Convergence in the News Media Discourse (Online) on the EU Crisis shown in Network Graphs

Here are a few graphs that I’ve created with Gephi, a very powerful tool for network graphs; the software is open source and you can download it for free. It might seem a bit intimidating to people who have absolutely no experience with network analysis software but there are tons of helpful tutorials out there, especially on YouTube. I will compile a list with my favourite ones in a follow-up post soon. It’s also good to have some knowledge about either Excel or SPSS (best both), as you will need data tables for calculating the network graphs (in CSV).

I use Gephi for the visualisation of  hyperlink patterns in online content but also for mapping relations between political actors, organisation, and, as in the present case, nation-states. For example, the  graphs below show what countries were mentioned and with which other nation-states they were most frequently contextualised/linked to in EU crisis content from three European news media websites (Guardian, EKathimerini, and Spiegel Online, click to enlarge). I extracted the data from over 13.000 online articles published between March 2011 and March 2013.

A node’s size indicates how often a specific country was named; the bigger it is, the more frequent it was mentioned or referred to in the sample. The lines (also called edges) show what countries were named together in the analysed content and their “thickness” indicates how often that occurred. For example, Germany and Greece have a very thick connection across all platforms, which tells us that they were particularly often linked to each other in the EU crisis discourse; considering Germany’s dominant role in the EU bailout negotiations for Greece, this is little surprising.

Guardian Online Nations Network EU Crisis 2011-2013
Guardian Online Nations Network EU Crisis 2011-2013
EKathimerini EU crisis graph
Ekathimerini Nations Network EU Crisis 2011-2013
SPON Nations EU Crisis
SPON Nations Network EU Crisis 2011-2013

Still, the similarities across the four different European news media sites indicate significant tendencies towards discursive convergence in the EU crisis debate. The same can be said of Le Monde for which I have created the same kind of graph. Each platform seems to put particular emphasis on its own national context (UK, Greece, Germany, France etc.) but in sum the networks between countries  that are somehow involved in the EU crisis discourse look very similar. This type of graph thus allows to analyse the set of entities that are involved in a particular political discourse and enables a more detailed evaluation of how their relations to each other are portrayed in media content.


Wikileaks and the (alleged) “Diplomacy-Crisis”

Though I should actually be working on an oral presentation on Maoism, I cannot restrain myself from commenting on the latest “Wikileaks-Coup”. Once more, the (allegedly) “subversive” website attracted an incredibly intense media coverage. I will spare you an elaborate recap of what has happened – you can read, watch or listen to the story on each and every media channel.  All major newspapers, news websites, and broadcasters have put the story on the publication of 250.000 “sensitive” diplomatic documents on the top of their agendas; you can find background information on the issue almost everywhere. Sensational headlines  speak of a “real” diplomacy crisis. Another catchy term is “cablegate”, an allegory to the infamous Watergate-scandal of the Nixon administration in the 1970s. Well, I have my doubts here.

Especially the last comparison seems to be far from being appropriate. In the original scandal, the then government was directly involved in illegal surveillance and monitoring activities; of course, similar things happen today all the time (in partly much more sophisticated manner), too. However, today’s “cablegate” documents have not shown yet, that the US administration did anything particularly “deceptive” or “evil”. Even if some notes on certain politicians are rather embarrassing. But are they really that surprising? Would secret, diplomatic notes from other countries look any different? Let’s see: Arabia has a problem with a possible Iranian hegemony – tell me something new. Putin is Batman, Medwedew resembles his sidekick Robin and Ahmadinedschad reminds people of Hitler – well, I kinda knew that before Wikileaks told us. And to realise that Berlusconi loves parties you do not have to be a diplomat. Moreover, when I read what the US diplomats think of Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle, I literally had to laugh out loud – because the characterizations are simply true (well, at least from my political perspective); nothing “sensitive” here. As regards spying on the UN, history has shown that diplomats had always been involved in rather shady forms of information gathering. That’s scandalous to very naive people only.

