Ok, “serendipitous violence” is an unfortunate word pairing. Though part of the intent of these notes is to sort through concepts without clear terms, and maybe blow a few metaphors along the way. The idea behind serendipitous violence is that digital media extend access of communication and information beyond the reach of their original target community. Two most obvious cases in the past few years are the ‘Koran in the toilet’ incident that sparked riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammad.

Content aggregators, translation tools, and internet create global reach for local or community-specific information. Groups that thought they were talking only to themselves find they have a larger audience. It’s not necessarily hate speech or incitement – intentional, targeted language – but a result of incidental conflict between world views, language usage, discourses. Conflict results from the spread of information beyond traditional audiences. And it’s likely to keep happening. Digital media tools and technology change quickly and provide tremendous opportunities for access, but human culture and social organization are more resistant. Out of this friction comes something else – perhaps call it correlative, or better, incidental incitement.

Returning to the LiveLeak story – in addition to it being another instance of incidental incitement, what struck me is that I first got the story through International SOS – a private health, security, and evacuation firm that provides a news feed for its members/clients , and one version of the walled garden, situated inside the design of a security, health, and on security issues. Interesting, not because it’s a private information service, but because it’s a version of the ‘walled garden’ vision of information distribution, nicely articulated by Jonathan Taplin, a USC Annenberg professor, in which some people will agree to pay a high price for accurate, vetted information uncluttered by advertisements by subscription, while others will accept information, even cell phone calls, provided they first view or listen to extensive advertising. Taplin made those remarks on a panel at a conference at USC’s Annenberg School, thrown by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and liveblogged by EthanZ here.

The conference, “on the state of the field of participatory media within the overall news and information environment,” burned a lot of mental energy trying to define terms – in the wonderfully solipsistic way media discusses media discussing media. I’ll skip the well-chewed discussions of what to call participatory media, a sample of which you can find on media re:public’s site, narrated by the able P, and move on to that other walled garden, America, and unfortunate habit of viewing participatory media (PM?) only through the American experience, despite the many and colorful instances of digital media projects around the world, and often in the developing world.

An aside – it’s interesting to discuss developed countries as having some of the same attributes and problems as developing world countries (arguably the US has a developing world living inside it, the community formerly known as the underclass, even if class analysis went out with the Berlin wall, and has never really regained it’s influence – though it’s still relevant all the time in political discourse, and policies, in the developing world (“eat the rich,” my favorite graffiti tag).

The underclass was also not well represented today, and presumably, therefore, rarely get to enjoy one of these:


a double headed hydra nozzle – perfect for conference-goers who stay up too late before important meetings with their donors.