Ideas and messages of ‘change’ are everywhere in our society, yet the term itself and how it is to be recognized or known remains a difficult one. While war and natural disasters bring cataclysmic change, everyday change, whether in the social or personal realms, is harder to grasp or initiate, and seems to elude our understanding. Perhaps it is the strong desire for change and the difficulties of achieving it, at least in the short run, that explains the popularity of television’s most prominent genre of recent years: reality tv. In her book, Makeover TV, Brenda Weber offers a forceful critique of the promises of transformation of one’s body, house, relationships, dog, and numerous other self-improvement projects that have monopolized the airwaves. We now have an army of experts (style gurus, fitness coaches, dog whisperers, nannies, mechanics, surgeons, chefs, interior decorators) to help aspirants achieve the change they are seeking. When the emphasis shifts to the care of the self, what happens to our public spaces, our institutions, our habits of mind? What visions of change mark our collective consciousness and shape our futures? Here it is useful to remind ourselves of the numerous ways, large and small, that society in general has become re-invested in examining change, or bringing it about. As part of a do-it-yourself culture, change is what drives the creativity of the young and the dogged perseverance of the old.
The year 2012-13 seemed like an opportune time to reflect on the concept of change and media’s role in heralding change, embodying change, and promoting social change. Four years earlier, during the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, it seemed that everyone (everyone who took an interest, that is) believed that change of a fundamental sort was about to happen. Apart from the fact of an African-American becoming president, it is perhaps not unreasonable to say that desires for change were vague and diffuse. 2012 saw the re-election of the incumbent president, but with less talk of change, and in an atmosphere of diminished expectations. This recent and familiar chapter played out in national politics could serve as the rationale, if one is needed, for the focus on change as a thematic in the current issue of Immediacy. It seemed to us that some degree of exploration could be directed to ideas of change, and their processes and effects, that are shaping our visual, practical, and discursive worlds at the present time.
Three ways of addressing the theme of ‘media and change’ can be loosely suggested for the projects in this journal issue. The first might be termed the idea of using media for purposes of change. This is no doubt the most direct way in which media practitioners can hope to address real-world issues. The media advocacy projects undertaken in a design class both create, and reflect on, bringing about change through artful design of posters or messages addressing local and global matters of concern. The goal of these projects is to use the creative means at one’s disposal for purposes of education. Using mundane settings, such as the exterior of a bus or the surface of a handbag, the projects imagine how these might look emblazoned with socially-conscious or alternate messages. Then there is the role of documentation via new mapping techniques (Kelly); or the use of social media to promote activities that serve a particular population (Sdao). Using a less direct, and more personal approach, the film “Our Sandy” (Waytowich) moves the viewer with the destructive change experienced in her hometown.
The second way in which the relationship of media to change is explored is through critical commentary on the impact of new or emergent forms of media and related practices on a wide variety of fields. An article published in the New York Times a few months ago, for instance, asked if film is dead, and went on to debate the relative merits of mechanical versus digital processes in retaining the magic of the cinema. Said one film reviewer, “we’re talking about deep ontological and phenomenological shifts that are transforming a medium.”
Such discussions are happening at every level as new technologies transform everyday practices and environments. The projects in this category included here range from the cameo of love relationships of a woman in her seventies (Chu) to the fate of publishing in the era of e-books (Gamino); from the shape of masculinity as represented in popular culture (Farhi) to the control exercised by corporations in the field of competitive sports (Kannes); from concerns with copyright protection of digital materials (Killelea) to the role of social and web-based media in defining human absence (Pugh).
The third strand of inquiry examines the existential and philosophical dimensions of change, particularly in the digital era. As Theis says, “we must examine our relationship with machines in the age of accelerated innovation.” She argues for a return to Heidegger’s notion of boredom as a way back to self-reflection. Similarly, the practices of online dating explored by Kingdon become grounds for reflection on the thinning of personal connections deplored by Sherry Turkle in her recent work.
Both projects outline the costs of our preoccupation with the mediated self. More optimistically, Jankauskaite takes us in another philosophical direction, via theories of language, signification, and translation espoused by Umberto Eco, Barthes, Benjamin, and others. Hers is a rumination on cinema and jazz as open works, and through this process of semantic plurality, new interpretations arise.
Of course, the projects assembled here can be brought into fruitful juxtaposition in other ways as well. For instance, as a temporal concept, change is most often thought of in terms of then and now; the question is always worth raising as to the nature and impact of new practices, ideas, and technologies for individuals and collectivities alike, defined against older practices or situations. Then there is the issue of scope: when is change widespread enough to merit attention and analysis? Yet we all know that the particular instance can help to capture the niceties of a problem in a way that general accounts may not. Add to this creativity as a mode of inquiry and all the forms that this can take. And so it goes. . . . The online visitor is encouraged to make his or her own connections on this challenging topic.
As in all issues of Immediacy, the attempt is always to articulate word and image as complementary modalities, moving seamlessly from one to the other in a process of inquiry, experimentation, and communication.