The whole issue appears to be a bit overblown and serious consequences for the diplomatic relationships between the involved nations remain to be seen. This has already been proven all day, when the different involved statesmen and -women downplayed the impact of this “revealment”. There is no real diplomacy crisis, just a few blushing faces (and some flattery damage containment). However, I am only mocking about today’s “over-emotional” coverage of the issue – I am not thinking that there is nothing truly surprising or maybe even shocking in this 250.000 documents. All I am saying is: It’s a bit too early to draw any hasty conclusions. We have to wait – and contemplate advantages over disadvantages of a force like Wikileaks in our current information environment. This applies to various dimensions of the issue:

1. The most basic question is of course: When does the monopoly on information of a (democratic) state end – and when do activities of organizations like Wikileaks violate  a government’s right on secrecy? I am far from being an enemy of a “free” information flow and I do not believe that contemporary democracies are the most perfect political system to live in (though, and here I agree with Churchill, all others are still much worse). But I am also convinced that too much transparency can be harmful for a collective, i.e. a nation-state in certain truly sensitive respects.

2. Wikileaks fulfills an important function by keeping debates on information, censorship, the media and the role of the Internet alive. In the case of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, it confirmed what critical observers already assumed: That there is a another, far more complex and difficult reality to both wars. It has also shown that online media can truly circumvent and stimulate traditional media. Hence, there is a moral and political justification for a platform like Wikileaks  – to break established hegemonies. However, in the very moment an “independent” organisation accumulates the strength to challenge the establishment, it is not far from becoming a hegemonic factor within a certain power discourse itself. It is today the no. 1 source for classified information; there are no other notable Wikis for political leaks. In order to hold its position, it actually needs to “produce” constantly new breaking stories. It needs the media and vice versa. This encompasses certain demerits. Therefore, I sometimes doubt that Wikileaks always remembers its enormous responsibility every time it publishes masses of governmental documents – I simply cannot believe that its staff reads and evaluates every single piece appropriately before pushing it over to the media and the public, respectively. So how does who in Wikileaks actually decide which information goes out? I am not the first who questions the organization’s inner and outer transparency. One should never trust 100% in what a government is announcing – the same applies to its antagonists.

3. There is also the question of the actual political impact – I have already touched the problem above. For instance, though there had been a loud and vital discussion on the war logs, the number of anti-war protests did not really increase. As so often, the “scandal” arose broad attention for a relatively brief moment. The new media, the mass media, governments and the public – all factors influence each other, but the actual outcome of each debate needs to be evaluated and scrutinized anew. However, some rather unwelcomed effects of this one are already tangible: Restrictive governments can misuse the whole issue to justify their strict information policies, less restrictive ones will revise their information security policies.

To make one thing clear: Being critical towards Wikileaks here does not mean that I am fully supporting the different official governments’ stands in this debate; I would define my position as a neutral, extremely sceptical one. What I wanted to point out is: It is important that such events are accompanied  by sober, balanced discussions which consider all positive and negative factors; and that it is not enough to throw out a stack of controversial documents and then see what happens.

Ethics, Journalists, and the Use of New Media

Media producers of all branches or genres, respectively, increase their efforts to use the Internet and the various forms of social media as both a new communication channel and a source for research. Contemporary journalistic work not using new media became almost unthinkable – certain forms like “citizen journalism” or online news (all genres) would not even exist. A modern and successful news/media producer must be aware of the opportunities  but also limits of the world wide web.

Though the digitalised environment of today’s information societies creates and demands different, new modes of  news/knowledge production as well as distribution, there have to be certain guidelines and rules, basing on traditional perceptions of this ‘media craft’ – at least according to some professionals. Especially ethics, which always have been a often heatedly discussed issue in journalism, seem thereby to be an important topic in online media production discourses, too. How to handle social network media sources? How to treat statements made on blogposts, comments or in fora? How to sustain fairness – and guarantee ‘accuracy’, ‘truth’ (or at least ‘objectivity’ – if this is even possible) online? Though some of the basics behind those questions are long known points of contention (especially on ‘truth’ and ‘neutrality’), the Internet confronts the critical observer with various new and complex problems in this context. Especially concerning the alleged freedom of information, property rights, and privacy issues.

To find an interesting example for such ethical guidelines, please visit Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Here, media professionals postulate rules for using and treating online sources – and try to approach crucial questions like the ones mentioned above. It shows how those who are directly involved in the production process of online content attempt to meet the challenges of a changed information economy.

Thanks to my colleague Tomi, who passed me the link – visit her blog here.

PEW INDEX: Gaza Flotilla Incident dominates the Blogosphere

The Israeli attack on supply ships heading for Gaza on May 31 sparked a lot of heated discussions – and lead to serious diplomatic tensions between Israel and Turkey, once one of its very few supporters in the ‘Islamic world’ . Like many other outer events, this tragedy caused also an enormous echo among political bloggers. At least according to a study conducted by the well-known PEW Research Center’s for Excellence in Journalism. In the context of its regularly published New Media Index, the researchers compared the top stories among bloggers – and they found out that the Gaza incident dominates the (US) blogosphere.

