Many more countries are now democracies when compared with the situation 40 years ago. In fact, six in 10 countries in the world are now democratic. The required characteristics of a democracy together make up a kind of practical definition given for what a democrative country is. Six characteristics commonly considered for a democratic country are popular sovereignty, majority rule, individual rights, free and open elections, citizen involvement, and open compromise.
The imperative of building democracy is often applied to developing parts of the world. The idea is that democracy should be built in Africa, in Asia, for example. And of course it should be done. Each non-democratic country must be examined to determine how many of the six characteristics are in place to a measurable standard, and how many of the six remain absent or underdeveloped.
But existing democracies have to be built, too. Democracy isn't something that is given once, like a divine blessing for all time. Instead, it reqiures continuous examination and reconsideration in the light of changing circumstances and then renewal, change, even rebuilding.
Consider, for example, number 5 in the required characteristics of a democratic country, that of citizen involvement. Many countries can demonstrate that citizens are engaged and participating in the democratic dialogue of their coutnry. But the measure of citizen involvement can be low and on a downward trend. The widespread use of social media would at first glance offer opportunities to enhance and extend citizen involvment, but instead it can aggravate matters.
Citizen involvements require people to become informed about issues that affect them. However, social media for many people means reading and viewing ideas through which they find comfort in repetition. The social-media experience can be as narrow as retreating at the end of each day to a social network for the purpose of viewing descriptions and photos of family and friends reporting on the quirky things they've found online.
Citizen involvement also means keeping up-to-date on the actions of elected representatives and elites, and offering opinions on those actions. While social media can be used to find informed and critical reports about local matters of public interest, the reality is that it's not used that way by many people Distractions abound online and these encourage people to "disappear down the rabbit hole."
Larry Wong / Edmonton Journal
Of course, citizen involvement also requires doing things like attending community meetings and becoming members of voluntary groups. The primary activity in this category is voting. In Canada, it's enough to know that trends in voter turnout in federal elections are not encouraging. The 2015 federal election was a spike to 68.5% voter turnout, but federal and provincial averages are at historic lows. Online voting, which would bring the ballot box online, which is where the next generation now lives, has not found widespread acceptance in Canada. The reasons may be partly technical - fear of the election being hacked - but there's evidence, too, that the status quo simply suits some individuals and groups.
The communications theorist Jürgen Habermas writes that the Internet may erode public discourse in liberal democracies, such as Canada, while destabilizing authoritarian regimes. He also argues that the dominant effect of social media is the same in both kinds of societies. In both, we see the creation and reproduction of “isolated publics." People tend to act in response only to information they find agreeable. Cue the “fake-news,” which can be counted on to find a robust and immediate audience.
At the beginning of the television age, beginning in the 1940s, liberal democracies established national broadcasting agencies as a means of providing a public space for citizens, protecting cultural sovereignty, and diffusing reliable information. Similar policies for the online age have yet to be created.
Everybody's in high definition now. Computer screens, cellphones, and television monitors have all adopted new standards that create images that are much sharper than they used to be. They also reveal the blemishes and wrinkles on people's faces that were previously invisible.
High definition is often discussed in relation to the number of lines that are used to create on image on the screen. High-definition television 1,080 or 720 lines, which is something like twice as many as non-HDTV. This means that high definition has more information. Images in high definition are denser. There's more for your eye to see.
But the lines are not the only measure that defines high definition. Two other measures are scans, and frames. The scan rate is the number of times per second that an image is refreshed. High definition is giving your eye more to see, because of the lines, but it's also doing it more often, because of the scan rate. You get more, and get it more often, with high definition. And the third measure, that of frames, can be thought of as the number of timese per second that the image has been created within the four boundaries of the device you're watching. As with the scan rate, high definition is created using more frames per second. High definition therefore offers you something more often.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (Jason Franson/CP)
I noticed during the last Alberta general election, in the weeks leading up to May 5, 2015, that Rachel Notley's image on television and on the computer screen was much sharper than those of her opponents. This was partly because she was choosing solid colours for her jackets, which were dark grey or black, sometimes maroon or even beige. The debates were broadcast on high-definition television (HDTV), which was just coming into its own as a standard. The aspiring premier's image was sharp and clear, and I suppose this had something to do with her upset victory. Voters certainly opted for something different, and the clarity of what was on offer can only have enhanced its appearl
Alberta will hold its next election this year. So I was thinking again of high definition's lines, scans, and frames, but as a metaphor or way of speaking. As in 2015, in the election of 2019 there's going to be more to see of Rachel Notley. And not because of her colour choices but because of her experience as premier for four years. The first two years were overshadowed only by passing farm-safety legislation for which consultations had been weak. Since then, she's managed her cabinet like a master.
