London-based journalist and academic Mercedes Bunz gave an interesting talk in Utrecht last week. She talked about the way the Internet is changing several aspects of society – from education to journalism – and how this affects the public. We spoke with her and asked her a few questions about it, which you can read below. Since the interview is a bit too long for one post, we had split it into two parts. Stay tuned for the second!
You make it clear that there is a difference between a private company like Google and a public service, even though you focus on the democratic and political potential of platforms like Facebook. As these tools become more and more efficient, what do you think are the implications of those companies coming to replace public service and infrastructure?
Oh no, not at all, they will never replace public service and the infrastructure. I think we urgently need to stop addressing digital sphere as something that is ‘replacing’ what has been before. That’s so nineties, don’t you think? The virtual world isn’t replacing anything, but it is – and there you are right – definitely changing the setting. Here we need to be alert.
The good thing is: Our society has a lot of experience with private companies serving the public – newspapers and television are partly private. In the past, media have watched each other and the public has been aware as well. I think, if we continue this habit with social media, we are on the safe side. But we need to make some effort, analyze what’s going on, and we can’t accept everything, that’s for sure.
I thought the example of the Public School you made during your presentation was very interesting. How do new media enhance and democratize access to a (recognized) education?
I am glad you mention it. I think this is right: There are treasures of knowledge that are already on the web. And we also can now organize ourselves with the new digital tools much better, to get to the knowledge and educate each other. All of that hasn’t been talked about enough. Sometimes I wonder why.
Our politicians usually address the digital sphere as an industrial park. But it has greater potentials for society than just boosting our economies. And the Public School is one example of using the web for a very good autodidactic experiment.
In Egypt people were really fed up with their government, enough to endure a very hard occupation. In most of the countries where social media are very popular, though, people are still relatively happy and change needs to happen differently. Which do you think are the main differences?
Well, you nailed it. In the Western world, the situation is very different. The political idea of change seems to be lost. Still, people don’t seem happy – depression is on the rise, the pharmaceutic industry is making as much money with antipsychotics as with cardiac pill for heart problems. People are afraid of losing their jobs, young people don’t really see a future for themselves. There are problems, and it seems we don’t have the right words and concepts to understand what is going on and address them. Or to put it differently: At the moment, theorists have a lot of work to do. From talking to people that do theory, I can say that they are already trying to deal with this issue – from Alexander Garcia Düttmann to Alex Galloway, from Peter Hallward to Kathrin Thiele and Brigit Kaiser to give you some names you might wanna look further into.
Stay tuned for the second part of our interview with Mercedes Bunz. Don’t forget to follow her on Twitter!