Sunday, May 1, 2011

Blog 12

Written and directed by Brett Gaylor, RIP!, a Remix Manifesto, tells the story of remixing. Using artist Girl Talk as a central protagonist, copyright, content creation from copyrighted material, and their surrounding economies, Gaylor explores how we live in a world of conflict. The term Manifesto always brings up ideas of revolution, and here it is no exception. Connected to this are three key ideas presented in out text, Remix, by Lawrence Lessig. While the two authors approach the lesson differently, the book they teach from is the same.

First, both Lessig and Gaylor understand the importance of economy and how money is a big part of copyright. Lessig goes on quite a bit more than Gaylor, describing how there exist three economies; a commercial, sharing, and hybrid. In both the book and video, though, a relatively large portion of the content is spent showing how money is the prime motivator. The 'why' is never explored, as such an idea is part common sense, part sociological/psychological, however we see that if it were not for an author's desire to protect his work, and thus earn from it, copyright would never come into play. But for the love of money we have shown many stories of how groups, such as the RIAA, will litigate rapidly and harshly against all possible offenders, even to the point of excess.

Tied closely to the economy discussion, we see throughout how copyright and remix are all about control. The RIAA sues for enormous sums of money, it is true, however the point is not about earning back possible lost income for the artists (who in fact receive little to no compensation awarded by a court), but rather as a means to control future infringements. Copyright is a means to control material, and is backed by laws set in place to maintain control. Two of Gaylor's main points hit this on the head: "The past always tries to control the future" and "our future is becoming less free." Lessig does mirror these thoughts, but they are best shown in the video. Control is how our society continues to run, but there are severe problems in our culture's future is we don't reconcile differences between copyright and remixing.

Balance is the third concept shared strongly between the two videos. Both Lessig and Gaylor are looking for balance, but in their own ways. Gaylor wants everything to be remixable without restraint, yet such a vision is contradicting material in his video. He still needs to put food on the table and I strongly doubt he would object to making money from content he creates. Lessig does a better job at balance, creating a solution that is not self-contradictory if not a bit more complex. Earlier on the reading he describes Sousa and a good balance between the rights of an author and of a remixer.

Touching on those thoughts again, I believe there is a middle that can be pursued. A balance is critical to move forward, and as Lessig argues near the end of his book, criminalizing a whole new generation (and the cultural norms they have) is obviously a bad idea.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blog 11 - Money makes the world go 'round. And gravity.

Lawrence Lessig, halfway through his book Remix, begins a discussion about economics. Normally, such fiscal matters fit poorly when talking about rhetoric, especially of the digital medium(s), however Lessig does a great job making the connection between the concrete and the abstract. Sharing and commercial economies are how he does this.

A commercial economy is probably the most consistently, consciously encountered of the two. A product, be it something from a shelf or a service from a person, is purchased, in exchange for currency. We do this each time we go out to eat, buy a book, or go to the vending machine. This is to be contrasted with a sharing economy, where value, based not in a currency of any traditional sort, is exchanged without the imperative of a 'purchase.' Like Lessig says, if anywhere, money does not belong in a sharing economy.

To me, the differences between the two economies are somewhat silly. I agree with Lessig's argument, which I will touch on, but I feel it useful to interject my own thoughts here. Sharing economies, to me, are social contracts of sorts. While not written on paper, they can be just as binding. Because they have more 'payment options,' there is no less reason to respect them. Respect, my word choice, because money and currency is respected. It is the basis of our society (that would be, like, 10 blog posts there alone, so I will let it be). So why the seperation? Yes, it is weird, but only because we say it is. The difference between these economies is a cultural phenomena. End of rant.

Back to the prompt! So, these two economies play directly into Lessig's discussion of content and copyright. What is valued in our society? Whatever it is, and it is many things, this value is represented by money. I feel, and I think Lessig would agree, that conflict arises when we have created structures such as copyright law, that prevent the classical commercial economy from flourishing. This creates a dam of value, and it leaks over through as a sharing economy.

