'Viral videos have indeed triggered a vigorous participatory culture' (Tasneem Dustagheer).
After a slight misunderstanding regarding the Mayan calendar, the world has not ended in 2012. Whether we anticipated the end of life as we know it or the dawn of a new year, 2013 is now upon us. As is customary at the start of a new year, we can take the opportunity to look back and reflect on the year that has passed. For many, 2012 meant viral images and movies, online activity and protest, parodies and political gaffes.
Some of the most popular videos of the year included: Kony 2012, Nick Clegg's musical apology, Prince Charles's short stint as a weatherman, Felix Baumgartner's jump from space and, of course, the music clip turned worldwide dance phenomenon, Gangnam Style. One high-impact viral movie flourishing in a web-based environment was The Innocence of Muslims. This controversial and amateurish short movie led to protests across the Middle East when an Arabic-language version of the trailer appeared on YouTube in September.
Images of conflicts around the world dominated news headlines. Pictures of protests and uprisings in so-called 'Arab Spring' countries showed devastated cities reduced to mounds of cement. Crowds of thousands gathering in public places like Tahrir Square communicated a time of division, unity, struggle and resistance to those who watched from afar.
For Sandra Fathi (ragan.com) this is only the beginning of an image dominated future online:
‘The rise of infographics, photo sharing, and visual storytelling will push PR pros and their clients to deploy messages visually in order to compete in a crowded content market. All Things D reported that in August, smartphone users spent more time on Instagram than on Twitter for the first time since Instagram launched in 2010. This is indicative of a broader shift toward visual content in the digital space’.
Online images captured live fragments of what we have experienced and been subject to throughout 2012. While the content and messages of images and viral movies is vastly different, the ways in which we encounter them is common. People use the internet to draw public and global attention to local issues, political and personal concerns. The shared connections enabled by the web don't just offer us a mode of viewing and retreating - but a way of participating in other people’s lives.
The internet is not just a digital archive of events, popular ideas and images - it reflects our needs and interests at particular times. Perhaps we can imagine at this point in time that the need for greater connections with others near and far has drawn people into digital spaces. Digital spaces hold out hope for different modes of communication and participation in society and in political processes. This is a space where individual voices and opinions can be heard and responded to.
First Published in the Geelong Advertiser: