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The New White House and the Second Reformation - The LAMP

The New White House and the Second Reformation

By January 21, 2009 News 2 Comments

 

The new Whitehouse website has been launched.  Check it out at www.whitehouse.gov.

 It’s not new for the Whitehouse to have a website, but the newly revamped website that launches today relfects a whole new order for communication and culture.  The 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, won the election in part because he understands digital media, and particularly how to use it to his advantage in communicating with supporters, and building more support from the ground up. 

 There can be no doubt, to anyone who’s been paying attention, that digital, interactive media, and their numerous applications—social networking websites, twitter, blogging, and the like—are shaping the course of our cultural conversation.  That includes the shape of our politics.  We no longer live in the era of top-down communication.  We no longer only get our news from big chain-owned newspapers or network, even cable, news channels.  We don’t have to rely on a handful of journalists to report, analyze, and explain the world to us.  Even though many of us still rely on these sources for information, they’re not the only ones available. Not nearly.

 We get to talk directly to the President (or his staff member) via the new website, without having to be put on hold, leave a message at the tone that will end up in some black hole of bureaucracy, or wait for a news conference and hope that the journalists in the Whitehouse press pool ask the right questions.  It’s like getting to talk directly to God.  I’m not being facetious.  This is exactly the idea behind the first Protestant Reformation that began in 16th Century Germany. 

 Of course I’m not the first one to make that comparison.  Others have been as well, and it’s right on target.   Larry Hollon, who blogs about media, culture, and faith, has been making the same observation, as have other journalists, and even scholars all the way back to 1996.

 During the first Reformation, the crucial shift in communication hinged on the invention of the printing press.  Today, the shift hinges on the the Internet and other platforms for digital, interactive communication.  There have been other big shifts in between of course.  Let’s not forget the importance of electronic communication via the telephone, then radio, then television.  These were revolutionary as well. 

 The point is to emphasize  media forms – the different media through which communication takes place, the technologies (print, television, radio, the Internet) that shape communication and that shape our culture.  Perhaps it’s the medium, more than the message itself, that we need to pay most attention to.  These media shape how we interact in, and understand, the world.    

Can there still be any doubt that media literacy is a basic, fundamental requirement to be an active, informed citizen?

–Katherine G. Fry, PhD

  • Katherine,
    There is no doubt media literacy is a fundamental requirement for active citizenship today. This raises two (actually many more than two, but at least these two) concerns. Digital natives are experimenting with media and leaving a personal trail that in some cases may be harmful to them in the future. They are using media spontaneously and with skill but without forethought. This could be a problem for them.
    Secondly, I find some individuals, certainly not all, in older generations refuse to engage with these new media and I am concerned that they could be less influential and even be left out of the conversation as media change. If they rely on print and print becomes too expensive to produce and distribute they will of necessity need to go to other media, or lose information. The trends are moving in this direction, it seems to me.
    These are pretty simplistically stated concerns, but sufficient for a brief comment, I hope.

  • Thanks for your comment, Larry. Yes, there is disparity in the use of digital, social media between young people and older adults. The digital natives, as many have come to call them, are more comfortable using these media as platforms for social interaction, considering them extensions of their face-to-face communications, while digital immigrants, like me, are more comfortable using digital interactive media for work, saving my most of my personal communications for face-to-face interactions. But as you point out, you can’t generalize across generations.

    Many young people that I’ve worked with are uncomfortable leaving very personal information online, even while their peers don’t see the same need for privacy, and aren’t thinking about what this means in the future.

    Something we’ve done in workshops with young people is begun to engage them in conversations about how they use digital media. The best approach has been non-judgmental, creating a very open atmosphere where they can talk about their online experiences and how they’re comfortable interacting on social network sites, texting, blogs, and the like. These are great opportunities to raise concerns that they have, and that we have as well. So far it’s worked well. And I’m always gratified to see that they are as varied in their thoughts and opinions about media as their older counterparts.