CCTV is a community media center in Cambridge, MA that is doing some fascinating work in the integration of web media to the mission of community television. My grad student, Colin Rhinesmith, is doing his master’s thesis on this topic and has done some exemplary research thus far on the implications of this integration. While Colin is exploring this topic in extensive detail through analyzing the culture of access centers, I want to take a moment to reflect on just one aspect of CCTV’s efforts – what they call the mediamap. This is basically a Google Map that is placemarked with local video, including everything from a cyclist’s perspective to a promotional video for a new coffee shop. The result of this mediamap is a collection of local video annotated with GPS coordinates. In this context, the video works in service to the map. So what you end up with is really a map that is annotated with video. The primary object of engagement is the map – the video, like place names or boundaries, becomes the data that enhances the map. Why does this matter? Well, it would seem that this particular model of community television uses ‘television’ to qualify community, as opposed to using community to qualify television. This is a rather distinct shift from previous models of ‘community television’, where localism was premised on the practice of production primarily.
Is Mediamap a push or a pull technology? In other words, does it push the notion of localism out to the globe, or does it pull the globe into the local. Based on what I said above, it is a pull technology. It pulls the map into the video, it pulls television into the community. Localism, I would argue, has long been premised on push technologies. Self-identification happened within defined boundaries and then, if blessed with a media infrastructure, communities could push that identity outward. Networked media has introduced opportunities to reverse that paradigm. Localism can now be a result of external influences, re-contextualized and reformatted to fit local needs. This is both an exciting prospect and a threat to local cohesiveness. If the ability to pull is that strong, then there is little incentive to produce meaning from the directly proximate. Meaning can be pulled in from elsewhere to define local life. Consider, Facebook’s neighborhood widget as an example.
So, what is the perfect balance between push and pull technologies for localism? I don’t know the answer, but I’m advocating here that we should start asking the question.