It is important we create this distinction and learn to integrate both economies into our culture. One or the other just won't do, we need both. Despite their apparent opposition, the two economies can form a balance for the better.

Blog 10

Turns out I did Blog 11 for Blog 10 or some other such. If you want to read what I wrote, knock yourself out. Its at the bottom below the new real Blog 10.

A remix I like is Psychosocial Baby. It is a music remix combining two very popular songs for wildly different reasons. Drawing upon our reading, I see how this video connects to Lessig's Remix in 3 different ways.

First, referring to text on page 59, Lessig asks how one could go about finding anything of interest, when (in the newly forming blogosphere) everything seemed so similar? The idea of uniqueness is tough to describe, as anything new has, in almost all cases, actually been done before. Newness is reserved for content that brings together old pieces in ways that are interesting. It is that intersection that is first noticed in the remix I linked. Each video, on its own, fits with the content managed by the band or producer. But when combined, the immense differences show up and something new is born.

Secondly, on page 70, Lessig describes how a "collage of physical objects is difficult ... and expensive." In Psychosocial Baby, we see two videos combined to form one, however each on its own is a full music video produced with very expensive sets, equipment, and talent. The author of the remix, however, needed none of those things and was still able to create something just as valuable (to the right audience). This is, in part, why remixing is a threat to controlling bodies and especially to those groups that made the investment to the original content.

Finally, on 79, Lessig talks about how our culture of buying has created resentment towards the creation of noncommercial products. SlipKnot and Justin Beiber are both multimillion dollar music group(s) and they sell many millions of dollars in products. For someone to create new content for free, to be disseminated and spread without cost, is an affront (of sorts) to the premise of a commercial economy. Products, generally, are not meant to be free, yet we find with remixes that nothing more is asked than respect for the creation act.

Asked to discuss sharing and commercial economies in Lessig's Remix, the question that I need to reach is 'so what.' First though, a description of these ideas.

Commercial economies are by far the simplest, for no other reason than our active familiarity with them in American culture. Buying products with a form of money is something we grow up with, either at the store with our parents or maybe in one of the many television ads. Lessig describes a commercial economy as this exchange of goods or services for currency. This understanding of how value is transferred creates the necessary base for a sharing economy.

A sharing economy describes the exchange of value using anything BUT currency as a means to make that exchange. It is easiest, as Lessig shows himself, to describe a sharing economy by pointing out what it is not. Helping a close neighbor with some groceries and then being paid for that help is not a sharing economy. Asking a close friend for a backrub and then offering to pay at the end is not a sharing economy. In fact, anything using money to transfer value is almost always not a sharing economy. A sharing economy is where the value expected from a transaction goes beyond money and enters a more abstract realm, such as friendship, love, kindness, and the like.

So what? Well, according to Lessig, the answer to many of our remixing and copyright problems lies in the middle of these two economies, in a hybrid he calls it. He states that finding and earning money through a remix is not bad, as long as the remix adds to a collective value (otherwise we are back at a commercial economy). Lessig does well to use economies to describe remix culture and copyright law, as it is often in our world that money influences nearly everything. Part common sense and part advanced psychology/sociology, the desire for money makes many familiar with how to associate value with it. This knowledge allows Lessig to jump right into his argument, without first trying to show how money is good or bad or what have you. With economies as a starting point, Lessig makes his points quickly and clearly, and the book is better for it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Blog 9 - LL, Remix

Lawrence Lessig's Remix comes to us in a small, hardback book. With a blank white cover, save for the letters 'LL' embossed ever so slightly, and a spine with just the title and author, there was nothing to differentiate the book from a paperweight. Not much was expected from me. Fortunately, my expectations were wrong and within the introduction I found Lessig's writing interesting and informative.

The Introduction is actually a series of four stories, with a conclusion that ties them together and identifies the significance of each section. There is Stephanie Lenz, a mother who faced a lawsuit for videotaping her child dancing to a copyrighted song. Next, a small exhibition where screens show several people singing a popular song. Greg Gillis, the artist who is Girl Talk, creates tracks where many many songs are ripped apart and pieced together, in a sort of audio collage. SilviaO is a Colombian artist who was faced with another artist taking her work and remixing it into a different song entirely.

