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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Observations: The 4th Estate

(A recurring theme with my writing - always evolving, always growing)

The concept of the “4th estate” reaches back to the period just after the French Revolution in the early 1800’s. Having established their new democratic government of three estates, it was noticed that there was a 4th sociopolitical entity which was affecting the path of the nation. Unable to define this 4th entity, it was labeled simply as the the nations “4th estate”. Recently I have come to define the 4th estate as the systemic feedback mechanism of a functioning democracy: it is not the subsystem responsible for making important decisions so much as the subsystem responsible for making decisions important. The power of this 4th estate comes from the ability of the mass media to frame the national discourse before the electorate, to define what issues are most relevant for discussion.

The 4th estate has always existed in society in one form or another, even before the concept of democracy existed. All social information entering the mind of the individual is in some sense feedback from the greater society, framing for them the relevancy of specific ideas and concepts. For instance: in the centuries before the printing press was a viable means of mass production, a flow of bibles produced at hands of Christian monks framed the concepts of the Christian religion as important to the Western world. Through their mass of information output into Western society, I would argue that the church was able to affect it’s discourse. With the invention of the printing press, the mass reproduction of information was accessible to more people.

As time has progressed, technology has brought the means of information mass production to the people, and with this has come higher and higher densities of information throughout the media environment. As the information density increases, the potential relevancy between any two messages also increases. When signals relevant to each other come in contact with each other they produce a pattern of information new to the overall system (as an individual learns, they put pieces together to make new ideas). These new patterns of information, concepts and ideas new into the media environment, are what fuel social, technological and scientific advancement. Of particular import to myself, however, is their ability to fuel the development and evolution of our democratic processes.

Members of the 4th estate record for broadcast information on Occupy DC’s erecting their “Tent of Dreams”, a massive tent in the center of McPherson Square and my home for a week.

As more Americans gain access to the means of information production - the American 4th estate - citizens are enabled to communicate more with both each other and our elected. The American electorate, with the technologies of the Internet, have grown accustomed to being more socially enfranchised and having their voice heard across social networks, and in my opinion it was only a matter of time that a major movement in this country erupted in this country embracing direct democracy.

Our 4th estate is constituted from these means of information production, Through our 4th estate, America is able to communicate with itself and share relevant information. Up until the inception of the Internet, most of the modes of information mass-production (most of the 4th estate) were controlled only by those with the capitol to support a printing press or broadcast tower.

With the Internet, the modes of information mass production are available to most of America. It has enabled us to provide more feedback into our media environment through social interactions online, but more importantly it has given us a voice in the discussion of how our society is structured and governed. As technologies enabled more and more feedback, Americans became more and more accustomed to having their voice heard. This finds itself aligned to the American ideals of democracy, and so in my opinion it was only a matter of time before a movement in America erupted to demand move voice in our governmental systems. The 4th estate is that of the Citizens Estate, responsible for transmitting information from the people into our overall democracy. In my opinion that is exactly what Occupy is about: addressing the disproportionate levels of disenfranchisement in our country. The ‘occupy’ conversation started with wealth inequality, but the issues we are facing in this country run far deeper than just the economic.

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