Analysis of Mediatisation and Mediation: Digital Storytelling and Online Community Development.
This paper will evaluate the Mediatisation and Mediation theory and applies the understanding of each to better explain the concepts of Digital Storytelling and online community development. Although there is not sole correct for to describe the development of Digital Storytelling, the theories of Mediatisation and Mediation present an imperative framework of understanding.
‘Media Logic’ was a term introduced in the 20th Century to denote the effect of independent mass media on political systems and other institutions, and in recent years has been reworked and labelled ‘mediatisation’ in an attempt to encompass both old and new media (Schulz, 2004; Krotz, 2007). Since the new media are not seen as replacements for the old ones, the number of media environments grow and media environments become differentiated (Krotz, 2007).
Mediatisation can only be fully understood if it is seen as a part of a wider transformation of social and cultural life through the media operating from a single source, in a common direction. Mediatisation is a theory that argues that the media shapes and frames the processes and discourse of political communication as well as the society in which that communication takes place (Lilleker, 2008).
The concept of mediatisation starts out from the notion of replication, the spreading of media forms to spaces of contemporary life that are required to be represented through media forms.
According to Schultz (2004), a basic assumption of mediatisation theory is that the technological semiotic and economic characteristics of mass media result in problematic dependencies, limitations and overstatements. The transition from the process of mediatisation in the late 20th century (the mass media) to the processes of implied ‘new’ media can be defined by four variables (see Figure 1.). Those variables are extension, in time and space; substitution, of unmediated and mediated processes with new mediated processes; amalgamation with non-media activities in social life; and accommodation of society to media logic.
These new tendencies, even when identified, the conceptual framework is based on the assumption that digital media ‘are not that new’, that the effects of ‘old’ mass media are seen to ‘endure the new media environment’ (Finnemann, 2011). As a consequence of this process, institutions and whole societies are shaped by and dependent on mass media (Mazzoleni & Schulz, 1999).
On the other hand, Krotz (2009) defines mediatisation as a long- term process by which there are specific processes that occur in each single culture and society. He does not see mediatisation as a technologically driven concept and defines it as a meta-process above the level of mediated communication, starting with face to face communication at the bottom, mediated interpersonal communication (facebook messaging), interactive communication (communication via skype) then communication as a production/reception of standardised content (relaying news content).
Within media research, the term mediation can be used to refer simply to the act of transmitting something through the media (Couldry, 2008); the central mediating factor of a given culture is the medium of communication itself. Mediation can be seen as the resultant flows of production; circulation, interpretation and recirculation of media in the public sphere (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Mediation of New Media
Perhaps one of the best known media theorists, McLuhan is famous for his dictum that “the medium is the message.” For McLuhan the central mediating factor in any society is the medium of communication itself. In this way, media can be seen to occupy for McLuhan what labour or capital did for Marx (Lister, 2003).
By claiming that the “medium is the message”, McLuhan means that “the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology” (McLuhan, 1994).
For McLuhan, the introduction of any new form of media into a given culture radically alters the way that members of that culture mediate between the material world and the given values available to them.
Contrary to the belief of McLuhan, it was stated by Raymond Williams that technology cannot be separated from its uses, therefore saying that the medium is not the message. It is Williams’ firm belief that technology arises from human society and takes questions of agency and intention into consideration (Higgins, 2001).
This is similar to the Humanist Theory which stresses that individuals are recognised as having agency, power and responsibility over the social forms and technologies that they create (Lister, 2003).
Couldry (2008) makes an explicit discussion of mediation in relation to mediatisation, applying the concepts to the study of digital storytelling and its democratic potential. He argues that mediatisation aims to understand a wider transformation of social and cultural life. He regards this as ‘a useful attempt to concentrate our focus on a particular transformative logic or mechanism that is understood to do something distinctive (i.e., to mediatise) particular processes objects and fields (Couldry, 2008 p. 376). He finds the process of mediatisation successful as long as this claim is specific and directed to forms or formats suitable for media representation.
Couldry’s objection comes when larger societal and cultural transformations are seen to operate from a single source in a common direction by coherent media logic. He holds that the concept of mediation is best fit to grasp social transformation by which media are involved.
Technology then can be seen to produce multifaceted results and outcomes that are sometimes unpredictable. Even though the outcome of the technology is not determined, people still have agency towards the technology and therefore the technologies themselves can be seen to be the product of great social changes within society.
Digital storytelling is a tool with such diverse uses that it almost certainly cannot be understood as having any one type of consequence or even form. It is offered as a technique for increasing understanding across generations, ethnicities and other divides, and as a tool in activist organising, education, professional reflection and corporate communication (Lambert, 2013). Digital storytelling has been presented as personal stories told and made public using digital media which fit into a short format (Couldry 2008a; Meadows, 2008). It has also been presented as a media practice that aims at creating opportunities to connect with others through conversational production (Lambert, 2013).
Stories are told every day, even if we are unaware of their presence. Our natural tendency to keep thinking thought after thought is how we are bombarded will millions of non-digestible and non-memorable story fragments every time we pick up the phone, bump into a friend, watch television, browse the web or listen to the radio. New digital media practices are said to represent a break with the mass media system, a move from passive audiences to active (Sanchez-Laws, 2010) allowing everyone to have an agency in creation of their own content.
