Thursday, August 10, 2006

To speak, or what it means

Warning, rambling post ahead.

This week the author Jostein Gaarder, writer of Sophie's World, wrote an impassionate plee to the Norwegian religious right to stop talking of the Israeli as God's chosen people. His message was that we must not mistake the current state of Israel with the promised land of the jews, and we must certainly not use the bible as an excuse for the aggression of the state of Israel, particularly the state of 1967. Since then he has been accused of being a jew-hater, of fanning the flames lit by Mein Kampf, threatened on his life and in general had not such a good time. This, of course, proves the problem with any debate which includes criticism of Israel: it is impossible to speak publicly against the actions of state Israel without being accused of planning another pogrom.

What I want to point out is the intensity of the current debate, due to the new media. The original article in Aftenposten has received 1000 comments from readers. I suspect that number is so neatly rounded because there most likely is some upper limit to how many can write. Others are using their own blogs, as the debate blooms on all sides of this discussion.

This discussion is however a pale shadow of the enthusiasm with which people use their cameras, cellphones and any other recording medium that can communicate images, upload them to sites like and CNN exchange, and then look and comment on other people's posts. The content posted ranges from collages to simple video tapes, from attempts at humour to propaganda and shoddy videos claiming to be from from air raids and genuine military action. And in between the shocking and the infuriating, there is the personal and human, like the boy in California who wants to say something he obviously feels is very important, or the images from Lebanon with the tune of "Scarborough Faire", the sadness of lost love over the images of destruction.

I am looking this up and clicking through far too many videos of anger, pain, destruction and sadness, both from Israel and Lebanon, because of yet another journalist. I don't know if anything will come out of the phone call today, but I became curious. Perhaps it was about time I looked at this: at personal publishing in the face of crisis, war and terror. It has been what made me be so pasisonate about it, ever since 11th of september 2001. Two weeks later I was in New York, seeing the destruction I had read about in weblogs, checking that my NYC connection was really safe, despite his having been evacuated from wall Street that day. The real reporting about how NYC changed that day happened in the webblogs, and a lot of the online reporting from that period was registered by public archives, to retain for history also what happened online.

Today Lebanon and Israel are being portrayed in amateur videos. Who are looking at them, asking questions about the change of the face of reporting and the public debate? It is new, something has changed, from the intensity of the Norwegian debate to the communication of the people right in the middle of the warzone: They all feel they have a right to be heard, and there are ways to get your word in which never before existed.

What it means?

Give me 10 years, a staff of librarians and lots for storage space, and plenty of money to support research into this, and I'll answer that question.

(As for "the devil's logic", this drawing may say what needs to be said.=


plu said...


Here is Australia and else where I believe there has been a shift in public thinking, in part fueled by online communications.

There has been a big trade off in people's mind in relation to privacy and restrictions to civil liberties and the question of individual and group safety. Increasing people are prepared to submit to actions that in the past they would have claimed were an invasion of privacy and civil liberties.

I actually don't think we are processing the core issues you identfiy in your post.

cheers Plu

Torill said...

I am not sure if my core issues are the same as you se in this post, but yes, the line between public and private is changing. That has however been going on the a while, I think you might find Richard Sennet's Fall of public man interesting.

What I am talking about is the use of the civil right of free speach, and the liberty to participate in a public debate without being silenced through accusations of extreme prejudice. I am also talking about the crisis of modern journalism, where the audience's confidence in journalism is at a very deep low. It is so low that there is room for personal publishing to the point that the newsmedia are concerned for their own position as source for news.

I think there are several reasons for the current overwhelming flow of personal messages through blogs and videos.
1) people can do it.
2) people feel that their news is at least as important as most of what is being published elsewhere.
3) the threshold for certain types of news is so high that those with a strong reason for spreading their message needs to find their own channels.
4) newscasting has become extremely standardised, and there are very few serious alternatives to the few dominant newscasters.