The growth of interactivity in digital media has made a significant contribution to the democratisation of culture, particularly within the realm of authorship and creative control. The increasing dissolution of the creator-audience barrier, borne of the widespread accessibility of these new digital platforms such as social media, as well as the participatory nature of online communities, has encouraged wider horizons for society to engage with, contribute to, or change messages.
Historically, media forms (such as television and radio) have been used almost uniquely as platforms for broadcasting – that is, as asymmetrical one-way modes of transmission (Grunig 2001, pp. 11-12). Barthes (1968), from a literary perspective, perceptively delineates how the Author (the content-generator for these platforms) was seen as a distanced entity whom audiences would passively follow, but not interact with on more than a level of removed appraisal. However, this reigning perception of the author figure was diluted, especially in digital media, where the breakdown of creator-audience boundaries was being augmented by the increasing interactivity and accessibility of media forms (Hartley 2009).
For instance, online texts often feature a comments section, where readers can add their own insights or critiques of published articles, videos and social media messages (Gardiner et al. 2016). It should be noted that this power comes with the risk of being exploited; there are cases of an entitlement felt by some web users to excuse their derogatory or negative online comments undercover of anonymity (Gardiner et al. 2016). A recent report for The Guardian provides a statistical survey of such examples. However, scholars such as Hartley agree that the benefits of interactivity are ultimately positive, as it allows everyday people to join a collective authorship, providing dynamism and making an otherwise static work fluid and evolving, by virtue of the democratic platform of digital media.
It is Hartley (2009) who fixates on the positive effects of media democratisation with regards to cultural growth. Reappraising Hoggart’s influential exploration of critical literacy in mass and popular culture, The Uses of Literacy, he explores how digital literacy is converting society from a ‘read only’ to a ‘read-write’ culture (Hartley 2009 p. 17). Where Hoggart is accepting yet sceptical, Hartley is more embracing of the value of the layman’s critical interaction with culture. He cogently argues that ‘The “popular” in popular culture [is taken] to mean demotic (low) rather than democratic (wide)’ (Hartley 2009 p. 7) and is hence devalued by purely academic and intellectualistic approaches to a text; yet he says that this is a problematic approach to judging culture, as it excludes a wide section of the population from participating meaningfully. Digital literacy, is, on the whole then, a valuable tool for democratising cultural involvement and creative control; yet this freedom must be treated carefully for its equal potential to exacerbate conflict in communication.
Barthes, R. 1968, ‘The Death of the Author’, University of California Santa Cruz, PDF, n.d., viewed 23 August 2016, <http://artsites.ucsc.edu/faculty/Gustafson/FILM%20162.W10/readings/barthes.death.pdf>.
Gardiner, B., Mansfield, M., Anderson, I., Holder, J., Louter, D. & Ulmanu, M. ‘The Dark Side of Guardian Comments’, The Guardian, 12 April 2016, viewed 26 August 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/12/the-dark-side-of-guardian-comments>.
Grunig, J.E. 2001, ‘Two-way symmetrical public relations: past, present, and future’ in R.L. Heath (ed.), Handbook of Public Relations, Sage Publications Inc., Thousand Oaks, London & New Delhi, pp. 11-30.
Hartley, J. 2009, ‘Repurposing Literacy’, in The Uses of Digital Literacy, pp. 1-38.