The media landscape is in a profound moment of transition. Perhaps this statement has been true since the development of moveable type, but the impact of the transformation in media environments as a result of digital technologies, particularly those which are utilised through internet services, is significant in all realms of everyday life, and in the organisation of forms of modernity.
What constitutes ‘publics’ is contextual and contested, as Warner's work on the concept convincingly illustrates (2002). His analysis begins by examining the many confusing overlapping uses of the terms ‘the public’, ‘publics’ and ‘a public’. He notes that individuals may belong simultaneously to many publics, and that this fact contributes to the ambiguity and circularity of many publics constituting ‘the public’, making research ‘difficult’. In dealing with defining elements of a public, he states, ‘space and physical presence do not make much difference; a public is understood to be different from a crowd, an audience, or any other group that requires co-presence’ (p. 53). His argument is that a public is best understood as formed around textual practices and self-organised relationships with strangers.
In the last decade of burgeoning many-to-many communications, as the chapters in this collection show, publics are forming and fragmenting around access to particular technology — platform, website, application, game, profile, group, hashtag — although accessibility to information, space and discourse has always been a determinant to one's membership within a public. Such publics have an increasingly nebulous quality, forming and dispersing, being created and fractured through adoption, insertion or rejection. The fragmentation of mass audiences since the turn of the century has accelerated in the last decade. What replaces the mass audience includes the ubiquitous mobilisations of social media; the segmentation of readerships during the adaptation of print and broadcast media to internet delivery; and the increasing power of media technology companies like Google and Facebook as content providers and corporate stewards of the ‘walled gardens’, where publics form around news, entertainment and politics. The process of making and unmaking publics continues to be dynamic, initiating this book's explorations of the ways they can be conceptualised, how makers of publics function, and the practices of inclusion and exclusion, which shape disparate, sometimes ephemeral, and geographically distant publics.