【by Soo-Young Nam, June 2021】
Our hope that the development of digital technology will enrich our media experience is predicated on the belief that digital records are infallible. NFT (Non-Fungible Token) has become one piece of evidence. By making a slight change in this “non-fungible token” into a “non-fungible TRUTH”, I would like to point out the phenomenon in which media democratization (people’s participation in media) is distorted in high-tech media environment like in South Korea.
Korea’s Internet environment is better than any other country. It is also difficult to deny Korea’s advanced digital media technology. Korea can be a prime example of a media eruption. Here I use the term “media eruption” in two senses. It means the overflow of new media of different types and the overflow of information through these media at the same time. In this era, our daily lives are connected with media, whether voluntarily or unconsciously, in an analogue or digital way. In most cases, we are also involved in the production of information disseminated by such media.
Nick Couldry explains that people use media almost as rituals, strengthening our sense of belonging to society (Media Rituals 2002). This is not unique to the situation at the end of the 20th century, as pointed out in his book. At the time, 24-hour broadcasts and live programs made people feel as if their lives were linked to the center of society. Now, various social media apps and one-person broadcasting channels added to our mobile devices make us feel that we all are mediated all the time. Through the tiny computer in the palm of our hand, we get to know everything almost in real-time. Then, we post and repost what we have learned from the internet across a variety of devices. This media technology leads us to believe that nothing is unknown to us.
Computers and digital devices have contributed significantly to the democratization of the media. People use digital networks to create and distribute information. The information does not belong only to central governments or large corporations. Digital technology has upgraded mechanical reproduction so that media contents can be distributed almost free of charge. This decentralization of media has dismantled the centralized control of information and expanded the capacity of knowledge production once entrusted to a few elites now to the masses. Advances in media technology led to open systems of knowledge and information.
Today, however, the democratization of media and information faces another level of separation. Thanks to mass participation, one-sided manipulation of information is impossible. But this media flood generates populism, even violence, rather than enlightenment. There is our blind belief in the digital data, surveillance by the mechanical media all around us.
The deluge of digital records and media contents allow people to r(e)use them. But, at the same time, there is a movement to filter the original content from replicas via digital information on an invisible level. While an increase in data does not necessarily mean increased visibility, leachable information in digital form has acquired monetary value with or without our awareness. Indeed, unwavering truth can be proved by a combination of pieces of information spread across multiple digital records that the human senses cannot perceive. Like a blockchain or the idea of cryptocurrency intimates the operation of the digital codes that are fragmented and distracted.
Truth no longer resides in a place where everybody can see if they look carefully. Something is happening in a realm beyond the senses of the public, something that remains invisible however much we magnify it. Such systems appear to revert to unequal production (and processing) of knowledge and relate to the re-evolution of conspiracy theories.
Recently, there was a representative case in Korea that combined the flooding of digital media and the domination of conspiracy theories. The case of a medical student who went missing while drinking in a park next to the Han River drove the whole nation a “room corner Conan (a detective name of a famous Japanese animation).” Surely does the tragedy of a young man invite people’s sympathy. However, narratives that spread and reproduced through various media platforms after the incident showed that the “democratic” media were filled with overheated excitement rather than cool-headed intelligence. The latest media images, such as CCTV videos that can be shared by all citizens and cell phone camera pictures of people around them, are involved. But YouTube also plays a significant role in this case, responsible for the public narrative that turns doubts and questions into the irreplaceable “truth.”
As a representative industry in the era of media eruption, I encourage you to think about the facts of this irreplaceable evidence, which are still mysterious in the public eye, but in circulation like this token, which has nevertheless become unshakable evidence and value. It is the information that society has gathered through numerous mechanical eyes and the social media that selectively distributes them, especially the wild “news” on YouTube, making money by cultivating a vast conspiracy, as the unmanipulated truth.
Sad premonitions are always right. Media eruption has created something far from emancipation and enlightenment. People unwaveringly believe the invisible because they can “know” them. Now we talk about non-fungible tokens that save countless copies and secondary creations. The NFT is the irreplaceable proof of the originality made up of digital data. NFTs for popular internet memes are now selling for billions of dollars. Consumers have already been exposed to numerous copies and derivatives, which does not matter. NFT authenticates the ownership of the original engraved on the encryption.
We always have excuses for being ignorant and unaware. Digital computation seals what happens in the invisible world as secure and encrypted. The danger is not that these systems are so stealthy that they are not well understood by the new master of the media, the general public. This system is dangerous because it creates unshakable “truth” based on entirely new circumstances about things we do not understand or know. The situation is that “we cannot distinguish but there is an unshakable truth” (what the NFT stands for) quickly turns into “anything indistinguishable still can be true” and “anything we cannot prove wrong must be true.” The logical fallacy feeds on conspiracy theories behind media images.
In terms of digital media dependence, what is more, important than the loss of indexicality is perhaps the rise of fake news. Pervasive media still produce gaps that the viewers cannot fill no matter how hard they try. Furthermore, digital media is replacing the physical contacts we need in our lives. Yes, we are losing real “contacts” to feel safe and seek truths in the internet world.
In other words, this intangible value of NFTs (whatever they mean) is formed through online networks replacing real-world neighbors, and the information they share underlies their blind but most absolute and precarious beliefs.
Like a Non-Fungible-Truth, that surpasses all reasons and proofs.
Soo-Young Nam, Korea National University of Arts, South Korea