Our experience becomes merely a jumble of fragments, that we are able to tweet and Facebook about; production of digital stories is not to produce media for broadcast, but to produce ‘conversational media’ that wouldn’t necessarily stand alone as broadcast media but in the context of conversation it can be extraordinarily powerful (Lambert, 2013).
Digitalisation of storytelling is offered as a means by which to address a fundamental problem in contemporary democratic societies by giving the everyday a significant voice. Implications upon digital storytelling via mediatisation are seen from the oversaturation of the online environment including a pressure to mix text with other materials (sound, video, still image), pressure to limit the length of the narrative and a pressure towards standardisation of content, because of the sheer volume of material online.
More consequentially, if we understand mediation as the resultant flows of production, circulation, interpretation and recirculation, a practice such as digital storytelling challenges the medias normal concentration of symbolic resources; reshaping the hierarchies of voice and agency that characterise mediated democracies. This is done through how digital stories are being produced, how the digital content is being circulated and recirculated, complication of mobile devices in digital storytelling and content being created on the go as well as long term consequences for wider social and cultural formations.
Online communities are comparable to offline communities; they are each made up with like-minded people, usually coming together to share similar thoughts, feelings and transactional conversations. A globalized world has generated new cultural collaborations and escalated cross-cultural communications (Lewis & George, 2008). The technological revolution, and the birth of online communities, has facilitated and strengthened these cultural networks.
‘Online communities’ are a group of people with a common interest or a shared purpose, whose interactions are facilitated by policies in the form of unstated assumptions, rituals, protocols; they are those who use computer systems to support and mediate social interaction and facilitate a sense of togetherness (Preece, 2000).
Members and contributors in an online support group produce and share content with one another for the means of gaining support and guidance. These stories may be as trivial as what a certain member of the group ate that day, or as consequential as a new pain management technique, but all of the story shares are relevant. The members of online communities are not limited by geographical or temporal restrictions as might be the case for a face-to-face communities (Braithwaite, Waldron, & Finn, 1999) but there may be restrictions for some users if they are physically incapable or do not have adequate internet access.
The shift to Web 2.0 as stated by Ravenscroft (2009) considers the web 2.0 to be the social and participative web; with emphasis on social networking, media sharing and virtual communities. This shift is important to note as it cements the significance of the idea of Web 2.0 (Hesse, et. al., 2011) highlighting the internet maturity and development over the last decade (Levy, 2009).
Online support groups have a great potential for a much larger and diverse group composition (Wright & Bell, 2003), which in turn allows members to potentially access a wider variety of information, advice and support (Coulson & Knibb, 2007) and a platform to share their digital stories in a landscape that is safe and non-judgmental. It is also well understood that people say and do things in cyberspace that they ordinarily wouldn’t do or say in the face to face world. They loosen up, feel more uninhibited and express themselves more freely, researchers call this the online disinhibition effect (Suler, 2004). This anonymity is one of the factors that create the disinhibition effect. When people have the opportunity to detach their actions online from their in-person lifestyle and identity, they feel less vulnerable about self-disclosing or acting out (Suler, 2005).
The social media phenomenon is an integral part of Internet culture and thus published literature describing social media interventions need to become more prevalent. It has also been suggested that social media may allow for communication processes that differ from those offered by other information technologies, such as the traditional online support group (Fox, 2011).
Facebook is arguably the most prominent social media platform, with a count of 1.23 billion monthly users, equating to about one-sixth of the world’s population (Ross, 2014). Research from Howell, Taylor et al, (2012) identified the effective use of Facebook groups as a mechanism for support and creation of online community groups and the prominence of the social media platform.
Virtual communities are a communication platform, more recently established through social networking sites through which people that hold the same interests and concerns can interact with one another through cyberspace (Turban et.al, 2006). Virtual communities can often be governed by a set of rules or guidelines and monitored by an administrator/s (McKnight et al., 2002). This is exemplified in Facebook groups as they are monitored by admins, who have the control of the group composition as they accept members to join the group.
Implications upon the creation of online communities in regards to mediatisation based on the conceptual framework that digital media ‘are not that new’, that the effects of ‘old’ mass media are seen to ‘endure the new media environment’ (Finnemann, 2011) by the shift from the traditional support group to the online support group. Even though online support networks are prominent within our society, the endurance of the traditional support network is still appreciated.
In regards to mediation of online support groups, people are seen to still have agency towards the technology and therefore the technologies themselves can be seen to be the product of great social changes within society. The media within online support groups is created, circulated within itself, interpreted by members of the group and then re-circulated through information sharing. Online support groups can be seen as a platform for the sharing of digital stories, through social media or other platforms constructed for online communities.
Mediatisation incorporates the concept and process of remediation – the representation of one medium in another. Bolter and Grusin (1998) see this as a defining characteristic of the new digital media and furthermore of the digital and participative web
These different approaches to understanding the broader social consequences of media help to identify the potentials and limits of new media specifically in relation to digital storytelling and the building of online communities.
It is important to develop a concise understanding about both the concept of mediatisation and mediation and the way in which these theories can be used to better understand Digital Storytelling and the emergence of online communities. Although there is not definitive description for the development of Digital Storytelling, the theories of mediatisation and mediation present an authoritative framework of understanding the development of the online and digital age.
This paper helps to give a profound understanding to the methods of content creation through digital storytelling and how virtual communities are created and maintained online.
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