The index also lists top stories in the traditional mass media. US broadcasters and newspapers are thereby mainly focusing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the international incident far behind on a second rank. The study provides a ranking of top stories in the so-called twitterverse, too. The attached bar chart shows that sports (football in particular) and the controversial decisions by US mobile phone provider AT&T are the most important stories shared via twitter.

Find the study on this issue on here on The research mechanisms behind the index are explained at the bottom.

Sexual Harassment and Social Media

A couple of days ago I saw a quite disturbing news story about a paedophilic postman from Cornwall on the BBC. A 28-year old used primarily applications of the New Media to groom hundreds of underage victims. By using various fake identities on social networking sites like Facebook, he approached and befriended youngsters and children – pretending he would be a teenage boy or girl of their age. After establishing a relationship, he started to harass them sexually. He admitted 27 charges of “inciting sexual activity, grooming and possessing and distributing indecent images” (BBC,, 30/05/2010). He used several computers simultaneously to lead his digital “second life”. See a brief news clip from sky-news here:

The whole issue highlights another very important dimension of the discourse on cyber-bullying/-criminality/-violence: The directed misuse of contemporary technology for sexual harassment and (psychological as well as physical) abuse of minors. It also shows once more to what extent an individual can “live” more than one self-created identity in cyberspace; this “freedom” proves to be a janus-faced one, as advantages in terms of self-determination and digital self-fulfilmet coexist with irrefutable dangers and threats. Furthermore, the (still wide) gap between generations is clearly perceptible, too. Many parents did not know what their children were doing online and who they were engaging with.

Sexual harassment in the Internet is nothing new – various cases occurred during the last years (Weller, 30/05/2010). The concrete manifestations of this behaviour range from e.g. constantly e-mailing, over cyber-stalking to actual physical assaults. In some cases culprits used the web to search and contact possible victims , before approaching and assaulting them offline. Pedophiliacs often establish a bond of trust to children before they attempt to seduce them (Deirmenjian, 30/05/2010) – just like the postman from Cornwall did.

Many causes for and forms of sexual harassment exist. For instance, various cases among adults took place at work (between employers/employees). Though the majority of such activities come from men, the number of victims seems to increase on both sides (Wall Street Journal, 30/05/2010), at least in the USA. Other incidents resulted from failed relationships. There is a wide range of psychological reasons for such dangerous behaviour. Nevertheless, online paedophilia and child abuse are extraordinary repulsive delicts.

There are lot of heated discussions on negative media effects of violent/sexual content on young people; it is undoubtedly a crucial task to debate and examine the actual form and impact of the many media-transported influences on recipients of all age. However, examples like this show to what extent the World Wide Web can entail concrete threats to an individuals safety, especially concerning children.  The Internet provides a lot of possibilities to communicate and engage with other people – but proper education and information about certain downsides of these benefits is needed. These considerations forces the critical observer to face some difficult questions, which have to deal with e.g. privacy, identity-controll, and media capacity: How can I be sure the person I contact is really the one he/she supposes to be? Where should be the legal limits to the creation of online effigies/identities? How can young people be effectively warned about the existing threats? What can the  providers of social networking sites do – without further cutting down an user’s privacy rights? What would appropriate safety measures look like? Approaching answers is crucial but also very difficult: hasty measures could lead to certain disadvantages, though not reacting to such incidents cannot be an option. Thus, current discourses on the subject should focus and revise contemporary concepts of preparation and protection.

List of References

BBC,,  (30/05/2010)

Deirmenjian,  (30/05/2010)

Sky News, youtube= (30/05/2010)

Wall Street Journal,  (30/05/2010)

Weller,  (30/05/2010)

Knowledge in Contemporary Media Culture

I decided to publish here regularly all the coursework I have submitted so far at Coventry University – to receive more than just one opinion towards my ideas. So fell free to comment as much as you like!

