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The Trap / Adam Curtis

A BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis. More about it from Wikipedia.

I have embedded all the files here in the blog but in case you have a problem watching or prefer the option to watch it in full-screen, I have also uploaded it to my server, where you can download it as a Quicktime video.

Part I:


Part II:


Part III:


And now, discuss: Why do you think I have found this video relevant to our discussion of new media? What kind of lessons / ideas did you draw from it that might extend our discussion?

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  1. HoniehBarak 21:38, Jan 23rd, 10

    Short Comment on the Trap:

    I believe that this video is relevant to our discussion of new media because currently with the innovations that the internet has provided society we are able to express ourselves freely through digital media.

    No longer are there restrictions on what people say or think.

    The ability to communicate through videos, SMS, WAP, mobile site, etc – users are able to communicate with one another and start their own movements without the aids of government of Politicians backing them. Our desire for freedom has literally exploded on the internet.

    The need for people to connect with one another and twitter, Facebook, Myspace proves that the humanistic characters we are seeking have been found through this medium. Lessons I learned from this film is that there is a reason why certain nations believe the Western Hemisphere’s idea of freedom is not necessarily a free “utopia” but a controlled robotic type of society where we are characterized by checklists, antidepressants and money markets. This may begin our discussion in class as, why is Digital Media so important today? Why are more and more people engaging themselves online, than in person. Is this new society we engage in possess the abilities to change the world as we see it?

  2. Leslie 23:27, Jan 23rd, 10

    The Trap and its connection to new media made the biggest impression on me concerning negative liberty, as compared to part of the “Brooke, Clive, and Ethan at Aspen” audio. Like negative liberty, blogs, Twitter, and other social media websites have enabled the “freedom” to report on-the-moment information any time, anywhere. Yet, a certain reliable structure is lost with this. With the onset of social media sites, the traditional news reporter, whom society could rely on for accurate, unbiased information, is being lost. While all individuals have essentially been given a voice through social media sites, society as a whole is also losing the ability to obtain impartial information and thus develop their own opinions, rather than having preformed ideas fed to them. Consequently, like the idea of negative liberty, while we are free to share what we want, when we want on the Internet, we are also losing a sense of purpose. This loss of purpose is under the guise of an abundance of ideas that can be found everywhere on Internet, as opposed to the more proactive search that had to be done in the past.

  3. agmichaels 04:04, Jan 24th, 10

    Was there ever really a news reporter on whom “society could rely on for accurate, unbiased information,” Leslie? ‘The Trap’ showed us just two instances (of the many) in America’s political history–the Iran-Contra and the Iraq War–when the public, via the news media, via the Big Men In Charge, was duped into supporting efforts for ‘freedom’ that were really about anything but. In two very different technological eras, politicians managed to manipulate the media to their own benefit; therefore, can our new digital media really be blamed for the dissolution of reliable, ‘hard facts’ reporting, or conversely heralded as a means of attaining some measure of political transparency?

    I found ‘The Trap’ as a whole disconcertingly negative; it was very good at showing me the bars to my cage, but was unable to supply me an escape route. More on that in my travelogue.

  4. rjv237 06:06, Jan 24th, 10

    The way that I understood the relevancy of The Trap to new media is simply through communication and the ideologies of freedom/liberty. It was a bit confusing because of the many topics. However, it made some interesting points and raised some great questions.

    In regards to new media, I believe that this documentary reveals the same underlying paradox to liberty and the use of new media. In one sense, new media allows people to freely communicate over the internet in ways never imagined before. It takes human communication and connectivity to a whole new level. The freedom that one has to identify and act as they choose on the internet is remarkable in this day and age. The level of constraints I would argue are quite minimal. How do you control something like that on a international scale with state laws? You simply cannot. We saw this with the elections in Iran. You cannot stop Twitter!!! :)

    However, on the other hand, I see new media as ‘a trap’ in a weird way. Social networking and new media are great to connect with people, but a lot of people do not know how to control themselves with the internet. They can become easily entangled in their own web of selfish social entrapment, which consequently has the ability to alienate them from the “real world”. Their human and social communication becomes relegated to a computer screen and typing (forgive me Skype with video). Sadly, people can become addicted to and transfixed on constantly trying to ‘stay connected’ and up-to-date with the world through the internet. Yes, it does allow unbelievable possibilities to know what’s going on in the world, to know what this person is thinking, or to know what this person is up to. Yet, in another sense, to reiterate, new media can also enable people to be socially inept to the reality of human communication which in my opinion, is the greatest when you have two people face-to-face.

    Again, new media enables wonderful possibilities with the constant advancing of technology but at the same time it comes with a price/at a cost. That cost in my opinion is a word called intimacy. Intimacy becomes devalued with new media. The greatest fulfillment and feeling of connectivity through intimacy in my opinion is sex (to be quiet frank). However, even sex can be lacking of intimacy. Intimacy is not just sexual, but one’s ability to connect with another emotionally, spiritually, and much more.

