Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anthropology of old media/new media

Community radio is considered old media. After all, it involves transmitters and microphones and its most immediate audiences, the people in local communities within a few kilometers of the transmitter, listen to it the old fashioned way, through a boombox radio, or maybe even an old-fashioned transistor in rural areas where there are few electrical lines.  In Guatemala, the core audience of community radio are people in small towns and rural communities, and many of the radio stations in the community radio movement are highly localized. However, at the same time, Guatemala has one of the highest incidences of cell phone ownership in Latin America, and cell phone towers dot the rural landscape. There are only a few places in the country where, depending upon one's cell phone carrier, one cannot get a signal, and nearly everyone, it seems, from hip, media-savvy pre-teens to elderly grandmothers who can neither read, write, nor speak Spanish, has and knows how to use a cell phone. Some people have two or three -- there are three companies, and each has advantages and drawbacks (my carrier, Tigo, has the best coverage but its airtime is the most expensive; there is only one little stretch of about .5 km on the highway where I have no coverage at all), or they have different phones (one that is very basic, here called a "frijol" or "frijolito" because they are black and very simple; one that has more bells and whistles like a camera and internet).

Community radio here uses a mixture of old and new technologies. Broadcasters do remote transmissions of important events in their communities using a cell phone and a transistor radio, or using Skype on a laptop computer. Or we record events on a digital voice recorder and then broadcast them later.  Many, if not most, of the key activists in the community radio movement, are on Facebook, and we regularly communicate with each other via Facebook as it is convenient and we are usually online when we are at the broadcast studios of our stations. During the elections, I was able to get reports from several different departments of Guatemala by checking in with other community radio folks on Facebook, and we even sent messages to each other's listeners that way (through messages or chat messages, which we then read on the air at our respective stations).

It has become part of our "job" to post photographs and short reports of events that we cover on Facebook -- this has become a standard practice and even an expectation. An expectation not only on our part, but on the part of those who participate in the events we cover -- that the photographs will go up "on the internet" so that they can be "broadcast" and seen. People are increasingly aware of the importance of electronic media, and especially self-publishing like Facebook, blogs and Youtube, as a way to transmit messages and information that will not reach the mainstream media.

And so, for example, here is the link to some of the video I shot yesterday at the installation of the
indigenous mayoralty in Sumpango:

Putting this video up and sending the link to several of the people who were present yesterday has become part of my fieldwork. Two of the newly-installed alcaldes and the representative of the Defensoria de los Pueblos Indíigenas gave me their email addresses and specifically asked me to send them photos and the videos, so that, too, becomes part of the fieldwork. I posted an album on Facebook (setting privacy to "friends") and then sent them the link.  Which I am embedding here as well:

Sharing photos and videos has become this is an ethical and political commitment: I need to make sure that the images that I record do not just stay in my own personal files, to be used to illustrate talks or articles that will enhance my professional reputation and my career, but are available to the people who are documented therein, to do with whatever they will.  And I "publish" them in ways that my collaborators request or find acceptable. And of course I consulted with them about publishing the photos and videos. I did not consult all the members of the audience who are in a few of the photographs; shots that were close ups of individuals, I did ask permission, but wide-angle shots of the entire audience, no ...but since there were news photographers from the local press, and they did not ask permission of the audience either, I think I am within at least journalistic ethics. It was, after all, a public event, and there were a few news cameras there, and the only people I tagged or identified by name were people whom I knew would not mind (as we often exchange photos on Facebook and tag each other).

I will, perhaps, try to reflect upon this in a more structured (and theorized) way in a bit... after I write my paper for the American Anthropological Association conference, which is well overdue.

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