Monday, February 26, 2018

2017: The Year of Fame... and its Consequences - PART 2

Communication, information and knowledge have an interesting and coloured relationship and history. And in the Year of Fame - or perhaps the year that fame overwhelmed other formations and hierarchies of value - this relationship among communication, information and knowledge became in the oddest paradox visibly obscured. In this 2nd Part of my excursus on "2017: The Year of Fame and its Consequences" (and if you have jumped to this Part 2 and want to quickly read Part 1 first, just click here to go back to it) that explores the ramifications of contemporary fame through the lens of my own thoughts and resultant writing and presentations.

How does the relationship between communication, information and knowledge become visibly obscured?  In Part One, I referred to the odd political culture embodied by Trump and others.  In understanding our increasingly online-oriented patterns of communication, what has arisen is a new truism - fake news or to use Oxford Dictionary's 2016 word of the year "post-truth".  To call fake news a truism is an interesting word-choice as competing cultural interests have allowed a pervasive  culture of opinion and posturing. Even the 2017 word of the year from Oxford implies a further blending of emotion, personal-to-collective appeal, and transformative generational disruption: "youthquake".  

My efforts at making sense of this transformed and turbulent world with its billions socially connected through social media, with a surplus of information and communication through these same elaborated networks has led me to think of new terms to describe our individual and collective identity and the manners in which communicatively they are connected.  My new concepts and terms may not be listed Oxford's Word(s) of the Year, but I hope they come close to making some sort of sense of the contemporary moment and the transcultural and transnational instability.

At the core of my thinking is the implications of fame - the will-to-fame that circulates around and through our social media forms of communication. The inner-core, the concept that has helped me work through this fame complex is persona.  In my 2016 book, I associated pandemic with persona as I explored the pedagogical relations of how the public self of celebrity informed the public self of online culture. In 2017, I went further into the historical dimensions of fame and the way the contemporary forms of the mediatization of the self produced a way to read a transformed presentational regime.

Much of this work is building from my work with Dr Kim Barbour from Adelaide University and  Dr Chris Moore from the University of Wollongong. We have collaborated on many projects, not the least of which is the journal Persona Studies.; but we have been working on our future book entitled (not surprisingly) Persona Studies: Celebrity, Identity and the Transformation of the Public Self for Wiley (which should appear at the end of 2018, all going well) and one of our major presentations of 2017 at least tried to capture its value. At the Toronto/Ryerson University Social Media and Society Conference at the end of July 2017. I led the presentation of our ideas, while Kim and Chris presented virtually.  All of this occurred during my 2017 sabbatical when I was a visiting professor at the incredible Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver ( a collaborative Master's program across four universities - SFU, UBC, ECAD and BCITU - at type of collaboration almost unheard of in the rest of the world) and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) at Western University in London Canada.  In between my work at these two institutions, I had the good fortune of presenting "Why Persona Studies? The Value of the Persona Studies' Approach for Research into Online Identity and the Transformation of the Public Self" (a mouthful of a title, but I hope it explains things!!).  It worked through our three approaches through explaining key concepts such as VARP, Intercommunication, the way we define persona, its application for analysis and the online visualization/graphics research that we have also developed to map persona construction. The beauty of this presentation is both its graphics and the enduring videos of my co-presenters. You can wade your way through the value of persona studies and its exemplifications of its important through the analyses of the online self here

For a week in August, I explored my thinking further around online culture and persona as a visiting scholar at Microsoft Research - New England.  I also had the opportunity to present my work in a beautiful seminar with Summer Doctoral fellows and the key researchers in my area and part of the Social Media Collective: Nancy Baym (thank you for the invitation!) and Tarleton Gillespie and others. Not only was the presentation enriching for me, but I also had a chance to play with my ideas on their infamous "whiteboards" at  the Microsoft research office.  I very much enjoyed the quiet, the view and the intellectual exchanges.  At least in my short-term stay, it seemed an intellectual nirvana with its continuous possibilities of exchanges across a range of disciplines engaged in online culture. Although I feel comfortable posting this image of my whiteboard, I should confess that this will be the only whiteboard you will see from Microsoft Research - enjoy. All my ideas are contained on this whiteboard image...

