“If the past emergence of newspapers was ‘linked to the liberation of the national bourgeoisie’, where is the social media era leading us?
(AM): The social media era has already led us to what Martin Gurri has called ‘the revolt of the public ’. I have described this process as the emancipation of authorship. Before the arrival of the internet, there were approximately 300 million people able to communicate their ideas beyond their immediate surroundings. Now, thanks to the internet, the number of authors has reached 3.4 billion in just 30 years.
We all live inside an era of the explosion of authorship. It impacts all the areas of life. In politics, the emancipation of authorship has given people access to the setting of agendas. The elites and the media, their megaphone, have lost their monopoly in this area, a process Martin Gurri describes as the global ‘crisis of authority’. Starting with the first wave of social media proliferation that captured young progressive urbanites—Occupy Wall Street, the Arab spring, the Indignados movement in Spain, and so on—a tsunami of anti-establishment protests has now struck the world.
However, by 2016, social media had spread widely enough to allow other social strata to participate in agenda-setting. No longer was it just the educated, urban and progressive youth who were empowered. A new wave of conservative protests took hold. In a sense, Trump’s ascent was the successful completion of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but based on a different demographic group.
Old media have already shown how they impact society. Now we need to look at new social media. Old media were based at least in part on text, on literacy. Literacy conveys linearity and therefore requires the elaboration of meaning. Now not only has the length of text shrunk on social media, but the necessity of communicating only through text is vanishing as well.
With the progress in media hardware towards the newest social media, a new orality is coming to replace old literacy. The means of digital social communication in the newest media, such as Twitter or TikTok, resemble the vocal-dance communicative performance of primeval humans in our pre-speech era. Interjection, the least semantic form of verbal expression, is becoming the most efficient semantic carrier. Digital orality is based on exclamations and digital gestures. It aims to persuade rather than inform. It operates with emotions and objects—memes, pictures, videos, and so on—directly, rather than with meanings.
This is going to shape agendas in a completely new way, with no requirements for literacy, rationality or fact-checking. The new mode of agenda-setting will most likely bring a new wave of upheavals, this time even more radical. It will start, again, with the younger demographics who are completely out of touch with traditional political parties’ agendas, and who are extremely anti-institutional.-Andrey Mir, “How to live with polarisation.” Human As Media. March 30, 2021.
I’m inclined to think that this is similar to the two technology revolutions, where most of the population moves in the direction of orality or apps. But, it also has the effect of taking the culture of literacy in a different direction, where tools for writing create increasing sophistication in composition that may make literacy more difficult for the general population. However, there is also more opportunity for diversity of expression and clarity.