critical approaches to social media vincent maher  | strategist | mail & guardian online
my background
Critical what does this mean?
Max Horkheimer  1937 Traditional and Critical Theory
Critique & Transformation Social theory that seeks to change society as a whole, rather than merely explain it
Radical Marxism In direct opposition to the science of logical positivism and authoritarianism
Emancipatory Seeks to improve the quality and structure of life for the oppressed
Ideology An instrument of social production, through which capitalism and its power relations reproduce themselves
False Consciousness The proletariat have been misled…
Hegemony  Gramsci used this to explain why people have a false conception of their own values and interests
Fetishism  Most primitive phase of religion in which people ascribe magical or divine significance to material objects.  F...
Commodity Fetishism  Life is organised through the medium of commodities and the value of commodities is abstracted - use-...
As marketers  you will know this well
Creating need How do you  create  a need for something unless you take it away from someone who already has it?
The Talisman In Hermeticism, a talisman is a consecrated material object used to protect and exert some type of power
The Gadget In marketing, a device imbued with a magical power that enhances virility and efficiency
Step back…
Naïve Arrogance It seems like history started in 1993, with the birth of the web
Web 2. 0 It seems like history started at the O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference in 2004
History is valuable Understanding preceding events and shifts can help us understand the future.
Pre 1. 0   Technology suddenly became central to the process of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution
Technology  is fundamentally linked to the path of development in Western society, and is wrapped up in its ideology and a...
Cultural production  What we call “making content”, has a long history
Time and Space  was compressed first by the horse, then the railway, then the telephone, then the Internet
Fires in camps  Humans based their knowledge and understanding of the world on the personal interactions with people from ...
Linguistic Diversity  This is why each village could have a different accent
Local knowledge, regional myth  This is also why magic could always thrive at the edge of the forest
Identity  This life, with its relative simplicity, was the anvil against which story-telling forged identity
Regulation? The village elders would regulate what could and couldn’t be said, but the regulation took place after the fac...
Fast Forward Today our identities are formed via a series of interpersonal interactions but increasingly these interaction...
Mediation TV, radio, the Web, email, IM, SMS, MMS, telephone, recording and playback
Regulation Mediated conversations are subject to regulation, on the level of the medium itself and the market regulation o...
Commercial Messaging As a result of this mediation the very fabric of identity formation is subject to commercial imperati...
Technology is not transparent Most often, technology is presented as a neutral enabler. However, on inspection, this is no...
The types of technology we have access to are limit[ed][ing]
Google A classic example of an opaque system, couched in the language of technological transparency
Google = Knowledge The front page of Google is the starting point of most research these days
Language  Google talk about democracy, accuracy, speed, efficiency, the best results for your query
What are we doing? We enter keywords and get back a list of resources
But what is actually happening? An algorithm calculates the hierachy of resources.  It’s just an algorithm, a machine righ...
An ideological machine That constructs the structure of relevance based on a system of values
How does PageRank actually work? Google don’t disclose this vital piece of information, on the grounds of protecting comme...
What kind of world do we live in, where the underlying structure of knowledge has legally become a commercial secret??
PageRank Awards age, popularity and various other criteria that reinforce existing power relations
Expert Systems Like driving a car, we accept its output unquestioningly without understanding its inner workings
Expert Systems Google is one of many expert systems that we have come to trust, as a consequence of technological progress
 Danger Gevaar Ingosi
Social Media Something the Mail & Guardian is firmly committed to pursuing, but er… what is it?
Democracy, again With the emergence of sites like Digg, YouTube, FaceBook, MySpace and OhMyNews and things like blogging t...
Destabiliser Actually, what the Web does is it destabilises everything in its wake, not always for the better
Ideology @ wrk But, actually, what they do is they reinforce a lack of diversity of opinion outside the ideological bounds...
Ideology @ work Digg-like sites are supposed to bring democracy to the editorial process by crowdsourcing it
Ideology @ work Ideas that challenge conventional wisdom [naturalised beliefs of the dominant system] are excluded, wherea...
Geeks in a circle According to Habermas, democracy and rational debate require people to  to have exposure to alternative ...
Geeks in a circle What happens is that ideology gets reinforced rather than exposed for what it is, in ever-tightening spi...
GWOT and xenophobia This phenomenon cannot be seen in isolation from the US war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the polarisati...
Nevertheless… The current market is a very exciting one for media, marketers and the newly revived PR industry
Nothing to lose Thinking about the choice we make and the technologies we employ and the uses we encourage in a critical m...
What can we say about the future? Whatever we can think about the future is going to be less than impressive in the long t...
What can we say about the future? What will actually happen in the future will seem like sorcery to us today if someone tr...
What can we say about the future? Nothing is stable, as the life-cycle of technology accelerates and tightens around itself
The problem with a tightly coiled spring is that it can jump out of your hand and go in any direction
Thank you And now for the Amatomu story
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A Criticial Approach to Social Media

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This is a presentation I gave at Technomadic Marketing in Cape Town on 18 July, outlining the social theory underpinning the Mail & Guardian Online strategy for social media.

