Battles in the media landscape: General perspectives from Transmediale11 / #tm11

(Continued blogging from Transmediale11)

With Transmediale11 now over, some general perspectives of where the media landscape is moving have clearly manifested themselves. For one, user participation, naturally, was very debated and clearly appeared as becoming ever more dominant – as also emphasized by the title of this years overall theme, “Response:ability”. However, it was also quite obvious from the discussions that new battle fields are emerging. All in the realm of freedom: How users and data are becoming increasingly more chained, and how these users are starting to become aware that things might be going in a very wrong direction.

The Facebook Resistance Workshop, as presented in one of my previous posts, gave a glimpse into some of the movements that are growing: Digital natives that fully embrace social media, but also at the same time demand to retain certain rights and a certain amount of autonomy. The Facebook Resistance plug-in community (that is, those who have downloaded and installed the plug-in) now counts over a million, who are linked together to enjoy an enhanced version of Facebook’s service, where – for instance – it is now possible for them to ‘dislike’ each others post. In other words, they’ve used fairly simple technology to extend their options within Facebook, in order to equip their online social presence with the range of emotions that mirrors real social life much more. As we all know, we like to express honest opinion. Not everything in our social life can be measured on a neutral-to-“Like” scale. We want to be able to be critical towards each other – not live in a fluffy pink Barbie-land. Something which is not currently possible on Facebook, for instance, which is further accentuated by the fact that Facebook actually censors the new chat-function so that swearing is not possible. Do we really want Facebook to force G-rating on our language?

These issues overlap with another major main strand of perspective from this years conference: The need for retaining web and hardware openness. As addressed in my first blog post regarding the Marchall McLuhan Lounge session with Mark Surman of Mozilla, keeping the web open is indeed at the very top of the agenda for many of the tech-savvy developers and thinkers across the globe.
Unless we work actively to keep the web open, it will fall prey to the interest of both economical and political regimes, and sooner than we think, we’ll can easily find ourselves shackled almost irreverssably by digital walled gardens. If our entire online social existence must take place at the mercy of Mark Zuckerberg and if all our communication is monitored by Larry Page and Sergey Brin – as well as if all app-developments must be approved by Steve Jobs – where will free thought, free creativity and free relationships be able to take place?

There were also lots of discussion on the issues of privacy, both in and outside of the panels and official talks. With the Wikileaks-case, where otherwise relatively neutral providers of economic and technological digital infrastructure (such as PayPal, VISA, Mastercard and Amazon) suddenly pulled the plug on a client as a result of biased political pressure – as well as the case of the recent uprising in Egypt and the subsequent block of social media by authorities and ISP’s, it is obvious that the otherwise autonomous nature of the Internet is anything but that; rather it has become a vehicle for those in power to control.

As it’s always the case, people – digitally apt people in particular – will not tolerate such encroachments on basic freedoms, so the topic of mesh networking and decentralized server distribution was a hot chat topic. In fact, some even argued that cloud computing as a concept represents a risk to privacy per se because the servers are always commercial. If governments can demand control over data, and if corporations will exploit data, then whose data are they?

It shall be interesting to see how much these issues will move forward in the year to come. I will indeed look forward to contemplating these things again one year from now, when all the geeks, coders, artists, hackers, makers, activists and hipsters once again congregate in Berlin at Transmediale12.

Oh, and the mentioned video blog piece to summarize the conference in a visual way is still very much possible. Hopefully I’ll be able to throw things together soon. Stay tuned!

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