Some would say that it’s a risky business making predictions. Some might also say that it’s easier to look at the glass we have in front us of as half-empty, before we can consider the possibility that the glass that we are holding in our hands, might actually be half-full.
An easy prediction to make at the beginning of this new decade is that the coming ten years, whether we like it or not, will be shaped by deep and profound social change. However, we may need to work out some basic parameters that can help us to respond to these waves of change. The question, however, is what should we be anticipating?
For example – and to extend the metaphor – how full can we expect the glass to be in the future? Or more precisely, how big or small are we expecting the glass to become, and what will it be filled with? We also need to be thinking about who is responsible for replenishing this glass, and with what? This means giving careful attention to how we renew its contents, and in what way this renewal will be environmentally sustainable and socially democratic?
We can predict, based on present trends, that this coming decade, like the last, will be one of pivotal social transformation. This means, however, that papering-over the cracks of the social and environmental dysfunction that we regard as normal today, will no longer be a practical way to deal with many of our deep-rooted social problems.
The coming decade is going to be a time when our ability to ‘have our cake and eat it’ is no longer a viable option. The bill is going to be presented in one form or another, and we are going to have to pay, not just for the excesses of the present, but also for the excesses of the past.
Pick up any newspaper, listen to any news programme, or follow any social media news feed, and the problems stack up quite quickly. Economic inequality, an ageing population, technological change, mistrust of globalisation, a rapidly changing climate, automation, political polarisation, fake news, conflicts of cultural identity, dysfunctional democratic systems, and the ever-present threat of war in the Middle East. The list goes on.
It’s understandable, then, that we might succumb to fatalism in the face of so many challenges, particularly when we think about how we can be thrown out of balance by this relentlessly negative stream of news and information. Some of us are better equipped to deal with these existential challenges than others. But we know from past experience, that many of our fellow citizens are not.
We spend very little time thinking about how those who are least equipped to deal with the sharper edge of social change, are affected by the unremitting negative deluge of news and fake media that we are expected to process and consume. Either through our social media, or on the legacy platforms of television, radio and newspapers. The crisis of social anxiety and loneliness, that many of us experience today, has not come from nowhere, but has been building for decades.
This maelstrom of global uncertainty and information anxiety gives us an opportunity, however, to shift the lens of scrutiny back to the media that we use to understand the world. It’s an opportunity for us to ask questions about how our media assists us in learning about the communities that we are part of, and to share our experiences of the changes we are witnessing.
We need to be thinking more deeply and practically about how we can use our media to articulate, report and explain what’s going on in the world. It is through our media that we get to define and shape the boundaries of what needs to change, and what we can potentially do to meet the challenges we face. It’s through our media that we learn what is possible, so why are we so often content to put up with such a narrow media agenda?
While the corporate media world, in many ways, is in rude health, and has become stronger and more independent, it is also deeply troubled. Our media is facing a crisis of trust and relevance. Globalised media is highly competitive, financially lucrative and powerful. Global media giants, such as Apple, Google, Netflix, Disney, are capable of reaching deep into our lives, our homes and our communities. They use the most exciting and up-to-date technologies to stream entertainment, information and interaction on a global scale. They turn our attention into profit.
Local media, on the other hand, is tentative, beset by uncertainty, and seemingly fated to irrelevance. Local media plays a less central role in people’s lives than it has in the past. Local media is less representative of the people who live in very different places and communities. Consolidation, homogenisation and corporate control have all played their part in hollowing-out local media as a force for good, and as a representative counterbalance to national and international media interests.
We should be using our media to explore our own experiences, directly. We shouldn’t be waiting for other people to come and report about what our lives are like in the ‘far flung regions.’ Instead, we should be creating the space, the networks, and the social economic circumstances that allow us to build our own local media in positive ways. Ways that are shaped and defined our own social experience.
If we can’t speak directly and honestly to one another, without the bias of a billionaire proprietor, or the unseen algorithm of a global tech company, then we are not really taking responsibility for our own identities and ideas. Being a member of a community is about being responsible for what we discuss, share and depict, and if we are always waiting for other people to tell and validate our stories, then we will never learn to take responsibility for our well-being and the well-being of others in the communities that we are part of.
Over the next twelve months, the Decentered Media Podcast is going to explore more of these ideas, and seek out the experiences of people who are making a positive social change to their communities on the ground. The idea is to hold conversations with community advocates and activists who use media to shape and share their experience of positive and constructive social change.
We aren’t going to ignore the problems. Indeed, they need to be given a thorough airing, but we are going to be putting them in the context that we can do something about them. Podcasts are a good way to explore and examine topics that are uncertain, that we don’t have a clear sense of what’s going on. Podcasts are also a great way to think things through and explore ideas.
Where a podcast can be different from more traditional forms of media, though, is in the way that it is grounded in local social experiences, and turns away from the marketing, public relations, dream and fantasy world of corporate media.
There are many, many questions to be asked about how we can support positive social change, and use media as an integral part of this process. And, while the focus is going to be grounded in Leicester and Leicestershire, because that’s where we are physically based, there’s no reason why different conversations can’t be recorded and shared with people who are active in other places at the same time.
There’s a lot of flexibility, and we can pretty much do what we want, within reason. We are going to record the podcasts on a Tuesday evening – that’s John Coster and myself Rob Watson, from 5pm at the Documentary Media Centre in Leicester. If you have a story to tell, or want to pick-up from a point that has been made in a previous podcast, then get in contact and we can look at scheduling a future recording session. Just follow the contact instructions at the end of the podcast.
We are always looking to find out more about how people are using media in any form to support a social change project. If you don’t mind having a chat, a brew and a biscuit, it would be great to hear from you.