These four stories talk about copyright and the way in which we negotiate rules of ownership. Lessig is arguing, however, that our initial understanding of copyright is misguided. He believes that there are two opposing ideas: anyone anywhere can take anything and resell it as their own, and each work created is protected from all forms of copy. These two standpoints do not have all the answers independently, but rather, he continues, there is an important balance that must be struck.

Continuing on, RW/RO culture is described as read-write and read-only culture. It is symbolic of how people consume media. RW tells of how people not only take in different art forms, but also create their own. RO is the opposite, where no creation exists. These ideas matter intrinsically to Lessig's argument, as they form the basis for understanding how people work with the abstract concept of copyright and idea management.

Lessig brings in Sousa, known well for his contribution to big band marches. But why? I believe that Sousa, and more specifically his viewpoints on copyright, mimic those of Lessig's. More importantly, these views are, at first, seemingly antithetical. Sousa says that we should protect the work of an artist, but also believes that machines that produce music are 'infernal,' as they take away from RW culture. It is a balance, with opposing sides, that produces the best outcome for all.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blog 8 - More Miller; quotes and quips

Paul Miller's Rhythm Science is a short book (book isn't quite the right word, more like narrative flow) that attempts to address much about how we interact with the world around us. With most attention paid to our relationship to media and the similarities found within and without, the book doesn't offer the structure of, say Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous. There are, however, several sections near the end of Rhythm Science that contain interesting passages.

"Set your browser to drift mode and simply float: The sequence really doesn't care what you do as long as you are watching" (80). I feel that the idea here is to break free from some of the more classical frames of viewership. Actively controlling our media consumption is not so important, rather that consumption occurs regardless of our intent. As such, Miller seems to be saying 'don't worry.' I partially agree with the idea, but personally find more joy from choosing where I go online. Even offline, while I enjoy exploring, I view time as a finite resource, and going without a rudder seems to be a mistake. Then again, I am fairly analytical and rigorous, so the messages in this book are fairly contradictory to my outlook.

"I like to think of the kind of writing in Rhythm Science as script information - the self as "subject-in-synchronization" (the moving parts aligned in the viewfinder of an other), rather than the old twentieth-century inheritance of the Cartesian subject-object relation" (84). While mentioned earlier in different ways, Miller actually lays out in familiar language how his book is to be interpreted. Only 84 pages in too! Joking aside, the idea presented discusses, in a roundabout way, existentialism. Our outlook is consumed with objects and how they are related to one another. With a language full of prepositions, this interpretation works just fine, but can lack perspective from the personal. Knowing that we aren't reading an instruction manual or an opinion piece helps place the ideas given and, for me, helps organize the thought in a manageable way.

"I'm at the airport waiting for my next flight. That's about as existential as you can get in these days of hyper-modernity" (92). Connecting with my thoughts about existentialism, here Miller seems to be relating his current layover with something far bigger. Yes, he is just sitting around, waiting for the next flight, but that is, to go back a quote, relatively 'Cartesian.' If anything, he is in-between. Neither here nor there, but rather at a place of transit. We put in comforts, such as a coffee shop, or nice chairs, but really the airport is 'noplace,' and when even the abstract has a place in today's world, being nowhere is as good as it gets.

"...we move through dispersed networks of culture and the cards we play are icons on a screen" (96). Miller is running off the scenario described immediately preceding, where cards with musical phrases were selected from a hat to create something like a song, but not quite. This is, in essence, hip-hop. The cards do not possess some quality or trait unknown to the world, but it is their combination that is the art. Bringing the example into current day form it is easy to compare how our connectivity online allows us to create something new from something old.

"Once you get their basic credit information and various electronic representations of that person, who needs the real thing anymore" (101). Like reverse homeopathy, Miller is trying to distill essence. In this quote, he is bringing up the idea that our person, our being, can be fully represented digitally. This is, of course, directly the result of a digital world, but begs the question 'who are we?' I think that Miller doesn't truly believe we can be written down completely, that there is still some left over parts and bits and pieces. He does, however, show that because so much of our self is based on those before us, there is little room left over.

