FULL TITLE: From Couch-Potatoes to Gatekeepers: A Necessity for the Digital Age
We, the people, are not used to being gatekeepers, being responsible for the information we are fed over the media. To be a gatekeeper is to be a deep reader, a critical thinker, a rookie-researcher; someone who compares information sources to verify the truth. This gatekeeper never accepts news on the face of it. He or she is aware of the political-economy of the media, perhaps not in that exact lingo, but in an uncanny and uncouth manner that informs his/her interpretation of the news. We are not accustomed to being this person, the 24/7 gatekeeper; but the digital information age calls for it.
I tweeted on December 2, 2013 that the bane of social media for any type of good or “development” is the viral spread of inaccurate information. Because every mobile-phone-wielding person is a potential source of information, it has become increasingly important for us to activate our filters – something Howard Rheingold calls a “crap-detector”, to sift the chaff from the wheat and make the information age work for you as it has the potential to do.
Why is accurate information important? There are so many responses to this question, but here is what matters to my research on democratic culture: the spread of accurate information is essential to any tradition of democracy (even the pseudo ones). Where there is no reliable source of accurate information, citizens are left to make decisions on a whim, deliberations (online and offline) become misdirected and the people become open to exploitation/manipulation not just by the political powers that be, but corporate interests as well. The importance of accurate information cannot be overstated, but unfortunately, this year 2013 has been labelled The Year of the Hoax (see readings below).
Let’s backtrack a little and quickly review the Couch-Potato era of media consumption.
The Couch-Potato era is the good old days when you sat before your TV sets and watched one program after another. The closest you came to being selective about the media message you wanted to be exposed to, was to grab a TV schedule for programming times to know what was going to be on and when. In this era, there was no Netflix, Iroko TV, iPlayers and TV Catch Up. If you missed a show, you could only hope there was going to be a brief “previously on Wild Rose”, so you could follow the drama’s story line.
News in the Couch-Potato era came to you from trusted sources – CNN, BBC (on your world transistor radio), and the local public service stations (Nigeria: NTA 2, 7, 10) etc. You sat back and you were fed with the news. Propaganda or not, you had no alternatives per se, so you just had to believe what you saw or read in the dailies. It was the ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY of the media organisation to be responsible, to ensure facts were broadcast or published. The only responsibility of the audience was to listen.
Then new digital media began to happen. I remember starting on a pen-pal forum, I can’t recall which now, and interactive chat rooms on Yahoo. Gradually the audience transformed from being consumers to Pro-Sumers (consumers and producers) of information. While this marks a landmark in the development of human civilisation, it has not come on a platter. There are risks involved with information overload, risks of inaccurate information.
To this end, audiences (no longer audience, as the group is now highly fragmented) need to learn to take responsibility for information received online, via BBM broadcasts, or any electronic form. This also applies to sources you once trusted, the big media organisations, and I’ll tell you why. These organisations are run by human beings searching for stories and answers like you and I. They’ve equally fallen victims to hoaxes a few times, and they even get hacked sometimes.
This is a simple call to re-structure your digital information consumption habit by plugging in a “crap-detector”, as this would benefit the society in more ways than one in the long term.
Below is a video by Howard Rheingold, telling us the importance of “Crap-detectors” and how to engage them in our respective digital environment.
Kindly repeat after me: I take responsibility for what I do with any information I source online.
Thank you for reading. Please share this post.
- Net Smart (2012) by Howard Rheingold
- CNN – 2013: The Web’s Year of the Hoax