Facebookus Interruptis

With a hat tip to my friend Alix Howard, news that a hostage taker in Pittsburgh has been “live-blogging” his own evolving situation has crossed my desk. My first thought was that we’re seeing a 2012 version of Dog Day Afternoon with Al Pacino, but the media ecology thought that immediately came behind the pop culture reference was this Neil Postman quote from 1974:

I might add here, in case you are interested, that in the competition among media for people’s attention, the telephone wins hands down in just about every context . We even have testimony to the fact that the act of love can be terminated instantly by the ring of a telephone. In Media Ecology, we call this telephonis interruptis. Less serious but equally revealing is the fact that on two occasions in the past year, bank robbers in the actual process of being surrounded by police took time out to answer phone calls placed by curious reporters . One of the bank robbers actually said, ‘Could you call back later . I’m busy now.’

Our hostage-taker is just following the rules of the dominant cultural practices as shaped by the communication environment of the 21st century. I’d be curious to know how compelled he feels about updating his status during the ordeal.


About mikeplugh

Media Ecology General Semantics Baseball Japan Fordham University
This entry was posted in culture, media, technology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Facebookus Interruptis

  1. mr. oyola says:

    It may be a compulsion brought on by dominant cultural practices, but I have to wonder to what degree is a desire to control (or at least influence) the narrative of his actions? Before the telephone, such a hostage taker could only rely on the people surrounding him (the police) to pass on his story to the world beyond (at least as it happens – afterwards (assuming he survives), he may be able to use his lawyer to release information and “his side”). With the advent of the telephone, he had to rely on those few reporters ballsy and intrepid enough to call him up (or take his calls), but now? Now he can Facebook or Tweet and get instant access to an audience willing and _wanting_ to hear/read about what he is doing and why. It gives him a voice that he did not necessarily have before.

    Of course, whatever he tweets or posts can still be incorporated into a variety of narratives by both police/prosecutors and the press – so his level of control is still limited.

  2. mikeplugh says:

    Without knowing more about his story it’s hard to say what his motivations are, but a few interesting things come up. How much does the past practice of news reporting on hostage situations and the interaction between criminals and press influence how this guy is behaving with his own channel? How will future situations like this evolve and take on their own characteristics? How will public perception of hostage-takers change as a result of this new window? What kind of demands did people like this make in older communication environments, and what demands do electronically connected criminals make? Will this event precipitate a greater sense of fear in the public about the potential for abduction, or does it just fit into the category of “content” as if it were Real Housewives of New Jersey or Monday Night Football? (I rather think it fits the latter.)

  3. Lance Strate says:

    But the important question is, do people interrupt the act of making love to read Facebook and Twitter updates? I expect to see some research on this from you, Mike!

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