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<nettime> It's the Environment . . . Stupid!
Newmedia on Sun, 7 Nov 2004 22:27:00 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> It's the Environment . . . Stupid!



Folks:

In response to numerous questions that I've received about "The Internet 
WON the Election!", let me see if I can add a little historical 
perspective regarding recent developments in our collective global media 
"environment."

Radio was widely considered to have been causative -- in a formal sense -- 
of the mobilizations of mass audiences in support of authoritarians (both 
"left" and "right") which contributed to the "strategic" attacks on 
civilian populations in WW II.  With the advent of the nuclear age after 
Hiroshima, everyone needed to "chill" . . . seriously.

The treatment of this problem in "The Authoritarian Personality" (Adorno, 
etal 1950) and related works helped launch a new field, Social Psychology. 
Social Psychology was largely conceived and funded by the followons to the 
"psychological warfare" agencies of WW II and was a part of a much more 
extensive effort (including "Communication Science" and various other 
forays in social science) to try to dramatically loosen the grip of 
"traditional" attitudes.  It was felt that appropriate levels of 
"tolerance" for the differences between peoples could not be accomplished 
as long as people held strong beliefs rooted in what they presumed to be 
"authority."

So, literally as a matter of public safety, "Challenge Authority" became 
good public policy for many people.  The BOMB made us all love Elvis. 
Rock 'n ROLL!!

In this context, television came to be considered to be a medium that 
could "cool" down a population that gotten far too "heated" under the 
influence of radio.  Unlike radio -- the effects of which had been studied 
extensively -- it was observed that television was generally incapable of 
supporting strong viewpoints.  On anything.  Senator McCarthy looked like 
a fool when the television cameras started rolling.  Henry Luce's attempt 
to launch an "influential" television network were scrapped.  "I Love 
Lucy" pre-empted coverage of policy debates.  And, so on.

Later researchers discovered that the neuro-muscular "relaxation" 
associated with starring at a cathode-ray tube -- regardless of what is 
"on" -- most closely resembled a full-body massage.  Thus McLuhan's, "The 
Medium is the Massage."  Alternatively, television makes us stupid . . . 
no matter what we watch.

Eventually, everyone's opinions were treated to "equal-time" ridicule on 
television and, in the environment caused by television, authoritative 
"narratives" began to lose intellectual credibility.  Post-modernism is 
mostly a rationalization of the experience of this television environment 
-- to the extent that this label describes a critical posture that points 
to why we don't need these narratives.

However, television is now losing its grip.  The commericial viability of 
broadcast television -- in the US at least -- is extremely precarious. 
Crucially, there has been the steady shift of advertising spending away 
from television and towards the Internet over the past few years.  This 
trend is accelarating and it now looks like 2005 will be a very bad one 
for US television -- lacking the Olympics and the 2004 Election to boost 
ad revenues.

Television's response has been to cut costs -- slashing "news" budgets and 
embracing "reality" programming (based largely on early Social Psychology 
experiments) -- and it is expected that a big effort to attract attention 
with razzle-dazzle high-definition technology is coming next.  2005 is 
apparently going to be an HDTV sorta year, environmentally speaking.

In sharp contrast to the tranquillized-feelgood-flatland of "stupid" 
television, the new media environment of the Internet is notoriously 
riotous with beliefs and, crucially, the social support to act upon them. 
In Frankfurt School terms, the "authoritarian personality" is back. 
Apparently we are all now "post-social psychology."

Of course, people didn't discard their beliefs under the influence of 
television.  Even 50 years of getting blasted by intergalactic (i.e. 
satellite) "ray-guns" didn't change that.  They just became "politically 
correct" and noticed that they could lose their jobs and be otherwise made 
uncomfortable if they got too enthusiastic about these beliefs.

What apparently just happened in the US election is that people actually 
voted their beliefs.  Its not that more of this or that group went to the 
polls -- "Evangelical Christians" are the same proportion of the 
electorate, for instance -- it's just that a much higher proportion of the 
population feels much more *strongly* about their opinions than they used 
to . . . for some embarassingly unexplained reason.

The widely noted "polarization" in the US population is, I am arguing, 
simply the effect of the new media environment.  It's the environment . . 
. stupid.

So, the Internet won the election and will keep on winning them until an 
even newer environment takes over.

Oh yeah, you can pretty much give up on trying to influence what people 
should believe.  That's been tried -- it was called radio -- as the 
"community-radio" experienced founders of nettime are very well aware.

VOTE what you BELIEVE!!

Many thanks to nettime for making all this possible!!

Mark Stahlman
New York City


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