Yet she's been at the centre of events that could have led to political problems. During her term, Alberta has experienced dive in oil-prices that have devastated provincial revenues. She's contended with a federal government that has at expressed distinerest in pipeline investments which are an economic priority for the province. In relation to these and other problems, she's taken clear and timely action. Not everyone will agree with what she has done, but she didn't fade into the background. She remained in high definition - visible yes, but more than visible, clearly and distincly resolved.
More importantly she's also been a head of government during a historical moment in which missteps, scandals, and misspeaks frequently, and quickly, bring leadership into disrepute. This is the age, after all, of apologies and walking back. The lines, scans, and frames of high definition mean there's more to see when you look at public figures, and it comes at you more often. The premier of Alberta has been in full view, which will invite comparison with her opponents.
Let me be the first to say it, but I'm convinced - Rachel Notley will take the provincial election in Alberta again. It's clear as high definition.
Yes, it's true - "Gangnam Style" has been viewed more than 2 billion times on YouTube. The song features a distinctive dance that makes you look like you're riding a psychotic horse. The song and the dance were made famous by the South Korean artist Psy. The song is still popular, but it reached a peak of popularity in 2012 as the Prime Minister of the UK and US President Barack Obama danced the dance in public.
The measure of a viral video used to be one million views. With the ocean of videos now being launched, the threshold is now 5 million views. But what makes a viral video? What do creators think about when they're launching a viral video? Or does success happen as a result of raw luck? Turns out viral videos have certain characterstics in common. Wharton School professors Berger and Milkman studied a large number of viral videos and teased out five characteristics of a viral video. Their findings give support for the argument that viral videos are subject to the same principles of persuasion that other messages are.
For example, once you've seen it, "Gangnam Style" is hard to forget. It turns out that "memorability" is one of the characteristics of a viral video, which seems obvious. But more specifically, viral videos have a memory "trigger," which is a specific image or sound in the video that sticks with you for a while. For me, it's the rocking motion of Psy doing the hop-along-on-the-kookoo-horse move.
Viral videos are generally upbeat and positive, and that's the second characteristic. A small proportion are not positive, but those videos may have other characteristics that promote virtality. The video may provoke what psychologists call "arousal feelings," the third characteristic. These feelings might be positive or negative They may stimulate feelings of awe (positive), or they may stimulate feeligns of anger or anxiety (both negative). An example of a feeling of anxiety may be in sympathy with someone shown in the video in a dangerous situation.
The video must have "social currency," which is the fourth characteristic. This means that if viewers are up-to-date on the news and on popular culture, they won't need much of an explanation of what's going on in a viral video. People are shown in viral videos doing what people do nowadays.
The fifth and final characteristic is quality. If the viral video includes text or a production value, it should be well done. The story has to flow, and the logic of the situation has to be clear.
So the characteristics of a viral video are necessary but not sufficient, meaning the characteristics have to be in place, but they don't guarantee virality. Which is why I come back to the point that persuasion is the key. Virality doesn't require luck, and it's not random. It's the most recent expression of the ancient process described by Aristotle of the speaker giving a speech to an audience. The message has to have credibiility, passion, and logic on display before an audience will consider the content.
SOURCE: Berger, J., & Milkman, K. (2012). What makes online content viral? Journal of Marketing Research 49(2), 192-205.
In the 10th century, the Liu family needle shop in China ordered up a bronze plate (see above) so that they could print ads extolling the high quality of their wares. Adore them or despise them, ads have been part of the social world for a while. One thing that hasn't changed. After all, it was customers of the Lius, not the Lius themselves, who paid for the ads. Advertising costs have always been passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. In ancient China and in present-day Canada, the model is the same. Organizations spend large amounts on advertising. To meet this expenditure, the price of the product is raised.
