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DH, Facebook, Critical Re-Production and The Paris Bombings

As I was reading the piece “Digital Humanities Not About Building But About Sharing” it made me think of Facebook. My thinking around media in general and social media in particular has evolved over time, from a determinist perspective on how technologies mediate and facilitate our thinking-being-interacting etc. to something a bit more complex and dynamic. I’ve come to appreciate that fact that a) all tools mediate the ways we do things, including a spoon and a paper cup (the technology of disposal cups have changed food culture in urban areas where it has become “normal” to eat/have a cup of coffee on the go, drastically changing our relationship to meal times, meal spaces and meal rituals). And b) it is more productive to think of the relationship between people and tools as  the co-construction of our social worlds through an evolving and fluid negotiation of use.

From this perspective, dismissing FB (and whatever other types of social media that people use) as mindless/meaningless/consumerist/indulgent is to reduce the ways that the medium is used in productive ways. If Mark Sample states that the “heart of the digital humanities is not the production of knowledge; it’s the reproduction of knowledge” then we should give the practice and concept of re-production value. Recalling Benjamin’s piece from the beginning of the semester, I draw on two inter-related elements of reproduction that can be applied to FB. First, that the holy is rightly profaned- the inaccessible is removed from the pedestal and re-situated within the reach and use of masses, essentially allowing a politicization of the event/object. Second, that it is democratic. Facebook (and other social media) have been able to re-shape what we do with knowledge. The medium has allowed knowledge to be re-situated from mass (broadcast) media that has characterized the way people receive and interact with news/information for a very long time, and placed it in a format that allows for a close/messy/intimate interfacing of various perspectives. It has opened up information to discussion, debate and criticism through a practice of critical reproduction.

One such example is the unfortunate terrorist attacks in Paris this past week. While the major news channels broke the details of the violence as they unfolded, the Facebook community began various discussions around the issue- ranging from debate around Islamaphobia, to dissent around what gets coverage/value. While Paris received news coverage after the horrific violence, the equally horrific bombing in Beirut a day earlier went largely under-reported. As news unfolded, the event was claimed and re-claimed through various political and ideological lenses. These lenses provided contexts through which to understand and navigate the information, as well as provide a forum for discussion

Furthermore, discussions came not only in the form of commentary, but in the sharing of news pieces that resist, enhance and complicate dominant narratives and understanding around information. As such, one can read the discussions on FB as counter-discourses generated through these various political and ideological lenses.

Critical reproduction of knowledge is privileged in this medium, resisting the hegemonic master-narratives that are often imposed by US/Western News media. This fits within the framework of the Digital Humanities, where sharing of knowledge in itself becomes a productive and critical activity. “The promise is in the way the digital reshapes the representation, sharing, and discussion of knowledge. We are no longer bound by the physical demands of printed books and paper journals, no longer constrained by production costs and distribution friction, no longer hampered by a top-down and unsustainable business model. And we should no longer be content to make our work public achingly slowly along ingrained routes, authors and readers alike delayed by innumerable gateways limiting knowledge production and sharing.”