The production of the new issue of Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media (Digital Icons) has been darkened by the conflict in Ukraine and the ensuing global diplomatic crisis. Our research community has reflected on the events on our Facebook pages (you can join the group by following this link on the homepage). However, the magnitude of the events in Ukraine (sadly already overshadowed by the insurgency in Iraq) and the role of digital networked media in political crises are yet to be explored in future research. Undoubtedly, the crisis in Ukraine has compelled us to re-visit current theories concerning social media, participation, propaganda, trust, and so forth. We are cautious to offer any immediate responses and, unlike other publications, we do not seek easy solutions; as the conflict continues to unfold, we maintain we should remain vigilant and focus on conducting thorough research and not indulge in speculation.
While we have been following intently—and at times obsessively—the heart-breaking events in Ukraine, we somewhat overlooked an historical date which is significant diachronically in that it provides a critical perspective—in terms of technological development and social practice—on the current events globally. On the 7th of April 1994 .ru was registered officially as a country domain. Lurkmore, Moshkov’s library, anekdot.ru and many other early internet projects of Russian digital pioneers seem to be a distant echo twenty years onwards when, for example, Russian social media have been floated on open markets and when RT has established a dominant presence on the internet and Twitter (in comparison with the BBC; I credit Galina Miazhevich for this information). The twentieth anniversary of the Runet is a symbolic occurrence and, to reiterate our point, its value is solely in demarcating the temporal framework of the techno-cultural phenomenon and our studies of it. The quotidian ramifications of this phenomenon and its impact on geopolitics, cultural practice, economy and so forth—including those in and connected to Ukraine—are hard to overestimate.
The current issue offers a reflection on these divergent trends—the political immediacy of new media research and challenges of media archaeology and historical research—in that it contains essays that compare and contrast multiple agencies of digital media. In all of the submissions, however, the authors maintain focus on the key underlying concern—protest and digital networked media. This issue was not solicited and developed as a special issue; rather it is one of our ‘regular issues’ and includes sundry submissions. However, it is apparent that events in the ‘actual world’ and media events dictate our agenda, thus we propose to title this issue ‘Mediations of Protest: Staging, Filming, Giving, Being’, hoping it reflects the gist of the studies presented here.
The issue opens with Joanna Szostek’s essay ‘The Media Battles of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan’ (11.1). She examines the part played by journalists during EuroMaidan and the struggles around media resources that were central to these dramatic recent events in Ukrainian politics. She pays special attention to journalist activism and the use of social networks; the emergence of new information sources; and the behaviour of leading national TV channels. The essay attempts to provide an account of the media system in pre-revolution Ukraine and of the government’s strategies that resulted in further clashes and eventual change of power.
Gernot Howanitz’s essay ‘www.blok.art.pl: A Review of the First Polish Hypertext Novel’ (11.2) takes us back to the early 2000s when Sławomir Shuty’s hypertext novel Blok was published. The scholar argues that the novel represents a wider cultural trend in Poland known as the hypertextual biotope which evolved around the Cracow-based publishing company Ha!art. Howanitz employs complex tools to analyse the structure of the novel, and as a result of his analysis he arrives at a set of conclusions that reiterate concerns of historical media research. This is one of the few publications on Polish digital culture in Digital Icons and we hope it will be the first of many on the subject.
The next two submissions focus on the Russian-speaking sectors of the internet. Marianna Poberezhskaya’s essay ‘Reflections on Climate Change and New Media in Russia: Challenges and Opportunities’ (11.3) and E. Ivanenko, M.Koretskaia and E. Savenkova’s essay ‘www.darudar.org. New Traditions of Exchange of Social Manna’ (11.4) introduce new areas of inquiry in our research. The former essay examines how social media (Twitter and LiveJournal blogging platforms) cover climate change issues in Russia. Poberezhskaya evaluates whether new media can provide a platform for debate on a subject that receives little attention in ‘traditional’ media. The latter essay looks at a social practice of exchanging items on the internet—the act of gift giving [darenie]—and its social and political implications. The team of authors attempt to conceptualise convergent media and practices of (non-)consumption. Ultimately the essay sheds light on new forms of sociality in a context determined by the legacy of the economy of shortages and current culture of excess and conspicuous consumption.
Poberezhskaya’s and Ivanenko et al essays provide a political and cultural setting for the following three essays 11.5-11.7 that explicitly take us back to the contemporary culture of protest. Yuri Leving’s essay ‘Self-Portrait in the Digital Era’ (11.5) shows how contemporary social media and advertising can manipulate the users’ perception—including at the time of social unrest—through the mediums of photography and cinema, in both professional and amateur realms. Andrew Chapman’s essay ‘Changing “The Term” of Engagement: Casting and Mobilizing Amateur Filmmakers in Recent Projects by Kostomarov, Rastorguev and Pivovarov’ (11.6) examines how these Russian filmmakers promote political mobilization, citizen journalism and amateur filmmaking. Just like Leving, Chapman problematizes the notion of the self in the digital era and also how such a notion relates to the broader media system of exchange as noted in Ivanenko et al essay. Gernot Howanitz and Dirk Uffelmann engage with the politics of selfhood in the digital era in their essay ‘iRhetoric in Russian: Performing the Self through Mobile Technology’ (11.7). Labelled as a conference report, the submission provides an essential guide to forms of selfhood and their multiple ways of expression in digital media in the Russian context.
The book review section includes reviews of four volumes: ‘Revolution Stalled: The Political Limits of the Internet in the Post-Soviet Sphere’ by Sarah Oates (8.1); ‘Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity’ by Melissa Aronczyk (8.2); ‘Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation’ by Beth Coleman (8.3); and ‘Game On, Hollywood! Essays on the Intersection of Video Games and Cinema’ edited by Gretchen Papazian and Joseph Michael Sommers (8.4).
We offered Maria Sidorkina (University of Yale) an opportunity to write an extended review of Sarah Oates’s book because of its relevance to our understanding of the conflict in Ukraine. Melissa Aronczyk’s book, reviewed by Colin Alexander (Nottingham Trent University), helps us understand the role of soft power in the region and its impact on the geopolitical imperatives. ‘Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation’, reviewed by Olga Kim (University of Pittsburgh), is an attempt to provide a holistic view of network societies with focus on the cultural aspects of pervasive media. Finally, ‘Game On, Hollywood! Essays on the Intersection of Video Games and Cinema’, reviewed by Stephen M. Norris (Miami University, Ohio), speaks to the concerns originally raised in the special issue of Digital Icons entitled ‘Cinegames: Convergent Media and the Aesthetic Turn’ (issue 8; https://www.digitalicons.org/issue08/), concerns about cinema-game convergence understood as a larger cultural phenomenon, underwritten by the development of new technologies and the emergence of new social practice.
The issue was prepared by the editorial board of Digital Icons which now includes twelve new members (the full list of editors is available on the About page). We are extremely pleased to welcome them to our team. This is a clear indication of the growing interest in research on new media and digital technologies in scholarly communities and of the key role Digital Icons plays in such scholarship. It has been an immense pleasure to work with them on this issue and we look forward to innovative projects and publications originating from this partnership.
London, England; June 2014.