Functions of media utopianism in innovation processes
Jan-Felix Schrape (University of Stuttgart)
Paper short abstract:
Media utopias can be regarded as productive types of communication: They serve to guide innovation, to direct a particular technology into a new societal context or to start an unconventional path of development. Through technology, society conceives itself as the creator of its own future.
Paper long abstract:
Media utopias combine expectations of technological potential and far-reaching ideas of social transformation overlaid with a shimmering revolutionary vocabulary in a novel and particular way. Based on empirical observations and theoretical reflections, my talk discusses the sociopolitical functions of utopian concepts in the digital realm and assumes that media utopias should be viewed as narratives that offer orientation on uncertainties and conflicts shaping current societal communication. In that sense, concurring media utopias - often deriving from from corporate PR departments or professional visioneers - can be regarded as productive types of communication: They serve to guide innovation, to direct a technology into a new context or to start an unconventional path of development. They generate attention for technological potentials, provoke the need for follow-up communication, channel the discourse in a particular direction - and thus substantially contribute to our daily coping with contingencies and uncertainties: Business corporations may see a confirmation of their current course or derive from them an urgent need for reorganization; early adopters can align their preferences on them; science can claim the need for further research and politicians can call for societal reorientation. In contrast to classic social utopias, however, their point of departure for hoped-for transitions is not the social order itself. Rather, new communication and information technologies are regarded as "media" for a presumed turning point. Through their radical yet open-ended technologically mediated expectations, media utopias provoke a sense of immediate pertinence that requires a prompt response in almost all areas of society.
Politicizing futures. When conflicting visions meet