The first assignment I want to put online was written in the context of a seminar which focused theoretical approaches in communication, culture and media. It deals with the current processes of information production, primarily in the new media:

Knowledge in Contemporary Media Culture

Postmodern Approaches on the Production and Consumption of Information in the Internet

1. Introduction

Today’s media culture offers virtually unlimited access to information. Knowledge seems to be available everywhere, any time for everybody. Most notably the Internet significantly changed the way information and media products are created and consumed; it is no longer bound to the limitations of time and space. Since its emergence utopian visions and hopes lie on the world wide web: Many described it as a possible catalyst for a broader participation in political, social, scientific and artistic processes. Others called it an extension of the freedom of speech. Some of these assumptions should indeed prove true – but  only to a certain extent. There are still limits, and the great democratisation of the Internet in a fully political sense wears on comparatively slowly. Nevertheless, concerning the availability of information, the introduction of this new communication technology into the private sector during the 1990s can be described as a pivotal turning point for media culture – at least in industrialized, capitalistic societies. New content enters the ever-flowing data-stream continuously, generating this immense diversity which shapes contemporary media culture; Plurality became one of the main characteristics of today’s media, particularly in the Internet. Different, new forms of media artefacts emerge constantly: Hybrids and cross-formats challenge traditional classifications and genres and new categories have to be invented. A shift in the classic relationship of consumer and producer is detectable, too: it is nowadays,  due to ongoing technological progress, much easier for recipients to become creators of media artefacts and information products themselves. As the production and consumption of information i.e. knowledge changes, profound transformations in culture become observable. Postmodern theories on epistemology, culture and media thereby provide applicable approaches to describe these developments as some of the visions and forecasts of prophets like Lyotard, Virilio, Baudrillard or Kittler seem to prove true.

But what is knowledge nowadays actually? Which role do the media play in the complex relationship between culture, information production and consumption? What can postmodern theories tell us about the characteristics of today’s media and culture? Do we live in an information society – or a permanent simulation (Baudrillard 1988)? This paper attempts to approach answers to this complex questions by describing and analyzing postmodern perspectives on the issue. The chosen examples focus on the Internet as an almost always available source of information. It shall be assessed to what extent postmodern theories and concepts help to understand media and culture properly.  Therefore the epistemological background as well as the differences to the concept of modernity have to be illuminated. After that, a summary of the postmodern characterisation of media as an important, determining factor for society and culture is given. By examining current examples of information products some of the basic mechanisms of knowledge production, distribution, and consumption shall be identified. Finally, the advantages but also the shortcomings of postmodern theories are explained. Due to the limits of this essay not all theories, terms and ideas can be discussed in detail; some aspects can only be ascertained cursorily. An in-depth discussion on the concepts of modernism and modernity cannot be provided. The examination on postmondernity and postmodernism can also highlight only selected aspects, as these are very broad and ambiguous terms. Nevertheless, some of the most important ideas and findings of postmodern theories on media culture, and the contemporary forms of information and knowledge shall be illuminated and assessed. At first, the philosophical and epistemological background of postmodern thinking has to be described, before any further conclusions on the issue can be drawn.

2. Postmodern Concepts of Knowledge

Since more than 25 years, the conceptions and ideas behind the terms Postmodernity and Postmodernism cause controversial discussions in the field of philosophy and the humanities, most notably in cultural and media studies – though until today no satisfying, fixed definition of both buzzwords can be given (, 13/12/09). However, both concepts cannot be considered synonymous: Postmodernity describes a social condition while Postmodernism can be identified as a cultural concept (applied e.g. in arts[1]). The perspicacious as well as polarising ideas of postmodern (media-) philosophers lead to new perspectives on contemporary Western conceptions, society, politics and culture. According to many postmodernists, Western society went through several radical changes during the last 60 years (Lyotard 1984: 3). Thereby rapid technological process was and is an important factor. Primarily the ways knowledge is produced and consumed altered dramatically. Its importance for the post-industrial society increased significantly as it became “[…] the strategic resource and [its] transforming agent […]” (Bell 1980: 531).

