Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Communities of Readership

One of the more salient images, which stuck with me after putting Anderson down, was the idea of an imagined community based on the widespread readership of a particular newspaper (or novel). I was struck by Anderson's passage
"Yet each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion. (35)"
This readership, tied together publicly, as in the forming of a national identity and unity, yet still so separate from each other's daily private lives, makes sense in the historical context of emerging capitalism. A close kinship could be formed by a newspaper's readership for several reasons, which Anderson discusses, such as the relatively limited circulation of a newspaper (even in the decades during which Welles's "Citizen Kane" takes place one single newspaper stretches across a city, perhaps a geographic region, and at most a chain which reaches across one single nation) where events, locations, and even dialect would be known to all readers. Interestingly, while the readers recognize the community in which their newspaper is situated, the readers do not have to know each other to participate in each others' news. Perhaps this is a form of representative democracy?

 While this local mass audience can be logically defined in early and industrial Capitalist societies, the idea of a nation-based imagined community may be crumbling today. Through technological advancements, platforms for mass media such as the Internet allow for a much more wide spread circulation. A news organization no longer has to be based in a particular city, or even a particular country - anyone who wants to access news via the BBC for example, can no matter where in the world they are and regardless of time of "publication" or distance between the sender and receiver of information. So what does this new for of news do to the imagined community of readers today? We now have readers who do not identify with the same nationality, who are spread across larger geographical areas, who have different "mother tongues." In addition, the progress of "homogenous empty time" also breaks down as instead of a "ceremony," as Anderson calls it, of reading the evening paper at 6:00pm, anyone can access any content, regardless of the day it was published, and at any time they choose.

While it may not be difficult to piece together the relation between the emergence (and continuance) of nationalism and the wide distribution of printed media, I am curious as to the change in the "imagined community" of readers which Internet culture has produced. How has this altered our idea of a national identity?

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