Losh

I, Barack Hussein Obama:
Virtual Crowds and Participatory Politics in the 2009 Inauguration

Elizabeth Losh

Pundits in the mainstream media have a tendency to chastise Internet users for making their private lives public and for putting the most intimate or mundane details of their personal experiences into digital files for all to gawk at online. As a scholar of rhetoric, my fear is that these practices won't be public enough now that so many people rely on corporate cloud computing to store and share photos, videos, and journal entries, and social network sites often function as the Internet equivalent of gated communities. At the same time, corporate copyright regimes are claiming intellectual property rights to materials that might otherwise enter the public domain. The recent inauguration of Barack Obama represents an aggregate of rhetorical occasions involving political crowds and online communities who have commemorated the event. Without public digital archives in which to store our collective memories of the digital files from that historic day, the record of the inauguration is remarkably fragile.

Elizabeth Losh is the Writing Director of the Humanities Core Course at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-Making in a Time of War, Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes, which analyzes four trends in official rhetoric: public diplomacy, social marketing, risk communication, and institutional branding. She writes about institutions as digital content-creators, the discourses of the "virtual state," the media literacy of policy makers and authority figures, and the rhetoric surrounding regulatory attempts to limit everyday digital practices. She has published articles about videogames for the military and emergency first-responders, government websites and YouTube channels, state-funded distance learning efforts, national digital libraries, political blogging, and congressional hearings on the Internet. Her current book project, Early Adopters: The Instructional Technology Movement and the Myth of the Digital Generation, looks at a range of digital projects in higher education and the conflicts between regulation and content-creation that universities must negotiate.