Postmodern thinking is in many ways a radical break with the ideals and concepts of Modernity[2];  it actually attempts to define itself by being not modern. Modern and postmodern thereby are ambiguous, often confusing terms and very difficult to separate from each other – some speak of a “nebulous distinction” between them (Smart 1990: 14). However, comparing the philosophical and epistemological background of both concepts, blatant differences can be identified. The major distinction between postmodern views – which are highly influenced by poststructuralism and deconstructivism – and modern philosophy lies in the virtually contrarian conception of knowledge. While modernists still assume that there is a certain reality which can be approached through science and its methods, postmodern positions negate this essentialist perspective. The idea behind this new, provoking perception of knowledge is basically the turn away from the ideals and principles of Enlightenment, which proved to be wrong – from a postmodern perspective. The failure of the so-called grand narratives[3] (Lyotard 1984: 50) would provide evidence for this thesis. By having a rather constructivist perspective, they challenge the concept of a single truth. To them several versions of truth exist, each a construction or creation of the theorist behind a given explanation (e.g. Webster 1995: 165). Michel Foucault’s writings on knowledge, power and discourses are also very important for the proper understanding of postmodernist positions. He anticipated this conception of truth, ergo knowledge, when he stated that “[…] each society has its regime of truth its ‘general politics’ of truth; that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true” (Foucault 1972: 131). According to Lyotard, knowledge is never generated only for its own sake; it always has a certain purpose and a specific value. Even science cannot provide a valid, objective production of information[4]. He describes this as the commodification or mercantilisation of knowledge, adjusting Marx’s principle of commodification used to describe the relation of use value and exchange value in capitalistic societies (Lyotard 1984: 5 et seq.). By analysing and depicting the condition of knowledge, Lyotard formulates the basic postmodern epistemological perspective on the issue. Summarized, it says that every piece of information is biased and constructed – whether it is a news article, a book, a video clip or a scientific research project (Webster 1995: 165). This assumption implies that there is no real hierarchy of knowledge – basically all forms of information are equal; the qualitative distinction between different forms of knowledge are mere constructions. Thus, identity and history for example are not naturally given but they are constructed through language i.e. discourse. From a postmodern point of view given information / knowledge is always questionable or at least negotiable:

Thus, put crudely, in such perspectives both our powers of empirical perception and our powers of pure logical conception are incapable by any rational means at any one time of ever making ‘total’ sense of  – of ‘totalizing’ – or even observing, all the facts that would make up the truth; and what we do perceive or conceive may always to some equally valid percept or concept that contradicts it. (Nash 2001: 6)

Hence, one could speak of a paradigm shift in the conception of truth i.e.  knowledge and information. The rejection of modernist thinking forms a basic aspect of postmodern concepts and theories – which contest the hegemony of high modern perspectives on a wide range of philosophical and cultural issues (Jameson 1982: 111); it questions for instance science and its methods[5]. Further, everything is informational and plurality stands against conventional categorisations, hierarchy, integrity and morality. Knowledge is purchasable and consumable like any other commodity in a capitalistic society. Hence, it can be described as an utility. Simultaneously, controlling knowledge, i.e. the creation of information, means possession of power –  to dominate discourses or shape representations / identities for example[6]. Thereby, individuals know the world through language (Sarup 1988: 118) – symbols  and images are the only reality we have; texts of every form are the source of knowledge. The media are the most important factor in the process of producing, distributing and consuming it. They establish the free flow of information. Hence, communication technologies i.e. the media are of particular importance in postmodernist theories on epistemology and culture.

3. Postmodern Media Theories

Media and communication technologies are of special interest to Postmodern theories: They are indentified as the crucial factors in the construction and transformation processes which configure an individual’s perception of the world. Though the descriptions and analyses are partially very different, they share the assumption that the media shape reality. At this point once more the constructivist background of postmodern philosophy becomes obvious. Media also determine contemporary culture. The French philosopher Villem Flusser for instance emphasised that the changes in communication always had an impact on the cultural development (e.g. Flusser 1995). McLuhans theories about the nature and impact of media thereby anticipated many of the ideas[7] of later postmodern thinkers and provided a basis for their work. In their media ontologies Virilio and Baudrillard use a similar, relatively coarse division of human history, characterising the different epochs on the basis of the use of media / communication technology (e.g. Virillio 1975; Baudrillard 1993). They also share the assumption that content and use are determined by the form of the medium (Genosko 1999: 84). Furthermore, media are omnipresent and provide the main source of information; communication technology makes its fast reproduction and transportability possible (Flusser 2002: 71 et seq.). The postmodern positions towards the media are ambiguous: on one hand, due to their inherent dynamics, media have the potential to change society dramatically. But on the other one, they are industrialized and commercialised (Virilio 1995: 7) – which entails certain negative consequences and restrictions concerning production and consumption. Media have been also characterised as artefacts of military technology, released only for limited civil use  (e.g. Virilio 1995: 14; Kittler 1999). But postmodern theorists describe even more profound effects: Baudrillard for instance states that in the computerised, digitalised media society the Saussurean relation between signifier and signified ceased to exist: in the ever-flowing data stream signs emancipated from the signified and became objects themselves – that is the very essence of what he describes as hyperreality, the condition of the age of simulation[8] we live in. According to him, today information is beyond reference; signs are no longer representational, the so-called sign-value overcomes use-value (Baudrillard 2005: 9 et seq.): the representation becomes actually more important than the real object. Signs turn into simulacra, which constitute the simulation. The precondition for this development was basically the step from the metallurgic to the semiurgic society (Best / Kellner 1991: 118). Assuming that the differentiation between reality and simulation become obsolete, can provide a new perspective on the digital commodities of the Internet. In his dromology[9] Virillio also focuses the impact of media on the perception of reality. According to him, media can be described as vehicles which neutralise distances, making the world a smaller place. Every advancement in communication technology thus transforms reality. Moreover, everything that is produced in media it remains available (Viriio 1997: 16). However, as achieving economical aims, i.e. the seek for profit, often becomes the dominant mechanism in the production of information, any liberating effects of new inventions must be limited. Furthermore, users are not able to completely understand the mechanisms and the used language behind the interface in the computerized age; their consumption is limited to the simulation presented to them. Only a few individuals are capable to master the true code which constitutes the data stream (Kittler 2002: 28). Also, the distinction between different forms of media becomes obsolete as digitalisation synchronizes them. Altogether, the different postmodern theories give a rather pessimistic or at least sober assessment of contemporary media.

