New Media as a Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge

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New Media as a Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge

Erin T. Altman

21 March 2013

Abstract

 

Conceptualization of the nation-state has a geopolitical history in territorial definition. Defined by political borders, the nation-state is comprised of citizens and non-citizens. Regulated by national policy, national education systems, economy and (other state regulation), citizens and non-citizens have specific experiential boundaries within the nation-state. Fast-forward to the 21st-century, introduction of the Internet increased rapid global communication. Uniting experiential differences with cross-border commonalities, the institution of “New Media” allowed life spheres once bounded by the nation-state to thrive in a global community. In this vein of rapid and broadened communication, does New Media undermine political hegemony?

An epoch of globalized knowledge has intrigued geographers and political philosophers alike. The Internet’s spectrum of information is mediated by the formalized interest in communication studies, and reaches a point of practical convergence in the field of Communication Geography. Beginning through the discourse of globalization under the Association of American Geographers’ ‘Geography of the Global Information Society’ in the late 1990s, Communication Geography now represents phenomenal points of geographic and political intrigue. Dissemination of knowledge over a non-physical space indicates a differentiation in geopolitical power from that of the post-modern age of print media. The epoch of New Media signals a revision in philosophies of communication, geography and power.

New Media’s relationship with the Internet is a viral one; increased access to the Internet and subsequent Internet enlargement are aspects of New Media’s definition of being ‘new, unregulated content’ (Lister, 2003). Inexorability of New Media has gained the attention of geographers and political philosophers, situating the Internet as an entity ‘without boundaries, without limitations, except through state regulation of media.’ (Lister, ibid). New Media is a broad representation of this exponential production of knowledge, unto a platform which is controllable only through governmental intervention with citizens’ freedoms to information. Content that faces scrutiny and regulation includes pornography, intellectual property, and anti-social movements. New Media’s ethical dimension calls in to question the moral biases, societal pressures and most importantly- political agendas in the globalized community.

The globalized community is defined in this case as those who have infrastructural ability to allow Internet access. Establishment of this ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ relationship echoes the economic mapping of modern nation states, and substantiates the discussion about New Media geopolitical philosophy by outlining the actors. For the sake of giving primacy to New Media politics, rather than global inequities, the ‘Core’ represents those countries whose annual income per capita is higher than the annual cost of an Internet-capable device. Because of the significant difference in income distribution, it is unnecessary to determine the cost of this computer, rather the ‘peripheral’ countries can be outlined by those misfortuned by civil war, populations with 1/3 prevalence of HIV/AIDS, infant death above 50% and other development indicators outlined by the United Nations (2000). Geopolitical inactivity of ‘peripheral’ countries allows ‘core’ countries to enable the discourse surrounding New Media’s information society.

Positioning New Media as an ‘information society’ clarifies its internal discourse separate from that mediated by state-civil society relations. Bringing to light the state-civil society relationship as different from the global-New Media relationship requires the understanding of nation-states as maintaining hegemonic power. Given that the modern livelihood of any societal actor is defined by citizenship through state legibility (O’Tuathail, 1998), New Media represents a differing societal discourse in its allowance for society to remain anonymous from a hegemony. Signifying again the global, a-political aspect of New Media discourse, anonymity of expression is adverse to the legibility of print media. New Media’s exponential increase in communication, coupled with the significant transcendence of non-economic geographic borders, lends to an institution of power that is not the nation-state.

In defining the nation-state against New Media, there is a blatant primacy in their different situations of power (Hanafi, 2005). Reflecting on the resource struggle that established colonial relations, leading to modern-day borders of nation-states (Murphy, 2013), power is expressed over a given territory and over a given population. These two elements of capital, human and territory, suggest a physical embodiment to the nation-state. New Media, on another level, has no physical embodiment. Speculation by the Osmo Project (2008) about mapping New Media, so as to physically represent the ‘Geography of Internet Infrastructure’ proved to be a spatial model of network expansions. So to say, the map of New Media is impossible to represent cartographically, but does maintain a certain taxonomy of expansion. Using the Barbasi-Albert model of evolving networks, which was originally designed for the purpose of tracking military communications in the Second World War, Osmo Project represents the expansionary possibilities of the Internet as limitless. The geographies of nation-states remain steady until a phenomenon of upheaval, as opposed to New Media, which expands without physical boundaries. In the discourse of geopolitics, expansion is akin to power gains, because of the increase in territorial and human resources. Unlike geopolitics, New Media assumes no hegemonic desire for power. Given that geopolitics is etymologically relational- given the root of ‘politics’ in the Grecian division of men based on political affiliation- New Media is merely one actor against no others. Why, then, is New Media involved in the discourse of geopolitics, if it is not an inherently power-seeking institution, with no geographical territory, and with anonymity of societal involvement?