Below: PDM  (aka me) presenting CUNY
 - Graduate School of Journalism - KeyNote address
Photo by (and thanks goes to): Andrew Mendelson, Ph.D.
Associate Dean and Professor
The research and work I integrated into my presentations helped further make sense of how fame was tranforming a diverse range of elements in  the  contemporary.  For instance, in a Key Note presentation at a conference at the Graduate School of Journalism in CUNY in New York City on the 1st of September, I integrated my past research into the uses made of "public intellectuals" across our news and media sphere.  The talk worked through how individualized presentations of the self became the pattern through which mediatization manifests itself in the era of social media.  Indeed, the presentation of the expert is a feature of podcasts, YouTube channels, and university-linked sites for the expression of both opinions and disciplinary expertise.  My talk entitled Pandemic Mediatized Identity: Professional Personas as Public Intellectuals for the CMCS  conference- "Bridging Gaps - where is the Critic in TV Journalism?" tried to capture the pandemic quality of mediatization and its historical migration in and through as well as now around journalism. Central to this presentation was the exigencies of what I call the "presentational media and cultural regime" now rising through our online culture and its transformation of the "representational media and cultural regime" very much connected to what we now call legacy media. I managed to present a variation of this presentation at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University on September 26th. I called it - naturally - Pandemic Mediatized Identity -2.

But, where I pushed my research into pandemic fame further was through a series of presentations I gave at Western, McGill, the Centre for Digital Media (CDM) in Vancouver and the University of British Columbia.  At Western FIMS, I put together the  Pandemic Fame and its Consequences presentation. It was here that I developed the term the "inattention economy"  (and it is in the subtitle of my talk) to capture the intermittent flows of contemporary communication via online sources and sharing. It is also where I began utilizing further the historical notions of fame into the contemporary.  Integrated into this thinking was an effort that I had developed earlier in a book I helped edit and write a few chapters called Contemporary Publics (2016): to understand the contemporary spaces of social media and our normalization and naturalization of its blending of private and public, we need to think of these spaces as "privlics". I understand this is an ugly neologism, but strangely useful.  Explore it further through looking through this presentation here

I attempted to test the historical dimensions of my research into the interrelation of Fame and Persona through presenting my work - via the generous invitation of the scholar Brian Cowan - at the Classics and History Department at McGill University on the 20th of September, first through a workshop entitled Persona Studies Workshop: Persona’s value for Understanding Celebrity Culture and then with greater intention through my public lecture Fame’s Histories: The (contested) value of fame’s historical translation, comparison, and application for understanding the particular turbulence of contemporary culture.

In Vancouver at the Centre for Digital Media (CDM),  I laboured to encapsulate the idea that we had moved to a generation of Word of Mouth culture. This shift would seem paradoxical: after all, the Internet and the Web has produced a surplus of information unseen in human history. And yet it appears that through competing interests, competing desires for forms of persona- visibility and an array of intercommunication industries which move this information for a variety of power/economic purposes, we have generated something that resembles the way in which rumour - fama - moved through ancient/classical cultures such as Rome.  The full title and link to the presentation is here - and once again my presentation title is long and lugubrious as its vies to capture the instability of information in the contemporary moment: The New Word of Mouth Culture: PandemicFame/Persona/Rumour/Reputation and the production of contemporary instability

Taking this a step further, I wrote and presented a talk for a fourth year University British Columbia Digital Media Class on the 30th of October that in its subtitle traverses the way in which persona studies has helped uncover the will-to-visibility in online culture and social media:  From Celebrity to Persona Studies: Making Sense of the Era of Digital Fame. Apart from trying to capture the movement through time with the Prezi's cover image of a pub/bar in the New York Times Square precinct which in its essence was blend of  Victorian famed imagery with contemporary styles of libation style and presentation.

The complexity of the intersection of these ideas around fame, communication, information, knowledge, rumour, reputation, visibility, the inattention economy, the new word "privlic",  and the new economic structure of the intercommunication industries has been both fascinating and overwhelming for me during 2017.  I think this research genuinely helps makes sense of our contemporary moment - its Brexit, Trump, Xi Jin Ping, Kim Jong-un, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the era of pandemic persona that elevates a certain form of public individuality that is shifting our notion of collective selves and belonging.  It needs researchers connected to politics to help explore the now visible traces of the breakdown of our systems of (political and cultural) representation.  I will be working to collaborate on the analysis of this culture instability drawing on my work on online persona and trying to further comprehend the individualized, mediatized fame pandemic which is producing a different system of connection.

I am very happy to hear what others think.  In my next post, I will convey some of the new directions I am pursuing in 2018 - all of them certainly derived from this year of Fame and its consequences. Also if you want to know about any of the background images of my presentations, I am also willing to share that they are generally my photos - of course like memes, photos are combination of what already exists and, in a material sense, made by someone else.... just another thought.

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