To summarize briefly the most important aspects of postmodern media theories: Media determine the perception of reality by providing information which contains selected knowledge about the world. Thus, they shape attitudes, ethics, representations, identities and ultimately culture. Knowledge is thereby produced everywhere, anytime (e.g. Virilio 1995). Furthermore, postmodern media analyses imply an equality of all media content i.e. information products – they actually deny a hierarchy of media artefacts. Hence, postmodern positions challenge the antagonistic-binary relationship between high culture vs. popular culture, too. By embracing the concept of plurality they clearly distance themselves from the modernist Frankfurt School for instance. The emergence of new, unconventional forms of media content prohibits a clear distinction between classic genres (Virilio 1995: 15). Maybe most important: The conventional relation between the sign and the signfied disbands. Today it is no longer possible to distinct between the two of them; signs become self-referential, moving in “ceaseless circulation” (Webster 1995: 177). This provides an applicable approach to analyse forms of information production and new forms of consumption  in an age of digitalised media content.

4. Production of Knowledge in Contemporary Media Culture

Following postmodern theories, the media are the major source and catalyst for the proliferation of information and knowledge, respectively. They also cause cultural changes (Allmendinger 2000: 57); their importance even grows, as the good producing society transforms into a service society (Bell 1973). As mentioned above, the production, distribution and consumption of information is nowadays no longer limited to classic mass media. Print and broadcasting media artefacts melt together with other new forms in the world wide web. The emergence and acceptance of this new medium caused significant changes in former space-time-relations. The next passage shall cursorily describe and analyse current forms of information production by applying postmodern approaches.

4.1 Information Production, Consumption  and New Media

Information constantly flows through the media. It is a non-physical, highly liquid commodity and virtually always available[10]. It moves fast, spreads and escapes control (Rutsky 2005: 61). The Internet is thereby often metaphorically described as an “ocean” (e.g. metaphor lookout).Thus, knowledge often appears in pure digital content, i.e. non-physical commodities. This entails the described mobility and makes an easy exchange possible – it diffuses through consumption. One could speak of a decentralisation or liberation of information. The precondition for the consumption of information products in contemporary media culture are free individuals acting as consuming subjects in a capitalistic society. In the Internet virtually everyone can produce information and spread it through the electronic channels around the globe. An example would be Wikipedia and its several specialised derivatives[11]. Everyone can participate and publish texts, i.e. knowledge, and provide it for free sharing. Wikipedia actually exists only because of the voluntary work of its authors. Although the validity and quality of the provided information is often debatable; this seems to be the disadvantage of free information products. The possibility of using wikis, websites, blogs etc., contributes to the establishment of plurality as countless users worldwide can participate. For example, WordPress and Blogspot are used by millions of people everyday, too (wordpress, 12/12/09; blogspot, http://labnol.blogspot. com/2006/06/blogger-templates-45-million-blogspot.html 12/12/09). They offer broad spaces for knowledge production and consumption. Blogs thereby have to cope with the same deficiencies as Wikipedia. The provided information is seldom really for free, too, as many bloggers allow advertising on their homepage. However, authoritative scientific knowledge is less accessible compared to everyday knowledge (e.g. recipes on a blog about British kitchen). The use of many academic online databases and libraries such as Jstor is limited to an exclusive group of recipients. It is often expensive, too[12]. These and plenty of other examples seem to verify the postmodern assumption that every form of knowledge is commodified. Professional media and information producers[13] thus have the opportunity to offer their commodities in multiple ways – crossmediality provides another technique to implement pluralism.