Describing the “constellations” of New Media as representative of globalizing forces, senior geopolitical philosopher Jürgen Habermas suggests that the communicative and geographic scope of New Media leads to political fragmentation. Habermas’s conversation about evolving identities and cultures within the nation-state are significant, due to their representation throughout the discovery of the Internet. Habermas recognizes the global forces of New Media as being overwhelmingly powerful of the nation-state; New Media’s transcendence of borders- omnipresence if you will- acts as a “cultural substrate of civil solidarity.” (Habermas, 2001.) Solidarity is used in Habermas’s conversations about changing geopolitical structures, to power lying increasingly in the hands of civil society, rather than with the state. Phenomenal separatisms highlight the increasing volatility of civil society’s solidarity, and are in a direct rebellion to the increased power of the state (Foucault, 1977). From the beginning of nation-state creation, the consolidation of internal power through citizenship and representation within a hegemonic vacuum has likewise increased the state-civil society bond. Foucault’s notion of rebellion in the face of increased power proves that civil society, although identifiable within the nation-state’s borders, begins to fraction. By centralizing the state hegemony, nation-states are disregarding the smaller substrates of civil society. New Media’s representation of these ‘cultural substrates’ encompasses the ability for members of global civil societies to communicate their alterity from the confines of state legibility- citizenship. This formalized understanding of New Media’s pressure on hegemony can be summed as a platform, which allows civil societies to communicate towards solidarity, which effectively fragments the consolidation of state power.

Defining the discourse of geopolitical theory in to the formal (theoretical), practical (implemented) and popular (societal) expertise, historian Paul Routledge has outlined the three analyses of New Media: the formal being the outside speculation, like this essay. The practical, being the regulated state policy regarding New Media. And finally, the popular, being civil society’s use of New Media. It is important to note here, that the popular is not a reaction to the regulation, but is a discourse within itself. Civil society is divided from hegemony of the state through the anonymity of New Media, which allows for the solidarity among actors. Expanding on solidarity as a popular discourse, the predictions of Habermas have become significant in the recent Arab Spring uprisings.

New Media gained an entirely greater geopolitical significance after the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring. University of Washington study, “The Project on Information Technology and Political Islam” (2011) quantifies the New Media traffic of popular democratic expressions leading up to the Tunisian revolution and subsequent Egyptian overthrow of President Mubarak. The study shows that conversations about liberty, democracy and freedom gained almost 80% of total viewership, and the taxonomy of expansion was proven through the civil society’s rebellion going viral between network clusters in just the week before any given Arab Spring uprising. University of Washington’s study is intriguing, because although touted as the ‘Arab Spring’, the uprisings had very little to do with each other. Egyptian feelings of tax oppression and Tunisian desire for furthered reputation did not exist within the same network clusters, yet the New Media usage patterns were parallel.  Leading the study was Professor Phillip Howard, who claimed that it was not a regional movement, but ‘circumstantial evidence of New Media’s ability to insight solidarity.’

