CELEBRITY & THE LOUD HAILERS: The Biggest Roar in the Jungle

What have you got in your pocket, or in your purse? It is an apparently trivial, mundane object called cellphone – banal, except a growing body of scholarly literature and market research is interested in it- mobile search; mobile advertising; billions are at stake.  True, mobile smart phones have been one of the fastest spreading technologies ever  as if, in a sense, they had been long awaited – but their use reveals persistent social, cultural and national differentiation. Ultimately, is this a new democratization or a new sugar coated version of the traditional top-down model? The jury is still in deliberation…

For those genuinely operating within a many-to-many communication network I suspect the ‘worldview’ doesn’t go much beyond 15 people (if counting only those with full access and genuinely committed to the dialogue), elsewhere one-to-many communication on the net would seem never healthier….

Josephine baker. 1920. Paris. "…a woman waits for her lover, at night, in the forest; I am waiting for no more than a telephone call, but the anxiety is the same… Roland Barthes..."

With the Iranian government jamming cell phones and text messages and blocking access to many social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter has emerged as one of the mediums with the most information being passed around and discussed about the turbulent presidential election. …Twitter … emerged as one of the mediums with the most information being passed around and discussed about the turbulent presidential election.’( Huffington Post )

Granted, we have entered the era of connection. But how do people actually connect? At the very least, it is a tale in two halves. The first half speaks of a huge, complex technological infrastructure for mobile and internet-connected multimedia communication.Giant corporations like Apple with their “toll-gate” business model of dissemination versus open systems, plus the huge power of telecoms which are society’s new builders of infrastructure.  The second half puts into play human collectives, communities, friends, families, lovers, kids, who are supposed to want to get in touch. It seems a hodge- podge  of freedom and control, an ambiguous zone of  promise and the delusion of connectedness, its proper ideology and practice, as well as its influence on public discourse, through the case of mobile phones and social media.  Despite the difference that characterize the studies  a common leitmotiv does emerge: in order to understand  smartphones and the like, we must take into account the two halves of the story, technology and people – in other words, the “mixed constitution” of communication.

Sartre. 1970.

We know that the mobile phone has been a vital technology in orchestrating various fuel protests around the world and text messaging in particular has had a huge impact on political campaging. Twitter would seem to be another quick-fire, short-messaging mode of communication to garner political importance. ”But this has got me thinking, would the celebrated intellectual Jean-Paul Satre have taken to using Twitter during the riots of 1968? My guess is probably….Significantly, it is the celebritys tatus of Satre (and others) that got me thinking about how Twitter tends to work, since it appears to function in a way that privileges the cult of celebrity. It is a mini ‘broadcasting’ medium that favours the already well-known.”

“blogs aremuch more than phenomena of electoral politics and journalism. Indeed, the political blogosphere is only a minor accompaniment to her main argument, which centers on how blogs are recasting the relationship between producers and consumers, expanding the range of voices in the public sphere, and facilitating the creation of on-line social networks. As such, blogs are part
of a significant technical shift: ‘‘we have moved from a culture dominated by mass media, using one-to-many communication, to one where participatory media, using many-to-many communication, is becoming the norm’’

Sartre. Billancourt. Octobre 1970. On Twitter: It is apparent, then, there is a dialogic mechanism, but it is unequal. I can be reached loud and clear, whereas I can only be heard as a whisper, as a citation that may or may not get noticed in the endless twittering traffic.

The principles of “flashmobbing” – impromptu gatherings of people, arranged by text message, for mass pillow fights or silent discos – is now being used by protesters too. It allows large groups of people to gather in one place at short notice before the authorities have the chance to block their efforts. The 24-hour Climate Camp “flashcamp” this week in the Square Mile was organised along “flashmob” lines…Twitter, in particular, has been a natural outlet for this organisation. Traffic to the microblogging site has increased by 900 per cent in the past year alone, and it is the medium through which eyewitnesses to the Mumbai terrorist attacks and Hudson plane crash were able to share their accounts and photos of the events. During the Put People First march in London at the weekend, a caped “superhero”, calling himself the Megamouth, used a loud hailer to shout o

essages that people had posted on his Twitter page.

Yet, I am still not convinced the model is evenly many-to-many. The mainstream ‘culture industry’ still prevails and intersects powerfully with participatory media. Social networking sites are now cleverly populated by corporate identities and many of us, the majority perhaps, are in those dire straits begging for this stuff: ‘I want my MTV’!