Furthermore, the Internet realises the globalisation of information production and consumption, at least for Western users / consumers. The illusion of distances becomes completely obsolete: within minutes a recipient in France can inform him/herself about cultural customs in Papua New Guinea. In seconds the same user exchanges this information via video chat with a friend in Cape Town. Simultaneously he/she shops online overseas and skims a PDF about Postmodernism downloaded from the server of a US-University. The possibility of getting the latest news, listen to music, to shop, and play with friend online via a single medium causes profound transformations in everyday life of millions of consumers. Technological progress is the activator for this development: “Digitization has, in other words, enabled various cultural products and forms of knowledge to be more easily commodified and consumed.” (Rutsky 2005: 67). Although the dissolving of distances is also detectable ‘outside’ the Internet, think for example of the outsourcing of information services to foreign countries[14]. The globalisation of information evolved gradually and in several dimension but always through new, more effective communication technology. Nevertheless, processing and circulating information through computers around the world caused the probably most radical transformations (e.g. Allmendinger 2000: 56): these range from education, entertainment, and information to social interaction. It further increased the speed of information exchange and lifted the sign, as an object  of its own, to a new level: new media artefacts like computer programmes are actually nothing else than a composition of signs without any practical reference to real objects. Recipients pay real money for digital signs they use for different purposes in virtual realities[15] – pure simulation.

4.2 “Anything Goes”? Problems and Limits of the Internet

The Internet might provide an open space in which each and everyone can express himself/herself and provide any kind of information. However, these advantages are accompanied by certain dangers: myths[16] can be created and distributed in short time, spreading false information. Think for example of the confusion amateur websites and forums about health issues cause: Internet users tend to diagnose themselves by relying on information from the web, where quality control still cannot be fully realised. The vast choice of media artefacts containing knowledge can lead to disorientation, misinformation and finally anxiety. It can be a difficult and confusing task to select useful, qualitative information from the data stream of the Internet. Important questions in this context would be: How to sustain quality? How to prove validity? Furthermore, though numerous possibilities for participation exist, many of the published blogs, websites etc. are simply ‘noise’, lost media artefacts which pass by without being consumed by a mentionable audience. This shows that not all available information is equally percieved. Applying Aristotle’s communication model, ethos[17] is still important for the perception and evaluation of a media producer. Besides, entertainment still seems to be the major purpose for using new media. There might be a slow increase of political activities but the great democratisation of the masses remains to be realised. Instead established political, economical, and academic institutions professionalise their performance in the Internet, aiming for communication dominance in the virtual space – hegemony possibly remains in their hands. The commercialisation of the Internet grows continuously, too: more and more content must be purchased before it can be consumed. Thus, many Internet users have to rethink their “for-free”-mentality. However, the fluidity of information confronts producers as well as consumers with various judicial questions about trademarks and owner rights.

Moreover, there are still certain limits to the freedom of information, especially outside the hemisphere of democratic societies; The People’s Republic of China for instance successfully controls the vast spaces of the Internet within its borders[18]. Limited access to information and control over media by gatekeepers thereby are important issues in Western societies, too. The forms of control are of course less rigid and less obvious. There are certain systematic mechanisms which control access to new media: insufficient education and income can exclude individuals from using the Internet. Hence, an individual’s media competence and its economic situation determine the accessibility i.e. the potential extent of participation. This is one of the main reasons why it is not possible to characterise Western social structures as information societies[19] in general. There are still considerable segments which do not apply to a fully digitalised life in which information is the worthiest capital. Anyhow, the term indeed becomes appropriate to growing parts of Western society.  Another important aspect is the role of big Internet companies like Google as gatekeeper / content selectors. As the dominating search engine worldwide the corporation inhabits a possible monopoly on the selection of information – an elementary problem concerning the freedom and unhindered fluctuation of knowledge. Many of the utopian hopes put in computer technology (Rutsky 2005: 63) have not become reality, yet.