More intrinsically, the solidarity of the New Media movement in the Arab Spring was through the creation of online communities and use of forums. Enabling civil society debate to occur outside the sphere of physical interaction within the state, New Media gave rise to less-geographical, more-ideological communities. In an interview with Egyptian friend and colleague, Omar Hagrass, who took part in both the ‘freedom-blogging’ and Egyptian uprisings, the interconnection between separatist groups through New Media was shocking; not only had Egyptian Computer Scientists created network clusters to divert state attention, but the networks created communities among separatists from the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, and the Ulster Nationalist movement in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. Described by renowned author Benedict Andersen as an ‘imagined community’, the New Media networking done by Egyptian, Mexican and Irish separatists had nothing to do with personal relationships, but instead an imagined kinship in their cause. (1991) Andersen’s prediction of globalized communication as a means to develop a certain consciousness away from that of the traditional nation-state oriented map is congruent with Habermas’s understanding of solidarity between civil society actors as a weakening of the state. New Media becomes a vehicle for shared experience, despite the geopolitical setting.

The anti-geopolitical use of New Media is concurrent to the post-Soviet evolution of geographic theory. Known formally as ‘critical’ or ‘feminist’ geopolitics, the movement for recognition of the intricacies of civil society dominate discourse and shed light on the access to shared experiences. Assuming that the state creation of citizenship creates an empirical definition between one group and another- effectively ‘othering’ them- shows the consolidation of state power in the territorializing of its’ citizens.  This power dynamic is known as the ‘Logic of Alterity,’ which suggests that unified identities are inevitably the hierarchical power. (Isin, 2007. Arendt, 1958.) The Logic of Alterity maintains that subdivision in civil society is seen as ‘wrong’ because of its implied danger to the normative power. The bond between state and civil society consolidations of power are approached monolithically from a macro- to micro-scale. As suggested by New Media’s increased capacity for communication, the state-civil society power is weakened in its normatively unbound allowance for subdivision.

Practically speaking, subdivision in society is increasingly unavoidable with ever-increasing flows of immigration, ideas and innovation. Subdivisions could be ignored, like in the extreme case of fascism, or subdivisions could be embraced under greater state regulation. In the case of the Arab Spring, subdivisions were stifled; New Media was blocked on Internet servers, or Internet itself would be entirely cut off from an area. When this occurred during the Palestinian riots for statehood from Israel in early 2012, the international reaction became an official UN movement towards the ‘Right to Internet Access’. Beginning in 2003, upon the introduction of a knowledge-based economy in Great Britain, the Internet became institutionalized by UN members as a significant expression of freedom. Pressure towards sanctions by the German and French governments (and later acting as leaders in the 2012 vote for Palestinian statehood) depicted a civil society subdivision that was actually favoured by the Social Democratic party leaders. German and French states had seen 8-15% more Palestinian refugees since the upswing in Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the mid-1990s (Human Rights Index, 2005), and despite their non-citizen status of asylum, their voices were clearly present in the decision of French and German ministers to the UN. Despite Palestine having the infrastructural and income capabilities for Internet access, Palestinian refugees were unable to connect to their families in a time of crisis, creating a heightened solidarity around immigrants and New Media discourse.

This hegemonic representation of a non-state civil society is based in the power of New Media itself. As a tool not only for the civil society actors, the state uses New Media to analyze changes in society, which could lead to possible separatism or other fractions of state power. Using New Media as a regulatory mechanism, the German and French governments issued an official Eurobarometer forum on the UN’s ‘Right to Internet Access’ (2011). The Eurobarometer, as the official European Union mediation of member states’ citizens’ feelings towards policy and livelihood, is a vehicle for the maintenance of relations between the state and civil society. The European Union (EU) is a supranational regional power, with a doctrine of supremacy over specific member state policy and is exactly the type of burgeoning power that Foucault described as piquing rebellion (1977). Foucault’s description of heightened power leading to heightened rebellion was a founding anti-geopolitical argument; the European Union stifles rebellion through institutions facilitating power-civil society discourse, such as the Eurobarometer. In fact, in an effort to reduce waste, the EU cut all publically distributed paper materials from its budget- leaving only one vehicle of representative democracy (outside of the national legislatures)- New Media.

Presence of the EU in New Media supersedes any other governmental body, because of it’s expansive “The EU and You” section for forum, information and response. Provided in all 27 recognized European languages, as well as Norwegian, Mandarin, Arabic and Japanese, “The EU and You” is a vehicle of power consolidation through civil society connection (Lister, 2003). This use of New Media by a regional economic hegemony is telling of New Media’s coalescence of communities that that never existed before. If we assume that interest in the EU’s New Media campaign comes from the representative desire from these member states, can we also assume that the representation is being fulfilled?

