Information overload? Three useful pit stops along the information highway
The Internet is a place where we find information, or so we are told. However, the Internet has so much information, and when you add to that the myriad opinions and pieces of misinformation that abound on the web, it becomes more of an information jungle than a highway. In academic contexts, for instance, online sources are not credited with the same value as published texts (in most cases deservedly so). Moreover, search engines are fallible and guided by other motives than quality of information (gaining advertisers being the most obvious of these).
There are of course kinds of content especially suited to online existences. Such include the more informal discussion groups, forums and chatrooms. But these are seldom edited or monitored apart from the omission of offensive content here and there.
Some more substantial sources of information are, however, available. Here then, are three such substantial sources. These online journals all take as central issue that of culture in the digitally augmented, and media-pervaded environment.
The Media-Culture Journal is an award-winning peer-reviewed online journal based in Australia, and has been published since 1998. Its focus is media studies and it covers a range of subjects from the highbrow to more everyday topics from an academic angle.
The current issue (published on October 10 2004) deals with porn, and the feature article takes a look at notions of masculinity (good old gender) by discussing aspects of Ron Jeremy's, erm, appearances in his prolific career as porn star. Another article discusses an art project entitled SuicideGirls.com, where the lines between art and adult fantasy are somewhat obscured. This article takes an interesting look at the role that a sense of creator control plays in the debate around images of objectification and exploitation.
The academic approach of the journal should not put anyone off, as the subject matter is topical and presented in an accessible and clear manner. It will prove to be a valuable resource for anyone trying to find good information on media related subjects.
Fibreculture is an Australian-based network of researchers in the fields of media, culture and new media. It hosts a number of diverse projects both on- and offline, as well as education initiatives, and hopes to launch an online gallery (they are accepting submissions: firstname.lastname@example.org). Fibreculture recently collaborated with the Media-Culture Journal to release the special edition of the MCJ entitled Fibre.
They also have their own peer-reviewed journal, which focuses mostly on ICT (Information and Communication Technology), but also tries to include articles on new media art, digital technology as an education platform, and other more (what they call) philosophically-oriented topics. In issue 2 (2003) for example, Esther Milne presents an interesting article on the way in which humans have always attempted to construct a sense of presence in the old practice of letter writing. She then tries to map such techniques and concerns onto contemporary email habits.
While Fibreculture might come across as being somewhat more dryly academic than the MCJ, it does present thoughtful reflections on topics around what we generally consider to be new areas of culture. Such reflections are extremely useful, as it helps to move our thinking beyond that sense of the rather facile 'newness' of digital media. Milne's article is a good example of writing that escapes the valorisation of the digital realm, or adding to new media hype as such, because it grapples with the way in which these technologies actually interface with our daily lives.
An integral part of media, and new media, is the notion of a mass audience. This aspect is one that has been used and indeed exploited by multi-national companies (such as MacDonald's) and news and information networks (such as CNN). However, with the exploitation comes backlash. One prolific and important player in the media activism/culture jamming scene is the Adbusters group.
Adbusters gained fame and notoriety for a number of their public defacement of and interventions in the media. They are also one of the culture jamming organisations featured in Naomi Klein's No Logo (2001). Their magazine (which exists partially online) takes their liberal activities further with articles about subjects such as politics - the war in Iraq and Bush's antics are getting much attention at the moment - and terrorism, as well as art projects that engage socio-political issues.
Predictably, the Adbusters' journal takes a provocative stand, and provides a useful gauge of the political and economic atmosphere from a non-institutional angle. It is essential reading for anyone concerned with global media culture, and the possibilities of expression and activism open to us.