Josephine Baker. France. 1956. "David Gauntlett has some 900+ followers to which he can broadcast. Stephen Fry – perhaps the most well known tweeter (not least following his twittering whilst stuck in a lift and his recent near ‘twitticide’) – has over a million followers! I have a mere 35 or so! It would seem one’s existing social status carries a lot of weight in the virtual realms of Twitter and is perhaps one reason why it has a relatively older demographic in comparison to other social networking sites. According to one source, ‘Twitter is no longer dominated by the 18-24 age group … middle aged men are now the key drivers’. So might Twitter be more prone to class and gender divides? Is one’s lack of, or low level, celebrity status a hinderance?"

I can’t help visualising Twitter as a loud hailer. And… it doesn’t necessarily matter how witty and apt your tweets might be if you’re stuck talking down the wrong end of it! As you tap your 140 characters into the Twitter dialogue box it is as if you are talking aloud to yourself, but with the added echoing effect of a loud hailer, broadcasting to all those – virtually – around you. But, of course, the volume and reach of that loud hailer is dependent upon the number of followers you have. It is possible to reach a little further by using the ‘#’ and ‘@’ symbols within your messages, but these are fairly hit and miss devices that hardly accrue a captive audience – much more a fickle one, and generally one only on the look out for a personal ‘mentions’. In fact it amazes me that Twitter has become as popular as it has. The ratio between who you follow and those who follow you could be one measure of both the diameter of your virtual loud hailer and its directionality….

David Ben Gourion, Einstein. Princeton. 1951.

It doesn’t do much for my Twittego to compare myself to Stephen Fry, but if I do, surely I’m the one calling down the wrong end of a loud hailer, hoping at least my words are funnelled securely to a select group. It doesn’t seem much of a step on from that wonderful childhood game of talking into paper cups threaded together by string! All the while those already in the media spotlight (and no doubt those, such as Monsieur Fry, blessed with a way with words) have at their disposal a most convenient and personal broadcast apparatus!

"Rise up and let your voice be heard! Well, not your voice actually. The voice of a man dressed in Y-fronts, a mullet wig and a cape. But he will be shouting your message (which, if you think about it, is really the important bit) and shouting it through a megaphone at a number of London landmarks throughout the day. Give MegaMouth your message for the G20 leaders by logging on to www.actionaid.org.uk or texting SHOUT and your slogan to 80010 and he will spend the day making sure you are heard."

Claudine Beaumont: Twitter has proved to be one of the liveliest communication platforms for all things G20. Websites such as Twitscoop and Twitterfall provide a clear visual representation of the hot “trending topics” being discussed on Twitter, and easy access to the relevant messages, known as “tweets”.

Twitter users use “hash tags” – key words preceeded by the # symbol – to make it easier to find tweets about similar topics.
A search on Twitter for the hashtag #G20 brings up a stream of constant messagers from protesters, supporters and those simply following events. One of the main protest groups, G20 Meltdown, has its own Twitter profile. Marina Pepper, one of the organisers of G20 Meltdown, said that Twitter was a key tool in terms of “mobilising people and shifting them around”, because it allowed people to file and read updates via their mobile phones. “We can also keep people empowered, because information is power,” she said.
Twitter’s strength lies in its ability to turn a simple message into a threaded and easy-to-follow conversation. Interesting subjects naturally bubble to the surface, because they attract the views and opinions of other Twitter users.

1970. "Activists Jerry Rubin (left), Abbie Hoffman (center), and Rennie Davis speak with the press during a recess in their trial. The three are facing charges for conspiring to start the riots that tore through Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention." Corbis Images

An everyday utility in the guise of a mobile phone, combined with the cheapest and most readily available forms of broadcast media, has started to accumulate power able to challenge the hegemonic control of the mainstream media and empower those, hitherto, without a media voice. This extraordinary piece of technology has been adopted as a daily utility by about two thirds of the globe, but it is also part of the bedrock of communications for alternative, radical and activist media. The mobile phone now constitutes the basic tool kit of the citizen journalist and the combination of mobile telephony and accessible media such as community radio, the ‘blogosphere’ and social networking sites are providing an alternative interpretation of events which often challenges the mediated or ‘official’ version.( Janey Gordon )

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