Wow I’m starting to get swept up in this digital world. I really didn’t think it would happen, as it all felt so foreign and bizarre to me at first. But I guess it’s like going to see a Shakespeare play [which I did just the other week]. When you first begin to watch, nothing makes sense and it sounds like gibberish. Then half way through you suddenly realise you have been understanding everything, that something in your brain just clicked and you became attuned to it.
Wow I think I just compared Shakespeare to Twitter and just made a whole bunch of people really angry and a whole bunch of other people really excited!!
So, I subscribe to theartnewspaper.com and receive weekly e-newsletters. This week I clicked on the email in the hope of finding a digital media related arts article.
Lucky for me, I found a article entitled ‘Ai Weiwei published images of himself in hospital on Twitter’ – JACKPOT!
I have recently joined Twitter myself, so I thought I’d jump on to find his posts.
At first I thought I found him, or someone using his name – AiWeiwie – but this user only had one tweet. He had just over 1000 followers, but was only following one person. Someone called aiww, this user had made many tweets in Chinese characters, nearly 8000 followers and following nearly 2000 people. I wasn’t 100% who it was, but I started to follow him.
I did a Google search for ‘Ai Weiwei Twitter’ and found a the Twitter account for the CDTimes, an online Chinese newspaper, which gave me a link to an article about one of Ai Weiwei’s blogs and how it had allegedly been shut down. This was getting interesting.
On the left side bar of this article page I saw a link to another report of the story of Ai Weiwie in hospital in Germany and I found myself coming online full circle. This article also gave me a definitive link to Ai Weiwei’s Twitter page – which turned out to be the mystery account I started following earlier.
I was also introduced to Ethan Zuckerman’s blog which promised an English translation of one of Ai’s tweets. Some of his other blog comments opened up a whole new group of ideas, some of which almost read my ‘online’ mind.
I’m interested in Ai Weiwei’s story on at least two levels. First, it’s fascinating to think about the story of a celebrated artist becoming an activist and becoming such a threat to power structures that police would risk detaining and beating him, knowing the potential international attention it could attract. (Rebecca MacKinnon’s interview with Ai Weiwei is useful for understanding his rapid move into activism and politics.) Given his existing fame, it seems like detaining or injuring Ai Weiwei would be an extremely dangerous way to attract attention to the controversy over Chengdu schools.
For me, there’s another level of fascination, which has to do with contemporary newsgathering and newsreading. I hadn’t planned to write about Chinese activism and free speech today – and there are a few editors to whom I owe drafts who likely wish I hadn’t just spent two hours reading about Ai Weiwei and his situation. But one feature of digital media is that it can make you vulnerable to ephemeral obsessions, topics that pique your interest and demand a deep dive, if only to understand the facts of the story.
Ethan pinpoints my current online experience, of how rich and compelling digital media and information can be. How there exists out there an extension of our world, so real and so palpable and so full of both mystery and truth, sometimes so difficult to distinguish between.
And here is the promised translation:
Update: a friend offers a translation of a recent Twitter post from Ai Weiwei: ” Here the newest photos. Surgery lasted 2 hours, 2 holes in the skull, 30 ml of blood have been extracted, the pressure on the brain is normal again, no head ache any more.” So, good news. Here’s a photo of Ai Weiwei recovering in bed in Munich.
In summary of my experience, there is so much out there and as I’m getting used to this foreign world, I thought I’d share my Twitter-journey with you.
And just because it seems to be becoming my thing, I’d like to finish with a semi-related, semi-unrelated youtube clip.