In the case of Palestinian representation to the UN, Germany and France had already written the ‘Internet as a Human Right’ proposals before the Israeli stripping of Palestine’s Internet access. To this extent, the leading question in the Eurobarometer poll read, “Does freedom to access and contribute to the online community part of your rights to expression?” (personal translation, Europa.eu, 2012). Charged with the vernacular of ‘freedom’, ‘contribution’, ‘community’ and ‘your rights’, the Eurobarometer poll had a suggestive slant towards the affirmative. Upon solicitation of the UN for Internet rights, the EU’s New Media campaign expanded to include open access to textbooks, learning tools for production, and other knowledge-based constructions of European hegemony. Recognizing New Media’s potential for a vehicle of neoliberalism, the EU uses the Internet to distribute ‘Western’ ‘knowledges’ under the guise of open access to information towards a emboldened economy (Cooke, 2004). Nuancing the core-periphery status of nations within and outside of the western ideological constraints, the EU is using New Media to create an ideological hegemony.

New Media’s ability to expand communication across multiple geographical confines is seen as both a tool and threat to state-civil society relationships. Established so far, New Media is a supragovernmental concept, which causes state-civil society distress because of the anonymity of its exponentially increasing character. New Media is also seen as a community-building tool, which can provide democratic reflection on society, amongst a wider group of people. This democracy, though, has established a new ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ structure- beyond that of economic difference, although beginning with it. New Media’s discourse is essentially a Western phenomenon (Cooke, 2004). The Internet, begun by economic forces like any other modern capitalist endeavour, is also perpetuated by economic forces through payment for its access (on a device) and use. The specifics of the Internet’s existence through the capitalist market, and with the largest servers (Cisco Systems) and largest domain providers (Google, Apple, Yahoo!, and others) being traded publically, does New Media exist within a predominant power structure of the economy?

The impact of economic distribution of New Media access, through either personal access or promotional capabilities, creates a symbiosis between civil societies, the state and the outlying force within them- capitalism. New Media presents an epoch to this relationship, though, in its force of mediation between geopolitical economic disputes. In this vein, New Media is a disruptive force to the history of trade war and commoditization of political relations, because of the anonymity of online economic actors. The financial industry, comprising over 85% of the British Gross Domestic Product, is almost entirely mediated by New Media forecasting and broadcasting (Rowe, 2013). Global Stock Exchanges use the medium of New Media to freely express geopolitically important resource abundance and exchange value. Intrinsic relations of the very essential definition of power- resource security (Murphy, 2013) and the power of New Media access have made those who hold it increasingly more powerful than before.

In a World Systems Theory analysis of the access to New Media, author Mark Graham suggests that the ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ economies will no longer be defined by income per capita, but rather by their participation in “democratic, capitalist endeavours” (2011). With a strong New Media bias in favour of the democratic system, which promotes and perpetuates a capitalist society, the ‘core’ expands and the ‘periphery’ becomes now a ‘gap’ (et al.). New Media’s perpetuation of dominant capitalist and Westernized communication has created a perilous ‘gap’ between participating countries- and those who do not subscribe to capitalist or democratic idealism- such as Russia, North Korea and greater Africa. Taken on as a practical policy by the United States’ New Rule Association (2005), the ‘gap’ was described as former President George W. Bush Jr. as a, “threat to democracy”. Could it be, that actually New Media is a threat to states that do not so well mediate their civil societies? Or, is New Media just neoliberalization mechanism that is addressed as transnationally important?

The epoch of New Media symbolizes a change in the discourse about communication, geography and power. As a tool for consolidation of both state and civil society power, and as a mechanism of mediation between the two, New Media allows greater flows of knowledge and communication. New Media does not stand without a greater influence, though. Creating a symbiosis between the geopolitical economic sphere and the civil society representative sphere, New Media allows relations to form beyond the control of hegemonic power, but within the influence of it. As seen by the undertakings of both civil society actors and governments, the influence of New Media is strong upon society, and society’s participation in it gives access to the Western powers of knowledge and capital.

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