Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iran, Twitter, Anticipation

A quick addendum to the entry below.

In the 6:00 pm EST hour on Saturday, watching CNN's coverage of the "Breaking News" from Iran, "Iran Election Fallout: Blood on the Streets of Iran," I was struck by the affect/emphasis of the commentators. The discussion between Josh Levs and Don Lemon concerning the repeated and continued updating of one's Twitter page was especially interesting.

The affective orientation presented in their exchange is quite different from the affective or temporal immediacy of live video coverage, with its monitoring of action in the present in real-time. With live video there is a sense of connection in real-time, with what is being shown on screen occurring at the same moment as you are watching it. With these Twitter feeds rushing past, there is a different temporality and a different affective sense. On the one hand what is being retweeted on cable news or on live blogs or other online sites has happened in the past; it is not happening now; it is not immediate in the way that live video is. But on the other hand, there is a sense that it is in some sense more immediate insofar as there is an emphasis not on what has been tweeted already, but on what is about to be tweeted. Viewers are encouraged to retweet; Iranians are encouraged to provide reports, however brief. Don Lemon leads into a commercial break, saying "All of that new video and new information coming into CNN moment by moment."

What we are witnessing is the new form of immediacy in an age of premediation. Rather than emphasizing the liveness and immediacy of a real-time video feed, the CNN reporters talk excitedly about how the Twitter stream changes every second. On the one hand this is analogous to Walter Benjamin's account of the affective distraction of watching cinema, as the images flash by faster than one can process them. But the affect of social networks is more an affect of anticipation than distraction. Lemon and Levs, like all social networkers, have an anticipatory orientation, looking forward towards the next refreshing of the tweet stream or the live blog, the next email of status update. Rather than monitoring the action in Iran in real time, they position themselves as monitoring the Twitter feed as it is about to flash by.

As I concluded in my previous post, in our current media formation, immediacy is less about the liveness of real-time than the liveness of futurity. Immediacy is not about the experience of what is happening on screen now but about the anticipation of what is about to happen in the immediate future. The real-time of Virilio has given way to the virtual time of premediation.

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