Final Blog: The C (See?) Factor of Communications

Question: 9/11 was akin to an asteroid that hits earth and causes extreme perturbations. Assuming all the material effects of the event–death war etc., 9/11 also affects in diverse ways the communications ecology of humanity, the way we communicate and what we communicate. What can you say about 9/11 that you can derive from our study together?

I find the term “Communication Ecology of Humanity” complex and intriguing, especially when attempting to relate it to the 9/11 event.  In order to associate a portion of the insight derived by our study together to the 9/11 phenomena and its affect on the communication ecology of humanity, I shall reflect on the term briefly and subjectively using related terms that could shed light on the connectivity between the communication ecology of humanity and 9/11: Community (Capitalism & Corporatism), Commerce, Creativity and Critical thinking.  By relating the “C factors” to a few of the ideas that came up by the texts and in class, my limited perception of the 9/11 event and its aftermath would hopefully integrate some of ingredients of contemporary communications ecology into a more comprehensive understanding.

1. Community:  9/11 took place in Corporate America, a Capitalist society:

“At all of these companies that my mom worked for she was extremely successful; for many years she made the most money on her train desk, but she never got promoted to management.  Part of that was because she was a woman, she felt, but part of that was because she wasn’t diplomatic… she had a lot of friends, but she had people that didn’t like her because she wasn’t there to kiss ass to the executives… she came home and said ‘I wish that I could suck my tongue because I know that it would be good for my career’”.  (Nick about his mother who died on 9/11, “Project Rebirth” footage).

In the beginning of the semester Professor Frank Moretti introduced the structure of a society by the collective symbols that it creates, based on historical and social perspectives.  Corporate America, embracing the Capitalist economic system strategizes the communication ecology of humanity on the goal of profit making.  Nick’s mother coming into the office 8am-6pm wearing a suit, a firm smile and a “can do” attitude, obsessed with the creation of seductive spreadsheets that display a more effective plan to expand the company’s profit margin are all patches of the communication quilt.  Her “unrelated” creative endeavors, personal pain and individuality can only stand in the way if it does not lend itself directly and instantaneously to private monetary gain – and it is never enough – the earning cap is infinite.

Therefore, when the suicide hijackers crashed the Twin Towers, they also aimed to crash the collective memory of Corporate America – symbols of power and wealth.  Whether it was due to hostility by those who perceive American corporate achievements with envy, or a rebellious act requesting moral justice, 9/11 was a clash and a crash between at least two collective ecologies of humanity.

How is communication embedded in our dynamic landscape of multi-directed ideologies?

Every community defines its own communication ecology according to its subjective, collective and accumulative memory of the “history”.  Dewey (1927) claimed that modern society will never become a “Great Community” because we are using communication technology inappropriately, despite its potentiality to form a more inclusive and flexible discourse between different communities of interest.  Realistically, “there are too many publics and too much of public concern for our existing resources to cope with” (p. 126), so interest-clash will turn into violence.  Destruction and pain are inevitable.  Therefore, it was predicted that some publics would mourn after the 9/11 event, while other publics would praise it, define it as heroic act, and would keep constructing history based on its collective memory.  As Frank Moretti mentioned in class – “a weapon of one group is a critique of another” (January, 2010).

2. Commerce:  

The third dictionary definition of the term “commerce” was new knowledge to me.  However, I would like to refer to first and the second definitions of “commerce”.  It seems that “social dealings between people” has been hijacked by digital communication in the past decade, and that new technologies are revealing their dark side, associated with interpersonal relationships.  In the western world a person who is not connected to other human beings through instantaneous, web-based or mobile communication devices is generally considered anti-social.  Individual who does not read news updates when walking, socializing or toileting is considered out of touch with “reality”.  When have we got time to think? Reflect? Be private? Be silent?  It was a nice exercise in class to feel the silence for one minute… we rarely do that in the public sphere.  Since we now welcome the public sphere into our most personal space, a pause and silent communication are becoming a ‘distinct species’.

Our study together highlights the burden of persistent communications and the enormous amount of commercial output it overloads humanity with.   Most of the theorists we read in class refer to communication technologies in a critical way.  Appadurai (2006) sees the dark side of globalization and communications as allowing for “predatory identities”, social exclusion and the creation of social anxiety, connecting his theory to political intent.   Marcuse (2004) suggests that we live our life as the engine of Capitalism in every aspect, and that engine is based on energy of things being destroyed, so new things can be created for the mass, leading to a “creative destruction”.  We are manipulating the mass into producing persuasive artifacts for us and by us – a system, which is brilliant in its creative destruction capacity.  As a result of such engagement with artifact production, according to Marcuse, there is also a deterioration in human ability to rebel, since there is no resource left in human collective consciousness to revolutionize.  We are too occupied with investing in the performance of Capitalism, so that protest (such as 9/11) is under-valued and under-estimated.

3. Creativity

Creativity can be explored both as advantageous from a democratic, market production perspective (Benkler’s view), as well as from an anxiety-driving viewpoint (Lanier).  On the one hand 9/11 could trigger creative expression that can serve as healing process to the individual – to the creator (such as filmmakers and interviewees in “Project Rebirth” or the author of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”, Jonathan Safran Foer), and also to the consumers, who currently have easier access to creative production via one click, anytime and anywhere.  The challenge, however, happens when political agenda kicks in, and blurs the naïve and objective nature of “art for art sake”.  This notion brings to mind Benjamin’s argument that the mechanical reproduction changes the nature of relationship between the creative production, its creator and the recipient.  According to Benjamin new forms of communications would be based on the practice of politics.

One example of creative manipulation of media communications for the sake of political propaganda is the embedded YouTube clip, where Rudy Giuliani, “the most frequent guest on CNN’s ‘Larry King Live’” (King on air, May 5th, 2010), who was also named “America’s Mayor” as the New York mayor during 9/11 (a member of “The Power Elite”, Wright, 1956) articulates his diagnosis of 2009 New Year day’s intended terror incident by using the psychology of fear and misguiding by a heavily biased and inaccurate comparison, a known strategy of advertising and propaganda, while relating 9/11 to self celebrating and the dismissal of Obama’s leadership (January 16th, 2010):  

4. Critical thinking

We concluded the course with the reading of Plato’s “Republic” (360 B.C.E.), Latour (2004) and Sen’s (2006) commentary about the Allegory of the Cave.  We do not understand how easily we get manipulated, and how we are engineered to forego our critical thought.  We are distracted by excess communications, overwhelmed by ever-increasing output of commerce, misguided that we are a free market, and immersed in the political agenda of the rich few.  However, this is who we are: We are in the cave, where it is messy, chaotic, multi-layered and driven by multiple collections of memory and history.  We share the cave with suicide bombers and arrogant microphones who claim that they know what the poor and underserved mass would need.  Nevertheless, just as Nick accepted his father’s refusal to participate in his mother’s annual memorial gathering with a critical but non-judgmental approach, we should do the same with the communications ecology of humanity – voice our critical thought creatively, confidently, but not violently.

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May 7, 2010. Columbia University Doctorate. 2 comments.