5. Conclusion: Chances and Limits of Postmodern Approaches on Media Culture

This critical view on postmodern concepts of knowledge, information and media showed to which extent these theories help to describe, analyse and understand current media culture. To grasp and assess plurality and the profound changes in Western media societies caused by new communication technologies, postmodern theories provide an appropriate approach indeed. They challenge conventional ways of thinking and categorising the world. Hence, postmodern ideas possibly broaden the horizon of the observer. They are applicable to describe the transformations in the complex relationship between signs and sigfined, code, information, knowledge and ultimately the perception of reality today. Postmodern observations offer an elaborate conceptualisation of late capitalistic societies (Smart 1990: 15): they help to understand the processes and mechanisms behind the production and consumption of information in contemporary media culture – in which millions participate (Nash 2001: 4). Thereby Information can be regarded as a kind of capital. Furthermore postmodernist thinking demands science to rethink its perspectives and methods; it illustrates that especially cultural and social studies should apply interdisciplinary approaches. However, postmodern theories do not form a monolithic school of thought  – different positions within the field of postmodern considerations can be detected (Allmendinger 2000: 55); it is rather a net of discourses, an intellectual movement (Webster 1995: 164), critically examining the current condition of Western civilisation. Nevertheless, the ideas behind Postmodernity challenge the reader him/herself to critically assess the possibilities of new media: Do we really witness a liberation of information? Who dominates discourses in and on the Internet? Who controls the code behind the surface? Who possesses knowledge? Who decides what knowledge is? Are consumer societies really information societies? Discussing these questions leads inevitably to an analysis of contemporary culture. The same applies for Postmodernism as a cultural concept: it makes the principle of plurality comprehensible. It must not be taken as a form of indifference but as an approach to sustain creativity from which new forms of media can emerge; and it shows that lifestyles today are open and fluid.

However, postmodern concepts are not easy to comprehend and there are several aspects which are debatable. First of all, postmodernist authors use eclectic and selective argumentations. This reflects of course their own postmodern principles but it generates also a certain arbitrariness. It consequently becomes a difficult task to implement their quite subtle and complex theories. Postmodernsts give elaborate examinations of the contemporary condition of culture and express harsh criticism but offer no solutions – the insights are not changed into actions (Adams 1995: 250). Furthermore, as postmodernist positions do not form a single, consentaneous philosophy they can be contradicting or even paradoxical (e.g. Callinicos 1989: 25 et seq.). Another debatable aspect is the focus on Western civilisation. The world is still divided into different cultural and political spaces – the idea of simulation and hyperreality might be adjustable to highly mediatised societies of regions like the ‘West’ or the so-called Second World but not to remote, less developed areas. Here these concepts are not applicable, as often the main premises cannot be provided: an elaborate technological infrastructure, continuing progress and consuming subjects. Thus, in other political and social systems the environment for the production and consumption of information might be totally different. Furthermore, the freedom of the media – even the Internet – can be limited easily, as totalitarian or fundamental religious regimes around the globes show. Therefore, the postmodern description and assessment of the media must be seen in a nearly exclusive Western-capitalistic context.

List of references

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[1] E.g. Postmodernism in theatre, literature, movies etc.

[2] For an introduction to modernity and modernism see Harvey 1989.

[3] E.g. Darwinism, Marxism, Capitalism, but also Fascism as a perversion of modernity’s anthropocentrism – theories which all claim to provide a “total” answer.

[4] He expresses it even more provoking by stating that knowledge and science are not the same (Lyotard 1984: 18 et seq.).

[5] E.g. Paul Feyerabend (1975)

[6] For the relation of controlling representations and power see  Berten 1995: 83.

[7] Most notably in The Gutenberg Galaxis and The Medium is the Message

[8] The third of his “orders of simulacra” , the epochs he uses to divide history (Baudrillard  1983);

[9] The logic of speed

[10] New technologies like smart phones (e.g. ) Apple’s iPhone which provide mobile Internet access, enable today’s users to consume information almost everywhere.

[11] Until today several wikis for special interest emerged, e.g. Wookiepedia informing about the fictional Star Wars Universe ( 12/12/09)

[12] For instance accessing a scientific article on for one day costs 25 US Dollars (sagepub, 12/12/09).

[13] Newspapers and broadcast corporations such as The Guardian, BBC.

[14] E.g. service hotlines in India caring for customers in the US.

[15] E.g. Massive Multiplayer Online Role Play Games.

[16] See Barth (1972) for a detailed discussion on the concept of myths.

[17] The speaker’s authority

[18] See for instance, (12/12/09).

[19] For a detailed discussion on information societies see Allmendinger 2000: 59 et seq.

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