“The fantasy of participation” (Jodi Dean, 2008) refers to the mistaken belief that by publishing our opinions online we are in some way contributing to a public discussion on a particular topic. Without a doubt some people’s online activities do have an impact beyond a small group of family and friends, but the majority don’t. Last Wednesday my opinion was used in a BBC article about the electronic archives (“Is the future in bits?“), I was asked for my opinion because of a blog post I had written a year earlier. Does this mean my fantasy is finally over?
Admittedly one BBC comment is not a great return on investment for 343 blog posts, although they have also linked to my blog once or twice, but if we do not take mainstream media acknowledgements as an indicator that we are making a contribution to public discussion what other indicators are there? Whilst traffic, number of links, and number of comments, could all be used, they don’t necessarily show participation in public discussion. Traffic, links, and comments can all be the result of a highly insular group which few outsiders bother with (except possibly as a curiousity).
Recognition by the mainstream media is still the best indicator that we are contributing to public discussion, but I think I will wait for a few more acknowledgements before I add the title ‘public intellectual’ to my c.v.