A guest blog by PhD candidate Rachel-Ann Charles.
I participated in the International Academic Forum (IAFOR) European Conference on Media and Mass Communication Euromedia 2014 held July 18-20, Brighton, UK. This conference was a stimulating experience, as I learned, shared and networked with cross-national researchers. There were a wide range of presentations under the conference theme ‘Individual, Community and Society: Conflict, Resolution and Synergy.’ This conference theme in and of itself was provocative. Discussions were centred on the basic premise that societal and communal conflicts are inevitable because of the characteristics that define and differentiate these groups, such as geography, values and beliefs. The primary purpose of the conference was to provoke thoughts on the idea of diversity and the role it plays on expanding ideas on communities and societies. This conference was also compelling on a much more personal level because of my research into the use of transformative media in communities that are typically riddled with gang conflict. My specific interest is understanding the power of media and communication technologies and the role it can play in ultimately minimising conflict.
Among the many stimulating workshops, the keynote presentation, on Technology- Its Impact on Media and the Way We Communicate, was intriguing, and it was also the common thread in most of the sessions I attended. Professor Gary E. Swanson spoke on the presence of mass media in almost every aspect of our lives and the role technology plays in altering our life experience. He said that technology has permanently transformed communication, which has impacted on our personal and professional lives- in the way we work, travel and entertain ourselves. He believes that technology has had the biggest impact in the way we communicate with each other. Like with many things, there are both negative and positive end results of this impact on communication.
In a later presentation given by Rana Hassan, on Social Media and the Egyptian Revolution: The Rise of Cyber-Activism and Citizen Journalism, she demonstrated the advantages and disadvantages of the impact of technology on communication. According to Hassan, within an Arab context social media were initially used for the primary purpose of socialising and entertaining: until it was realised that social media could be used for political activities. The advantage of the introduction of social media was that youths, who were usually disengaged, participated in shaping public opinion. There was an increase in Cyber Activism with the primary aim of promoting political and social causes. Hassan spoke of the various roles this new form of media played in the January 25th Egyptian revolution. For example, facebook book groups publicised events to increase participation, created propaganda to increase popularity and so forth. Because of new technology, citizens were the main journalists during that time as they used phones to document all the events that transpired during that time. Hassan concluded by saying that this new media phase will continue to affect history around the globe.
Research anecdotes such as Hassan’s and many others at this conference make me hopeful in some ways about the potential impact of my research. Because the inevitable nature of gang-poverty conflict makes me feel at times that media for social change is pointless within the context of Trinidad and Tobago. How can media aid in breaking cycles that have existed for centuries with this changing nature of technology? I tend to focus on the idea of creativity, citizenship and new technologies – with the hope that some ground-breaking idea would pop into my head. It is my hope that as I engage with more literature in this subject area that I will be able to develop some useful framework for this element of my research.