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The People's Mic as a Medium in Its Own Right: A Pharmacological Reading

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The People's Mic—a collective amplification of individual voices in public gatherings—has become a hallmark of the Occupy movement. Because those who join the Microphone in call and response occupy simultaneously the position of medium and that of addressee, the Mic allows us to return to an ancient notion of medium as a middle ground that is associated with the public and the common. Extending a pharmacological trajectory in media theory that goes from Jacques Derrida to Neil Postman to Bernard Stiegler, the article argues that the embodied, slow-paced and choral nature of the Mic can be seen as an antidote to the speedy and fragmentary nature of online communication. In other words, even though the People's Mic does not require any technological prosthesis, its use has been popularized in a post-technological society—a society whose communication patterns are informed by information technologies even when they are not directly relying on them. In the second part, the article draws on Michel Foucault's writings on the ambivalent relationship between free speech and democracy in ancient Greece, to argue that the People's Mic allows participants to reflect on the conditions of possibility of democratic communication—of communication in an open, unscripted environment. It concludes that the challenge for contemporary media theory and media activism is to understand how media that are dependent on the messages they convey can generate their own metalanguages so as to have an impact on the information technologies that enable them.

Keywords: Human Microphone; Media Activism; Media Theory; Occupy; People's Mic; Social Movements

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2014-01-02

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