But if you have accomplished lots, and have spoken to people you love, and the night is arriving outside…swiftly, like ink pouring across a page (maybe from one of those old fashioned ink pots?) but you are inside, warmed by a mug of coffee, with interesting readings strewn across your desk…that is the moment to listen to Smog. It is also the time to think about identity.
The streets of Bogotá could be described as a Palimpsest. Notices are plastered over notices which are plastered over posters in turn plastered over advertisements. When I walked around I was constantly observing the walls, and tried to note down the things that interested me. But if you see something and think it sounds good, there is no use going back later to note down the details because they will have disappeared, perhaps leaving a corner poking out from behind the new information, perhaps too ephemeral to be captured in the cold memory of Bogotá’s walls. Sometimes I just asked for one of the posters, it was easier that way, and I imagined that I would create my own wall of memories. In a way, this was just a physical representation of the internet (if we stretch our imaginations a little). Save the page, or take a screen shot to remind you of the details, because there is just too much information to remember to go back to.
When I first arrived in Bogotá for the second time (re-arrived?), I lived in an area populated by students and foreigners (the only area it is possible to get a short term rental agreement). One might think that I would have met many students and foreigners. I didn’t – at least, not outside my climbing/investigating bubble. Indeed, it wasn’t until my final year in Colombia that I ended up with more than one British (or foreign) friend. The one gringo I spoke to in those first months (in the bank, I think he was just being polite) asked me what I was doing in Colombia. When I gave the shortened version of my research, the one that pares it down to a research field and physical region he just laughed and said “but media in Colombia is done on the walls, there is no mass media”. I am going to handily ignore the long history of the press in the country (Press Reference even says that
“Colombia is one of the more complicated and interesting of the world’s nations. Its history has a significant connection to its media and its press traditions. From its founding as a nation into the twenty-first century, it maintained a tradition of freedom of the press, and it attained an extensive and high quality press. However, violence threatens the country as a democratic entity as well as the health of its media”).
For now, I will also ignore the strong community media presence, the Indigenous radio projects, the organisations that exist to protect journalists and freedom of the press. I will ignore everything I worked with (but not really, it is here, noted, mentioned, remembered, slyly documented whilst pretending not to), and I will agree that for many, the only news and notices they receive is on the walls of the city they live in. And I suppose that without the Internet (or perhaps especially with), our news is exactly the same. It gets plastered over by new news, by more colourful information, by noise. The agenda setters are those that can cover more walls with the same image, making us forget the layers beneath (or, if you didn’t walk that way before, never know they existed). In other places, this is controlled by money, and we have seen it in action at the highest levels in the UK this year.
But this agenda setting goes beyond the obvious, past the scandals and the big money, and affects lives in many other ways. It has been asked by feminist researchers “if national identity depends upon a shared history and common imaginaries; what can be said when women are not represented in the museums, textbooks, or politics of a nation?” (Lake, 2000; Wenk, 2000).
Let us reword that and take it one step further. If national identity depends upon a shared history and common imaginaries; what will happen if we all create our own media filter/allow filters to be applied to every aspect of our lives? We are more likely to believe/read things that fit our existing opinions, and ‘new media’ allows us to pre-sift out everything that may have previously accidentally challenged our views. While this has allowed formerly marginalised communities to become more mainstream (albeit sometimes within their own sphere), this can have negative as well as positive repercussions.
If everyone around you (either physically or within your on-line community of peers) thinks that x-y-z section of the world’s population is evil-lazy-destroying your country, then it is a difficult challenge indeed to convince otherwise without removing said community. Maajid Nawaz spoke at the Hay Festival about his journey from one narrative to another. Changing understanding entails a complete uprooting from the former, something that can be a difficult sell, especially when one’s hand is not forced. Jamie Bartlett also touched on this theme when he spoke about the pro-ana sites in his talk about the Dark Net. The thing is, he ponders, many of these online communities may actually be filling a gap in mental health services. So perhaps this brings us back to the original question. Perhaps (just maybe) the answer lies in representing women and men and TQ* people of different backgrounds in the museums, textbooks, and politics of the nation, so that online identities can make up but layers of the self that fit above or within the national.
There may be a way to travel before this is our reality, but we can begin by understanding that (as per the BBC), other realities are available. In fact, if you don’t buy a newspaper, or listen to the radio (maybe don’t have one, or cannot understand the language that is spoken), or watch television, or have friends who are politically engaged in your country of residence, or understand what is happening, or care; if you are any of these things, or all of them like the young man in the bank might have been, then your media may well be ephemerally posted in layers on walls.