Published in: Business, Technology

A Criticial Approach to Social Media

  1. critical approaches to social media vincent maher | strategist | mail & guardian online
  2. my background
  3. Critical what does this mean?
  4. Max Horkheimer 1937 Traditional and Critical Theory
  5. Critique & Transformation Social theory that seeks to change society as a whole, rather than merely explain it
  6. Radical Marxism In direct opposition to the science of logical positivism and authoritarianism
  7. Emancipatory Seeks to improve the quality and structure of life for the oppressed
  8. Ideology An instrument of social production, through which capitalism and its power relations reproduce themselves
  9. False Consciousness The proletariat have been misled…
  10. Hegemony Gramsci used this to explain why people have a false conception of their own values and interests
  11. Fetishism Most primitive phase of religion in which people ascribe magical or divine significance to material objects. For Freud this relation was sexual.
  12. Commodity Fetishism Life is organised through the medium of commodities and the value of commodities is abstracted - use-value and exchange-value is disconnected
  13. As marketers you will know this well
  14. Creating need How do you create a need for something unless you take it away from someone who already has it?
  15. The Talisman In Hermeticism, a talisman is a consecrated material object used to protect and exert some type of power
  16. The Gadget In marketing, a device imbued with a magical power that enhances virility and efficiency
  17. Step back…
  18. Naïve Arrogance It seems like history started in 1993, with the birth of the web
  19. Web 2. 0 It seems like history started at the O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference in 2004
  20. History is valuable Understanding preceding events and shifts can help us understand the future.
  21. Pre 1. 0 Technology suddenly became central to the process of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution
  22. Technology is fundamentally linked to the path of development in Western society, and is wrapped up in its ideology and an instrument of its power relations
  23. Cultural production What we call “making content”, has a long history
  24. Time and Space was compressed first by the horse, then the railway, then the telephone, then the Internet
  25. Fires in camps Humans based their knowledge and understanding of the world on the personal interactions with people from their own villages, or travellers
  26. Linguistic Diversity This is why each village could have a different accent
  27. Local knowledge, regional myth This is also why magic could always thrive at the edge of the forest
  28. Identity This life, with its relative simplicity, was the anvil against which story-telling forged identity
  29. Regulation? The village elders would regulate what could and couldn’t be said, but the regulation took place after the fact and about the content of the infrigement
  30. Fast Forward Today our identities are formed via a series of interpersonal interactions but increasingly these interactions are mediated
  31. Mediation TV, radio, the Web, email, IM, SMS, MMS, telephone, recording and playback
  32. Regulation Mediated conversations are subject to regulation, on the level of the medium itself and the market regulation of potential media available and their uses
  33. Commercial Messaging As a result of this mediation the very fabric of identity formation is subject to commercial imperatives
  34. Technology is not transparent Most often, technology is presented as a neutral enabler. However, on inspection, this is not the case
  35. The types of technology we have access to are limit[ed][ing]
  36. Google A classic example of an opaque system, couched in the language of technological transparency
  37. Google = Knowledge The front page of Google is the starting point of most research these days
  38. Language Google talk about democracy, accuracy, speed, efficiency, the best results for your query
  39. What are we doing? We enter keywords and get back a list of resources
  40. But what is actually happening? An algorithm calculates the hierachy of resources. It’s just an algorithm, a machine right?
  41. An ideological machine That constructs the structure of relevance based on a system of values
  42. How does PageRank actually work? Google don’t disclose this vital piece of information, on the grounds of protecting commercial secrets
  43. What kind of world do we live in, where the underlying structure of knowledge has legally become a commercial secret??
  44. PageRank Awards age, popularity and various other criteria that reinforce existing power relations
  45. Expert Systems Like driving a car, we accept its output unquestioningly without understanding its inner workings
  46. Expert Systems Google is one of many expert systems that we have come to trust, as a consequence of technological progress
  47.  Danger Gevaar Ingosi
  48. Social Media Something the Mail & Guardian is firmly committed to pursuing, but er… what is it?
  49. Democracy, again With the emergence of sites like Digg, YouTube, FaceBook, MySpace and OhMyNews and things like blogging there is a buzz about how the web democratises content and the media
  50. Destabiliser Actually, what the Web does is it destabilises everything in its wake, not always for the better
  51. Ideology @ wrk But, actually, what they do is they reinforce a lack of diversity of opinion outside the ideological bounds of the conversation
  52. Ideology @ work Digg-like sites are supposed to bring democracy to the editorial process by crowdsourcing it
  53. Ideology @ work Ideas that challenge conventional wisdom [naturalised beliefs of the dominant system] are excluded, whereas those that reinforce it gain popularity
  54. Geeks in a circle According to Habermas, democracy and rational debate require people to to have exposure to alternative points of view
  55. Geeks in a circle What happens is that ideology gets reinforced rather than exposed for what it is, in ever-tightening spirals of audience fragmentation
  56. GWOT and xenophobia This phenomenon cannot be seen in isolation from the US war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the polarisation of society into Judeo-Christian vs Islamic, patriots vs terrorists, us vs immigrants
  57. Nevertheless… The current market is a very exciting one for media, marketers and the newly revived PR industry
  58. Nothing to lose Thinking about the choice we make and the technologies we employ and the uses we encourage in a critical manner can help us to a] do good or b] exploit the system by understanding it better? The correct answer is A and B
  59. What can we say about the future? Whatever we can think about the future is going to be less than impressive in the long term and dissapointing in the short term
  60. What can we say about the future? What will actually happen in the future will seem like sorcery to us today if someone travelled back in time and showed us pictures
  61. What can we say about the future? Nothing is stable, as the life-cycle of technology accelerates and tightens around itself
  62. The problem with a tightly coiled spring is that it can jump out of your hand and go in any direction
  63. Thank you And now for the Amatomu story

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