"The prostitute scenario is about an end of definitions - breaking the loops and watching the role collapse in on itself" (109). This is the endgame. For everything that Miller leads up to, it seems that in his narrative, in his 'Side B', he does have a final argument to make. Everything that has come before leads to the prostitute. This idea that, good things are dirty and things are dirty because they are good. For talking so much about cycles and repetitions, we see a glimmer of hope that with technology breaking down so many barriers, maybe the oldest cycle of all will go like the dodo. It is only a hope though, to Miller. It is a tale of things that may come, but I find the quote happy, of all things. Not only because it provides good ideological conclusion, but because it offers something like hope.

Looking at was pretty interesting. Only a cursory exploration revealed that everyone samples everyone. You simply can not find artists that are islands of creativity. Everyone samples! Even Yanni, an artist I find interesting with new age music and unique time signatures, has been sampled. Looking at this website, I start to understand Miller far better. Academically, it is easy to show how we need a foundation of knowledge to grow and reach new heights, but when it comes to creativity, in the musical realm especially, there is no true foundation common to everyone. With this site, I must set my browser to 'float,' as actively searching and identifying all the links of the music I know (which is very little, at that) would take far too long. The best way I can enjoy these sounds and relationship is through passive exploration.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blog 7: Forming a broad base for understanding media and communication in a digital age

Marguerite de Bourgoing offers seven 'laws' about transmedia. While I initially thought that breaking down each of these laws would give the major points of the article, I think that we can take a step back. Primarily, the author is only arguing for communication. Certainly, the ideas are far more specific, but to get an overall view, we need to realize that transmedia will always be about communication.

     Our author has three main points: individuality, commonality, and communication. Individuality is who we are to the world. Hip-hop is constantly changing, with different themes and ideas, all vying for attention, each changing the game in their own way. Who we are is important to de Bourgoing, as she sees that without a firm understanding of the internal, external forces could shape us beyond our desire (What makes a river bend, the water or the banks?). Commonality is that which is external to us. De Bourgoing describes how by working in a collaboration or by addressing the interests of a larger group, one can broaden themselves. It is a delicate balance, however, between individuality and commonality. Too much of one and the other is lost, limiting ourselves unnecessarily.

     Finally, and most importantly, communication is the crux upon which all of de Bourgoing's arguments lie. There are mediums, such as language, sound, photography, or video, and orthogonal to these are channels, like radio, television, and the internet. Certain mixtures work well together, so well, that we often conflate the two. With the internet today, speed of communication is near instantaneous and now an artist now must have two-way discussions, not simply produce material and expect success.

     Considering earlier posts and discussions, de Bourgoing comes closest to relating through the idea of two-way communication. That exact phrase is not particularly common; the concept is based in the fact that consumers are now creating. Not just individually, or with the internet and it's plethora of software (although that is also true), but through the act of consumption we are creating. The simplest act, such as watching a YouTube video, is contributing through view counts. We are individually acting, sometimes louder at times, but collectively we are creating.

     Related to the consumer/creator relationship, we have the ideas of crowd-sourcing and wisdom of the crowds threading through the article. In an example of circular logic, a performer is popular because people attend a show or follow them online, but people also make these actions because an artist is popular. Like a reverse whirlpool of sorts, the power an entertainer has grows in all directions.

     Paul Miller, in 'Rhythm Science,' tells (in part) a complex story of how communication is the result of previous interaction and that we are always remaking the old into the new. The idea of copying is one of contention, not only visible to current matters such as copyright and file-sharing, but also to an example Miller cited, where two factions went to war over the copy of a text in 6th-century Ireland. Miller goes on to discuss quite extensively the relationship between the past and present, even going so far as to describe how the future is, to be cliché, now. The second key point to the reading we are no longer singular beings. Using the phrase 'multiplex consciousness' to describe the idea, our personas are, by a matter of necessity, forced to fracture. This can best be seen through how we represent ourselves online and in the real world. It is easy to be rude and cruel online, due the anonymity, most programs and services offer, but such actions are far rarer in the real world.

