A space where we can all be heard

2010-01-19 08:15

THERE have been many books written about

the birth – and evolution – of the plethora of digital platforms and how they

have impacted on how we exist and interact as people. Until the real explosion

of social media, we continued to operate within relatively closed environments,

interacting with those within those same spaces.

Over the last few years, I’ve

had the opportunity to read several as I seek my own place and relevance within

the digital realm on a global scale. As an artist, especially as an ­African, I

believe that now is the ideal time for us to make ground, even if slightly, in

the quest to exist on par with the rest of the world. The one thing that has

fascinated me and is something I think about daily is how much these platforms

have enabled our voices to be heard beyond our ­immediate environment.

In his book, We the Media, journalist – and founder of the Centre

for Citizen Media – Dan Gillmor explores how laptops, cellphones and digital

cameras have transformed the news and are forcing Big Media to change the way

they view themselves and their own business models. The sub-heading for the book

is Grassroots Journalism, By The People, For The People and his view is that

blogs, particularly, and the technology at our disposal are making all of us

Citizen Journalists. The book was initially written in 2004 with an update in

2006 so it doesn’t cover Twitter which I consider to be one of the most

significant media developments in recent years.

Before, we sat glued to our televisions in time for the news, our

ears to our radios every hour on the hour or with our noses buried in newspapers

daily. Twenty-four hour news television was born and provided us with ‘breaking

news’ as and when it happened. Okay, this hasn’t changed totally and is still

not a reality for many of us, particularly on the African continent, but there

is change taking place.

Gillmor looks at how blogs and devices like the cellphone enabled

ordinary people to provide accurate, on-the-ground and very real ­information on

the Tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in the US. With the explosion of

micro-blogging, in the form of Twitter, the voice of the people, I believe, has

become even ­louder in a way that he may or may not have anticipated.

On the night Michael Jackson died, I first heard it on Twitter with

CNN, Sky and BBC reading the same information I was as they sent cameras to try

figure out what was going on. More recently, when Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang,

the former health minister, passed away, I was informed probably about 20

minutes after the fact on Twitter. Jay Rosen, a journalism lecturer at New York

University, put it aptly, “Twitter is now a more effective system than any news

organisation at breaking news.”

What all this says is that there is a space for all our voices. We

can be heard even amidst the increased noise that also comes with all this

increased access.

The great fear, among some, is that the accessibility of digital

media may undermine the accuracy and unbiased nature that traditional media

(supposedly) has. That it can be tainted by the fact that the ‘Citizen

Journalist’ is not edited by anyone. Their blog is their platform to espouse

whatever theories they may have and others may interpret this opinion as fact. I

do not believe that is a big concern. In his book Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe looks

at how the ‘crowd’ is, in a way, self-correcting. What does concern me more is

that it is those with access and the ‘loudest’ voices who usually ensure that

their voices are heard the loudest.

As in society in general, there are always the cool kids who, in a

way, determine what is acceptable and unacceptable and, if you go against that,

are able to shout you down. This does not change just because we have shifted

the playing field. In some ways, I am finding that we are becoming even more

intolerant and dismissive of views that are not necessarily in line with ours.

My father always taught me that there are moments when it is better to “agree to

disagree” rather than arguing one’s opinion to the death. The simple truth is

that none of us has the final word. Yet so many of us feel our opinion is the

most relevant, is the party line.

Presumptuous, methinks.

MORE than 100 years ago, Scotland-born writer and physician Sir

Arthur Conan Doyle created and wrote about the ­character Sherlock Holmes, a

detective who used his heightened powers of ­logic, ­deduction and observation

to solve the greatest of crimes.

Having grown up in a home with books and having gone to a British

school, albeit in Lesotho, I became a fan of Holmes at a young age and had a

prized ­collection of his short stories – probably the cause of my love for

CSI.

So you can imagine my excitement and trepidation when I heard that

Guy Ritchie was directing Sherlock Holmes the film. Often a book translated into

film doesn’t work because with the book each reader creates the image in their

head of the characters, the environment and so on and usually the director’s

­image doesn’t compute.

I recently saw the film with Robert Downey Jr as Holmes and Jude

Law as Dr Watson and, I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sherlock Holmes is grittier than I ­imagined but just as brilliant.

I’ve also grown older and come to realise that the London of that time wasn’t

­necessarily the polished image I had in my youth, so the setting was also

perfect.

I am definitely getting the DVD and hoping that there will be a

sequel.

For once.


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