Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Media Convergence or Confusion?

Watching Al Jazeera English today on their live Internet feed, I discovered their new program, The Stream, which they tout as 

a social media community that just happens to have a television programme on Al Jazeera English.

Being rather old-school, and not knowing what a "social media community" is, I was watching the television program. 

But here I was watching this television program on an Arab network based in Qatar that broadcasts in English, over the Internet. During the show, the hosts cued up Internet videos on their laptops, live. While conducting interviews with two guests, they also took comments from Facebook and Twitter and interviewed a Yemeni and a Chinese blogger via Skype. 

So . . . just to keep all the media straight:
  1. I'm watching TV on my computer over the Internet.
  2. They are broadcasting the show from a studio inside the Newseum in Washington, DC.
  3. The headquarters of the television network, however, is based in Doha, Qatar.
  4. The hosts interview their guests live in the studio about the role of social media.
  5. They also interrupt occasionally to check their Twitter feed for comments or stories that are trending.
  6. They pull video of a car accident in China off the Internet, click play, and maximize it to full screen, live. So now I am watching via TV cameras filming them watching a video hosted on the Internet. (Wouldn't it be more efficient to have the studio run it firsthand?)
  7. They also interview the Yemeni and Chinese bloggers live, via Skype video chat. So I'm watching TV on the Internet, watching TV cameras filming them chatting via video on the Internet. (Wouldn't it be better quality if they could have TV cameras film each side of the conversation?)
  8. Once their time us up, they continue the filmed conversation on their website, separate from the network's live feed. (I kept watching the network news feed.)
Lost in all my confusion over the media of transmission was much of a sense of message. While we can now connect and micro-blog instantaneously across multiple media technologies, I wonder if we are losing coherent narratives. If the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan said, then what is being communicated here?

Don't get me wrong: this is fascinating stuff, but the fascination is focused upon the novelty of means of communication rather than the substance of the stories. These technologies haven't changed the fact that powerful state authorities retain the upper hand to repress their populations in Bahrain, China, Syria, Yemen, and many other places.

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