     This major theme of reworking knowledge in multiple formats ties to previous discussions (in this post and others) only marginally. In my opinion, the idea of remediation had little to do with either the organization of knowledge or the dissemination of the knowledge. Furthermore, this 'multiplex consciousness' is also not directly addressed either. Although there are no direct and easy arrows between these papers and articles, I believe that we are establishing a wide base for the interpretation of both media and communication. As is the case with DTC, creating distinction between the old and new can be difficult, since there are no hard and fast lines of demarcation. The rise of the internet may be one such line, but even then, there was no one switch that ushered in this area of knowledge. To this day, we are still working to understand how instantaneous communication and media creation are affecting both the digital and real world.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blog 6 - Its all about the *vergence

Henry Jenkins, author of Worship at the Altar of Convergence, attempts to tackle a problem put forth for many years: how will technology affect the creation, distribution, and consumption of media? This is no small question with no one right answer, but I feel that Jenkins does a good job in his introduction of laying out some basic premises and offering a look into some possible answers. Several key ideas, to me, are the concepts of participatory culture and convergence/divergence.

These terms are by no means complex. Explicitly, their definitions are in a dictionary and those definitions can be applied in general terms to ideas of (new) media, but lets dive a little deeper. Participatory culture is about dispersed contribution. Common examples already discussed at length include Wikipedia, Youtube, Reddit, and Facebook. The idea that content is no longer derived solely from a centralized source is almost second nature, especially to students of DTC, but turning back the clock reveals a completely different world. Going back 15 years, news was found on radio, tv, or paper, facts in books, and entertainment on a cartridge. In most cases, there was one primary resource used for understanding something. This led to interesting errors, such as a misplaced decimal point, leading to the incorrect perceived content of iron in spinach, which led to our favorite spinach-eating sailor. Today, such an error would never go so far. With millions of ways to verify and expand upon knowledge, our culture is able to contribute as a whole, not as individual nodes. To me, this is a great thing, but it certainly isn't some end to the discussion. While we now know how much iron is in spinach (not that much, really) participatory culture has had the unique effect of valuating opinions. Everyone can have an opinion no matter how crazy it is. We have yet to fully differentiate between the right to contribute and the privileged. Participatory culture has a long ways to go in that department.

Fortunately, participatory culture is not without its own tools of self regulation. Going back to Weinberger's Miscellaneous, we can see that while the internet as we know it is a literal explosion of information, there is now information about information that allows us to at least stay organized. Wikipedia is an excellent example, where articles are not only the information contained within, but also the history of all revisions and comments on those revisions. Services like Delicious allow users to tag information with information, allowing everyone to benefit from individual action, but avoid the input of rogue elements or outliers. Finally, computer technology itself allows everyone to have the same files, where before objects were limited by their physical nature, now people are not faced with such mundane issues as supply.

The second key point I find in Jenkins' introduction (among many), is the idea of convergence. He describes how convergence is on the opposite side of the coin as divergence and I can't help but agree. It is all a matter of perspective. Data and information can be seen as either converting from centralized control to decentralized (divergence), or that these concepts are now coming from all different places to one destination (convergence). Beyond this relatively straightforward idea is the premise of connectivity. Connections are how we navigate this world. Even without slipping into the philisophical (or existential, see previous post) it easy to point out how objects do not exist in and of themselves. All things have relationships, especially information. The construction of the internet was in fact all just hyperlinks. Connections from one page of text to another. Today we have fancier graphics, but the connections are still there, multiplying. Unfortunately, while I can connect Weinberger to the idea of particapatory culture, the only concept of connections (and convergence/divergence) within his text are strictly within the domain of information organization. While fitting for a book titled Everything is Miscellaneous, I feel that Jenkins does a better job of showing how these ideas are applicable to the entirety of the information age.