    I firmly believe that every human being longs for a connection with someone or something else and we search for that in many different ways. New media is just another one of those ways in which we search for that connectivity and intimacy with others that we desire. The Trap was something that took a lack of communication, fear, selfishness, and notions of liberty and mixed it all together with historical persons, places, and events. It gave me the impression that we are always fighting to free ourselves from loneliness, being controlled, and solipsism. Nevertheless, new media offers an intriguing solution to that problem, yet even new media is susceptible to being another trap for humans to achieve intimacy and to feel connected. Freedom – whether negative or positive, is never an absolute.

  5. ElzbthMllr 17:01, Jan 24th, 10

    Relevancy of The Trap to Digital Media

    To me, the idea from The Trap that resonated most with the topics that I expect we will discuss this semester is the complex and ever changing relationship between the internet and freedom. To many, the internet is often heralded as the ultimate paragon of freedom; it allows people to access information in an unprecedented way, as well as provides members of society with an outlet to express their opinions. But I think there is a serious question we have to consider that this program brings up, and that is whether or not the internet provides society with more freedom or actually with less? This discussion will inevitably turns towards the dichotomy of positive and negative liberty and forces us to ask, which do we think is closer to how the internet functions today? Does the internet provide us with the opportunity to be free from coercion? Does it allow people to strive to reach their potential? Does the internet provide a new outlet for selfish individuals who simply act in their own best interests rather than for a collective public good?

    Another major concept discussed throughout the documentary that I imagine will be relevant to this class is the degree to which government will regulate the sphere of new media. The Trap talks a lot about the role of government with respect to issues such as economic policy and personal liberty. Today with respect to the internet there are several regulatory issues at hand, including but not limited to, network neutrality, copyright and privacy, and we have yet to see how government will regulate these important issues. Overall, I think it’s important to question how our concept of freedom has evolved, not just in the trajectory from the end of the cold war through the market economy, but also how the internet affects our modern-day vision of what it means to be free. Because the internet is so prevalent as a method of communication, in order to properly examine what “positive ideas of freedom” are, we have take this opportunity to look critically at the relationship between the internet and civil liberties in the 21st century.

  6. Alexandra Cale 17:36, Jan 24th, 10

    One of my takeaways from watching The Trap was that governments use “perception management” to shape (Adam Curtis might say to control) people’s opinions on a given subject. For example, the Iran-Contra conflict: our government exaggerated the potential threat that the Sandinistas posed to the US and used people’s fear of an attack to justify the use of more force.

    This reminds me of the ideas in the bloggers vs. journalists article. Rosen says that people have trust in major media sources and turn to them for unbiased reports. I think we all know that major media outlets have some biases – but based on what we saw in The Trap, especially Part 3, we see that Rosen is right. People did trust the news sources that reported President Reagan’s “perception management,” and therefore were in favor of using more force to defend our country, albeit against a thoroughly unthreatening group.

    Who knows how events might have turned out differently if there had been social media back in the 80s. These days it is much easier to find alternative sources to what the government says via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. However, as we heard in the On the Media piece, the actual demographics of Twitter users are predominately well educated white males. In short, I think that there are many tools at the fingertips of anyone with access to the Internet – but not everyone uses those tools or has an active interest in world politics. This brings me back to the concept of homiphily – how people tend to stick to what they know and those that are like them. I think having the tools to communicate across the world and apart from the media is a step in the right direction, but not everyone is interested in participating yet.

  7. Leslie 18:19, Jan 24th, 10

    In response to the comment: “Was there ever really a news reporter on whom ‘society could rely on for accurate, unbiased information,’ Leslie?” from Amanda (agmichaels)-

    Yes, I do believe there are plenty of reporters out there that do great work. There have been reporters who went to jail in the past because they refused to disclose to the government certain information that they attained or give up who their source was. Here are two articles of such situations: http://www.democracynow.org/2006/9/15/jail_time_for_journalists_the_government & http://www.judithmiller.com/625/news-war-interview-with-judith-miller

    Woodward & Bernstein’s work on the Watergate scandal is a great example of the press & journalism helping to keep the government in check. Another example of this is The New York Time’s release of The Pentagon Papers.

    The Trap was just very quick to show you the bad. While The Trap showed us some horrible ways in which society is run, there is also quite a lot of good in it, too; we cannot lose site of this.

    Also, in my comment, I did not mean for it to come off negatively that blogs and social media sites do not give us “hard facts.” I see it as a very positive thing that we have news and information coming to us from two different directions (press vs. social media) & a multitude of perspectives. It is the combination of these perspectives that will truly allow for dispersal of free information. Thus, what I was trying to mainly explain is the importance of not losing the press as a source of information. Additionally, simply because of the nature of information found online, it is important to fully research the info, rather than just reading one source and deeming it “correct.”

  8. Harris 00:05, Jan 25th, 10

    The Trap certainly gives us no answers, I agree. But it does help us figure out what questions to ask.

    Are most conventional one-way media only perception-management tools that hide behind de-personalized objectiveness to help enforce the ideal of a selfish rational human?
    Do the new media have the capacity to bring meaning purpose and intimacy back to the public sphere by allowing everyone to directly participate in public discourse?

