Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt, Premediation, and the Liveness of Futurity

Although it may go without saying, I will say it anyway: the current crisis in Egypt is a case study for premediation in action. The questions that preoccupy print, televisual, and socially networked media all pertain to the premediation of the future of the Egyptian demonstrations. Will Mubarak go or stay? If he goes, who will replace him? El Baradei? The Muslim brotherhood? What are the potential global economic impacts of these events? What does this mean for the future of US relations in the Mideast? How will it impact Israel? Is this a democratic revolution? An Islamic revolution? A class revolution? Will this spread to other Mideast countries as it did from Tunisia?

Undoubtedly there has been a great deal of attention paid to live coverage of the demonstrations in Egypt that began on January 25--whether through mobile media like videophones and SMS, social networks like Twitter and FB, participatory networks on the blogosphere, major international networked newspapers like The Guardian or The New York Times, and live television coverage by cable news networks like BBC, CNN, or Al Jazeera. Indeed the shutdown of internet traffic by the Egyptian government, followed by its disruption of Al Jazeera's live feed, caused much consternation in the global mediasphere. But even while these shutdowns blocked much of the live media traffic out of Egypt, they have also prompted the generation of other channels to bypass the Egyptian government's censorship efforts.

What is interesting about the emphasis on liveness in the media coverage of the Egyptian demonstrations is that, unlike many earlier global media events, the focus on liveness is less about immediacy and real-time coverage than it is about trying to determine where these events are heading, what the future will bring. Think, for example, about two major live media events from the summer of 1997, internet and televisual coverage of the Mars Pathfinder's unmanned exploration or the fatal vehicle crash that killed Princess Diana. These late 1990s remediation events emphasized the immediacy of globally networked telecommunication and its hypermediacy in various media formations--the story was immediacy, connectivity, and real-time coverage. In premediation events like those unfolding in Egypt, the story is much more focused on potentiality, or the liveness of futurity.

In part of course this is due to the emergent nature of the mass demonstrations themselves. Day by day they continue to grow and to change, showing no signs of waning and beginning to manifest various fragile and temporary forms of self-organization. But the characteristics of the demonstrations cannot be separated from their forms of mediation and the way in which they perpetuate an almost constant affectivity of anticipation, an orientation towards the next tweet, or live video, or public address. Indeed it is more telling to recognize that the demonstrations themselves are forms of mediation or counter-mediation of power in opposition and resistance to the forms of state-mediated power perpetuated by the Mubarak government--and that these respective mediations of power are inextricable from, and borrow the forms of, the variety of networks of mediation available in the first decades of the 21st century.

Tired debates about whether this is a Twitter of Facebook revolution or whether it is a popular revolution or the beginning of class warfare (about which debates I hope to post later today or tomorrow) are caught up in fundamental logical and conceptual antinomies that have underwritten liberalism in the West since before the 18th century. But even if one wants to take sides in this classic liberal debate (and whichever side one chooses to argue) it is difficult to deny that news coverage in print, televisual, and socially networked media is focused on the premediation of potential geopolitical scenarios. And insofar as these premediations repeatedly emphasize the immediacy of real-time communication across these heterogeneous media channels, the Egyptian demonstrations make evident both the potentiality of mediation and the liveness of futurity.


Ali Tehrani said...

I strongly believe its a digital-mediated revolution in off-line world. "April 6 Youth Movement" that asked people to start protesting on Jan 25th is a FB group. People are taking initiative using digital media to pursue their rights even in off-line world which means no matter we are an internet user or not our digital-identity has (re)constructed in off-line world.

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