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Estonian Youths' Attitudes towards the Digital Environment

The first speaker in the next session at AoIR 2010 is Andra Siibak, whose interest is in the online practices of Estonian youths. The latest generation of users is often described as having a set of particular characteristics (independence, innovation, creativity, authority, control), but to what extent is this actually true? In Estonia, there certainly is a digital generation – 99.9% of 11-18-year-olds are using the Internet, many of them daily, but what are their characteristics, and how do they see themselves?

This study examined school essays by 16- and 17-year-olds on the topic of the digital generation, as well as surveys of 15-19-year-olds. Overall activities were divided into serious and fun activities, with their attendant motives (necessity, obligation, conscientiousness vs. free will). Users 15-19 were the most active age groups, compared to older Estonians; they also stated that they could not imagine living in a society without modern technology. They felt disconnected without such technology, and relied on multiple technologies for access.

The Emergence of Convergent Supersurfaces

The final speaker in this session at AoIR 2010 is Zizi Papacharissi, whose interest is in civic habits emerging around online media. She begins by noting the mythology of the new, which suggests that newer media can revive old democracy, the idea that technology can reconfigure public space, and the continuing public/private debate.

Contemporary democracies are characterised by a nostalgia for older forms of civic engagement, by a realisation of the limitations of representative models of democracy, by an overreliance on aggregate forms of public opinion (polls which transform nuanced opinion into yes/no responses), declining public participation and increasing cynicism about democracy. Against this, a new civic vernacular is emerging that suggests new modes of citizenship which reform older metaphors and increasingly take place in the private sphere.

Online Activists as a New Political Elite

The next speaker in this session at AoIR 2010 are Yana Breindl and Nils Gustafsson, whose interest is in networked digital activism. Such activism is not necessarily more or less inclusive or democratic than conventional activism. In democratic theory, there are the three strands of competitive, participatory, and deliberative democracy, and activism is often perceived through the lens of the latter two; online activism is seen as encouraging participatory or deliberative features in the democratic system.

Reality is perhaps more on the competitive side, where most people are seen as passive participants in a political system that is otherwise run by a small ruling elite that is legitimised and made accountable in elections, but left to its own devices between them. Factors which do influence the political process are other elites (business, political, social, and otherwise) – and in the Internet age, new elites (which are seen as less hierarchically organised) are emerging.

What Influences Non-Use of the Internet in Britain and Sweden?

The next speaker in this AoIR 2010 session is Bianca Reisdorf, whose interest is in the non-adoption of the Internet in the UK and Sweden, building on longitudinal data from the Oxford Internet Surveys and the World Internet Institute. The two countries developed quite differently: Britain is now at around 70% Internet access, while Sweden is ahead at some 84% of citizens with access.

This means there are some 30% of non-users in Britain, and 16% in Sweden. Who are they, why have they remained offline, and what are the (economic, social, political) effects for them? Does it disadvantage them in their work life, too, as it may keep them from developing important skills or professional networks? There may be disadvantages, Bianca says, but these need to be further researched.

The Challenge of Greening IT

Today’s keynote at AoIR 2010 looks like it’s actually taking place, after the withdrawal of Jon Bing due to illness yesterday. Peter Arnfalk is the speaker, and his topic is ‘green IT’: a significant buzzword at the moment, which is nonetheless poorly defined so far. There is a substantial potential for CO2 emission reductions through IT – for greening through IT: it has been calculated that the EU’s CO2 emissions could be reduced by some 15% through IT by 2020, for example. This could be done through reductions in the transport sector, the electricity grid, and in building emissions which It solutions can provide.

Much of what drives this are economic factors: greening through IT reduces costs as well as emissions, as it turns out (as well as having further social benefits: a win-win-win situation, Peter says). However, ICTs also generate emissions: they account for some 2% of global CO2 emissions world-wide (roughly the same amount as generated by aviation), and 8% of EU electricity consumption stems from ICT use (projected to rise to 10% by 2020).

Transnationalism in the Post-Soviet World

The next AoIR 2010 speaker is Irina Shklovski, whose interest is in transnationalism – defined as either migrant practices that establish or maintain links between the two countries or origin and destination, or as cosmopolitanism or a broadly defined non-culturally specific world identity. But what is the value and meaning of such long-distance ties as they are primarily maintained through online communication?

More specifically, what forms of transnational belonging may exist here: what does investing energy into maintaining such relationships mean for the people engaged in it, can such transnational contact open new horizons beyond the scope of daily existence, and can there be a kind of virtual transnationalism that is conducted purely through electronic media, without direct personal ties?

Current Trends across the Entertainment Industries

The next AoIR 2010 session I’m in is a panel on sustainable entertainment, which involves Wenche Nag from the Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor, Mia Consalvo, Jean Burgess, Patrick Wikström, and Martin Thörnkvist. Patrick begins by noting the transformations in the music industry, for example, where the largest company now no longer is a record label but a live music company. iTunes and similar models are also making a significant impact, of course. Much of this is now based on artist/audience relationships that are based on passion and substantial emotional investment – which works for some entertainment industries, of course, but not for others.

Also, what are revenues linked to – where do payments come from (now perhaps from subscription fees, advertising, sponsorships, etc., rather than from content sales)? This has led to a rapid succession of various attempted business models – the latest, for example, is Spotify –, some of which have failed already. Spotify, for example, has been an attempt to draw users away from illegal filesharing models and towards legitimate systems.

Theorising the Net as a Universal Public Service

The final speaker at AoIR 2010 is Sebastian Deterding, who is interested in reframing Web 2.0 as a public service right to communicate. One example of the debates around this is the French HADOPI three-strikes law around filesharing, which would remove Net access from offending users; others have framed Google or Facebook as universal public services, and describe broadband access as just as important as water or electricity.

The Internet is now a core communicative backbone for various communication networks, then – but how might we think about the Net as a public service in a more systematic, technology-neutral manner? First, public services are generally seen as services of general public interest that are subject to specific obligations or regulations. While usually the market provides, these are essential services where public needs may not be fully satisfied by markets alone. Indeed, the Net even serves as a backbone for some of the more conventional public services now.

Internet Usage Patterns in Portugal

The next speaker at ECREA 2010 is José Simões, whose interest is in examining the different media uses of Portuguese families. The key interest here is to understand the conditions and tendencies of access to digital media (as well as other media), and the findings will be compared with similar research being conducted in Texas. This will influence education, industry, policy-makers, and social agents, as well as contribute to public debate in this area.

This starts from questions of digital exclusion and participation, of course; exclusion, in fact, is not just about access, but also about other factors, including resources, skills, choices, and representations of technology. Part of this exclusion may be unwanted or unavoidable, then, but in part, people also may not wish to be included in the first place, because of the choices they’ve made and the attitudes they have. Such constraints and choices may be explained by a range of contextual factors.

Policy Agendas for Participatory Media

The next session I’m attending at ECREA 2010 starts with Arne Hintz, whose focus is on policy agendas for participatory media – which here means a wide range of media forms from radio to online.

Community radio, for example, has traditionally been quite strongly regulated, along with the overall broadcast sector; there is a dual non-commercial/commercial media system, and in some countries also still a strong pirate radio tradition. Gradually, a three-tier broadcast system (community, public service, commercial) has emerged in many countries, and some pirate stations have been given licences.


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