Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Wednesday, May 26, 2004day link 

 Moblogging from the front and the new Reformation
picture Clay Shirky talks on Corante about how grassroots sharing of powerful information and pictures are changing things:
Jaques Barzun, author of the marvelous history of modernity From Dawn to Decadence (1500 - present), makes the point that the Catholic Church as a pan-European political force was done in by the Protestant Reformation, itself fueled by the printing press. Once the Church lost the ability to control the direct perception of scripture, thanks to the printing of (relatively) cheap bibles in languages other than Latin, their loss of political hegemony followed.

This is what we are seeing now relative to the military’s control of information. A year or so ago, someone in the DoD told me that the thing that would most affect the prosecution of the war in Iraq would be images of DAB’s — Dead American Bodies. The unplanned spread of photos of coffins, and now of torture victims, means that control of this part of the war is outside the military’s hands.

The spread of images from Iraq, both relatively plain ones like most of what’s on the YAFRO blogs to the horrifying images of torture and abuse from the Abu Ghraib prison are all part of the removal of bottlenecks that will change the political structure in ways we can’t predict.[...]

Now we are in a mirror world, where the newly free production and distrubution of images is the novelty. Hearing about DABs or torture victims is nothing like seeing them — I had to rip the cover of the Economist this week because my wife can’t stand to see the image of the man on the box with the electrodes in his hands.

New tools for spreading of the word are powerful, of course — witness the weblog explosion in all its complexity. But the spread of images is a different kind of thing, not least because images pass across linguistic borders like a lava flow. Now that production and distribution of images are in the hands of the laity, it’s a safe bet that we are entering a world of “That will kill this.” We just don’t know what parts of society “this” refers to yet.
No wonder Donald Rumsfeld wants to forbid American soldiers from having camera phones. But it is hopefully too late. Shirky's right: we can maybe more easily ignore words, but pictures are much harder to get around. Rumors of atrocities don't carry nearly the same weight as pictures of them. Particularly unregulated pictures leaked by people who just happened to be around with a digital camera. What made 9-11 hit so hard was to a large part the pictures. The video of the burning and collapsing towers, and the pictures of the individuals who died, and their families. But that came through the centralized media. Now imagine that the government and media could no longer control what images are widely shared. That, whatever happens, some casual bystander will have taken pictures, and the pictures will be on a bunch of people's blogs the same day.
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