That's not the only problem with ads. They can be a form of day-dreaming. They can take us away from reality and into the realm of artificiality. And ads can be used to promote products that we don't actually need or want. They may even encourage the sale of inferior products that would otherwise have to sell based solely on their qualities.
But a free market requires a free exchange of information, and so ads are going to be with us for time to come. The question is how and why ads will be delivered to us. for about a decade and a half now, the how and why of ads has been determined by one ad channel - Facebook.
Facebook is the largest advertising channel. By far. Period. The number of active monthly users in the second quarter of 2018 was 2.23 billion, by far the highest of social networks. Revenue in 2017 was $40.65 billion, by far the highest for an advertiser. More than 90% of social-marketing companies use Facebook.
Facebook is unique not only in its stature but in its methods for finding market segments for advertisers. It has singlehandedly rendered antique (at least, for advertisers) the notion of demographics and psychographics. Instead, it offers data about its users that can predict what those users will do, instead of describing who they are. Big difference, and much more effective.
This model of advertising means that you, the user, provide information about what you're doing, what you're saying, and who you're doing and saying it with. Not everyone believes that this is a fair bargain. The advertiser takes our personal information and then charges us, again, for the ads they send us.
So is Facebook, along with that charming model of charging us twice for advertising, really with us forever? Here are three reasons to doubt the "too big to fail" theory for Facebook.
1. The Internet is not the Web. This means that someone, somewhere, can start again. We can still create a new paradigm for social communication that does not rely on giving up personal information. It's possible. Think of Netflix. It's a dedicated platform on which you are able to withhold much of your personal life from inspection. A new paradigm offering social communication channels, creatd by an entrepreneur or by a nation-state or by a dorm-bound university student, could take much of the wind out of Facebook's sails, and quickly.
2. Think Standard Oil in 1911 and AT&T in 1982. These mammoth corporations were broken up by government into smaller units, in order to allow more competition. Sometimes companies get too big to avoid failing. The recent testimony of Facebook before the U.S. Congress suggests that the company is not always in tune with the most deeply held wishes and preferences of its users. These include, in addition to online purchasing and posting, online privacy and protection.
3. Small might be the new big. There's evidence that people might be tiring of being part of a super-large network. They're spending less time on Facebook, preferring to dip in and out of other networks. Their purpose is often just to exchange photos and chat for a bit before moving on to something else, either online or in the concrete world. Facebook is still important to many, but it's increasingly only one piece of the larger task of online identity management.
The needle trade is not what it was. Seems like most of our needles are now made in, uh, China. Some things stay the same, but some things . . .
It's like a law of the universe. Media never truly disappear. They transform themselves, becoming something we don't immediately recognize. They are dusted off after a period of disuse. They even become the content of new media. Marshall McLuhan offered this insight before the computer found millions of users.
That was before we could imagine media that devoured content the way our online media do. It's the rear-view mirror - when we experience something that is already behind us, something that has slightly, every slightly, shifted. We're not looking, or listenig, directly, although we tend forget that fact when we become heavy users.
Think of Vogue magazine. An antique, ready for obsolescence, right? Not really. Vogue's lavish photos offer a richness and tactility on the glossy page that can't yet be imitated online. Also, a copy of the magazine gets picked up an average of six times before it's discarded. So the million or so copies printed each month actually represent several million readers. And the magazine content - both the pics and the journalism - is taken up by blogs, videos, television, and other print media.
It's the old medium becoming content for the new medium. In the case of Voguei, it means fashion retailers are offered a valuable advertising channel indeed, one that really can't be matched online.
So what's the next medium to be transformed? I like the novellas and documentaries produced as podcasts. They offer something of the anticipation and excitement of the old radio dramas while dealing with compelling stories and urgent social issues. Lots of people are tuning in, and the convenience of the podcast, which is anytime-anywhere, only adds to the appeal.
Many more people can use media for finding a wider audience, but understanding how and why they're doing it is as important as crafting the message. The rear-view mirror offers an insight into how we use and reuse media, and how the old becomes new again.