    In the few comments that have been posted so far, I do see the discussion going in this direction.

  9. lindai 12:44, Jan 25th, 10

    the trap made me think about freedom and control regarding new media. as other people mentioned here, we have constant access to information via the internet but the fact that we are constantly connected and try to stay up-to-date with what is happening in the world (which is impossible given the sheer amount of information), there lies the danger of alienating from the non-virtual world.

    what intrigued me more than the freedom one gains through new media though is the control one is willing to accept. as soon as one uses any device one’s information is “out there” and available to whoever is able to access it. even if one just carries a phone without necessarily using it, one is traceable. how many people are aware of that and who thinks of it as being controlled or watched? why does the majority of people accept it as normal? is it possibly (for those living in a democracy) that the government can be trusted not to misuse its power?

    maybe it is just the perception of freedom and control that has changed in the age of new media?

  10. DanJee 02:12, Jan 26th, 10

    I think the dark and selfish vision of the society Curtis pictures is perfectly aligned with the development of New Media. Louis Wirth had suggested that in modern society (his version of modern was 1930′s), people are becoming more transactional and rational in their interaction towards one another. This was the theory of “Community Lost”. This is very much similar to the society Curtis showed us. However, Claude Fischer counter-argued that in urbanized culture, people may have become economic in their transaction in the mass culture, but more vibrant subculture. This is the “Community Saved” theory. Finally, Responding to the “Community Lost” hypothesis of Wirth and to the “Community Saved” hypothesis of Fischer, Barry Wellman instead argues—in “The Community Question”—that modern technologies of today have allowed for progression of urban cities into post-ecological realm, beyond the theories presented by Wirth and Fischer with their ecology-based arguments. Wellman instead proposes the “Community Liberated” hypothesis on the modern culture.

    This “Liberated” version in the evolution of modern culture is exactly where New Media have become integral in. While Wellman was referring to development and invention of telephone, Internet exponentially validates his theory. In fact, development of social media validates all three hypothesis of modern culture.

    People live more and more in digital space, and in the “real” life have become more and more rational and cold towards one another as Curtis described in “The Trap” and as Wirth described. However, the social media outlet created subcultures and communities far more vibrant and active in digital space than one could ever imagine for physical world. This validates Fischer’s hypothesis. Finally, not having to interact physically and becoming more engaged in digital medium have “liberated” people from physical boundaries of culture.

    In other words, the cold version of culture Curtis described developed concurrently more vibrant and warner digital society in its parallel universe.

  11. juliette b 02:50, Jan 26th, 10

    As I say in my travelogue, I think that the trap is relevant to the New media as they might be a way of getting out of the trap.

    Indeed, New media in the end comes down to more humanized contacts. I completely agree in Ethan Zuckerman’s say : “If you can build that personal tie, if you can put a human face on this, and then taking advantage of this brilliant new technology we have to make it possible to actually have a one-one-on interaction is one of the more powerful tools we’ve got.” People feel more and more concerned by others’ issue no matter how far they are. They can reach another level of conscience of the world.

    New Media would therefore be one of the most positive advance of our times…

  12. nadine 04:56, Jan 26th, 10

    The question that Adam Curtis raises in The Trap are highly relevant to new media. The Internet, especially interactive Web 2.0 features, have provoked a general euphoria, announcing the ultimate democratization of information, and celebrating a new form of communication. It is referred to as the place of ultimate freedom that will make information accessible to all, and sooner or later will tear down the wall of oppressive regimes. However, this vision is also a powerful trap if not further examined.

    It is true that new media are revolutionizing the production and dissemination mechanisms of information. They can give marginalized or oppressed groups a public voice, and lead to increased diversity of opinion in the public sphere. As Yochai Benkler points out, new collaborative processes of information and software production can also challenge capitalistic structures of the information economy. From this point of view, new media, backed with human creativity and engagement, can indeed lead to new ways of freedom.

    Nonetheless, the reality is not golden. New media have strong limitations, as in practice, their access is limited by economical, infrastructural and cultural terms. Users consist of a relatively homogeneous socio-economic group, mostly concentrated in industrialized or urban centers. The so-called digital divide is very powerful, on the international as on the local level. And Twitter does only exist in six languages! Another problem is, as Brooke Gladstone from the On The Media-show highlights, that users tend to flock around people with similar interests, avoiding confrontation or critical debate with different views. In addition, far from liberating communication from the market economy, new media are prey to capitalistic forces. Facebook has become the dream destination for every advertiser, and volunteer-based networks can easily be exploited as free labor.

    Therefore, we have to be careful when discussing the benefits and downsides of new media. I appreciate Elizabeth’s comment on the role of governments. In regard to the Internet, the very idea of a regulating government is almost contrary to the nature of the medium itself which is based on a decentralized system. In addition, when thinking about governments and new media, we tend to think in terms of restriction and censorship. However, it is important to find a more positive role of governments, that can help to balance freedom and justice.

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