardly new phenomenon. Both in relation to the socio-cultural practices as well as to the connected existing social praxes, a number of moments of persistence and recombination are witnessed in the interplay between technology, internet-based media formats, and these practices and praxes. Those practices that then emerge under changed technical conditions but on the basis of the existing social structures and particular social practices to be reassembled or recombined...

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