New media brings cult of individual

David Marshall
David Marshall
New media technology was changing the way we perceive ourselves and each other, an Australian communication academic said in Dunedin yesterday.

"The focus on individuality is increasingly powerful," Deakin University communication and creative arts head of school Prof David Marshall said.

"Technology can now throw an individual's voice across the room, like a ventriloquist. It's a presentation of the self.

"Technology in the 19th century related to communication. Now, we have the ideology of individualism. We've changed from representational media to presentational media. Something shifted and we have moved into an area of persona, which has manifested itself in politics, public culture, everything."

Prof Marshall's well-attended lecture, "The Era of Persona: Presentations and Representations of the public self", examined the role of social media in changing public perception.

"Technology is a bridge between the collective and the individual. It's a connection. In the past, celebrity was established by the news media and press, television and film produced that public personality system.

"Now, with internet and social media like FaceBook and Twitter, there is instant celebrity. Social media is the village of celebrity. It's the elevation of individuals as forms of representation of ourselves. It's an apparatus, but it is in us to have these connections. There are twin needs; the ideology of the individual and the ideology of the collective," he said.

"Celebrities stand in for us and we allow it to happen. For the last couple of centuries, we've elevated about 200 or 300 people, roughly the size of a village, to represent, embody and be us.

"It had its zenith with television in the 1970s. TV does it better than anyone else, because when you're watching you're connected with other people watching. The sense of television is that it is present, or was present. Although, TV from the 1970s has weakened as a representation of the collective."

Prof Marshall used the example of United States television anchorman Walter Cronkite, who captured public sentiment when he removed his glasses and wiped his eyes when announcing President Kennedy's assassination.

"He was a relatively junior anchorman, but he emerged from that as the most trusted person in the US. It was the embodiment of an emotion. All he did was take off his glasses and that captured the moment and represented us."

The internet had superseded television with a presentational media forum, where people could individualise experiences and form collectives.

"The representational media regime hasn't broken down completely, but now there's a weird interplay between representational and presentational. We might be heading into an area of incredible instability. We might no longer need the systems we've built over the last four centuries, but they're still powerful," he said.

 

Round the corner, around the world

Because we are not robots, we can distinguish between manipulative and authentic communication. Prof Marshall's point is well made, that celebrity is merely online individualism. Ventriloquists may throw voices, but have a dummy for impression management.

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