Au Revoir Net Communications!!

Thank-you to Marcos Dias for a great semester, it has made me realise just how much we rely on technology and how important it is not just for our own everyday lives, but culturally and socially. Who knows where technology will take us in 10 years…

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Piracy Parody

Jack Black’s entirely un-serious take on piracy

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Piracy, Australia says…yes?

 B) Medosch argues that: “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or grey markets, fulfills culturally important functions” (Reader, page 318).

Perhaps one of the most pressing issues facing the entertainment industry today, piracy is becoming an increasingly common entity. With the expansion of the internet, we are able to access songs, movies, television shows, all for free. The act of pirating is to copy and distribute without the express permission of the original author, and has long been stamped as morally dubious, and illegal. For years, there have been attempts to stop piracy. An example of this is this piracy ad which we are all too familiar with.

However, in Armin Medosch’s article ‘Paid in Full: Copyright, piracy and the real currency of cultural production’ he argues that in fact piracy fulfills ‘culturally important functions’. This causes us to reflect on piracy in an entirely different light. Medosch asserts that by sharing files we are attempting to bridge the digital divide, giving people access to cultural goods and information which they may not have been able to experience via any other means. He argues that having access to a wide range of cultural information is beneficial to society as a whole, and the participatory culture of society. Whilst there are a plethora of social and economic concerns surrounding piracy, Medosch looks at it from the perspective of cultural enrichment, particularly in relation to Third World Countries. There has, and probably always will be a significant divide between Western Culture and non-Western counterparts, and digitalism is no exception. However, the act of file sharing, as Medosch sees it, is an opportunity for this divide to be lessened. Piracy can infact play a socially significant role; if the amount of files available to share are increasingly free-flowing, then doesn’t this also widen the opportunity for global connection? While of course it doesn’t directly facilitate such understanding, however it atleast provides ample opportunity. Why should technological inequality also lead to social and cultural inequality by rigid authorisation.

In this sense, piracy does indeed have great potential to fulfil culturally important functions.

References:

Medosch, Armin (2008) “Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production,” Deptforth. TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies. London: Deptforth TV, pp. 73-97.

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The Online Popularity Contest

 While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation online ‘communities’?

Van Dijck’s argument is certainly very valid, it is very evident that YouTube can heavily influence what we view, and steer our attention towards particular videos, thus manufacturing the popularity of certain videos. YouTube as an interface is of course only a functioning site with it’s user-generated content, and it is important not to underestimate the power of the user. However, YouTube employs several ranking tactics to create a hierachy amongst the video community

There is a feature to ‘like’ or ‘dislike a video, and the ability to share feedback on videos which in turn helps YouTube promote the ‘top favourited’ and, subsequently, ‘most viewed’ videos when you first enter the site. Of course, a natural reflex is to click on these videos if only out of mere curiosity, and to be involved in possibly the next big internet sensation. This is what Van Dijck is referring to when he states ‘when looking at user-generated content, we also need to take account of a site’s coded abilities to steer and direct users’. Whilst YouTube does install ranking tactics, and promotes certain videos, what it comes back to is the users.  His assertion that ‘rankings and ratings are vulnerable to manipulation, both by users and by the site’s owners’ is certainly true, but it is important to look at the varying levels of participation within the YouTube community to fully comprehend the extent to which ranking is controlled.

Van Dijck points out that ‘it’s a great leap to presume that the availability of digital networked technologies turns everyone into participants’. This is very true, whilst there are millions of YouTube users (More video content is uploaded to YouTube in a 60 day period than the three major U.S. television networks created in 60 years), there are also a huge portion of ‘passive participants’ in this online community. According to Van Dijck, ‘the majority of users consist of ‘passive spectators'(33%) and ‘inactives'(52%)’. So an extremely high percentage of the YouTue community are infact merely intaking content rather than actively participating. However, regardless, they are part of the online community. Community is a large part of the site’s interface, as it welcomes with open arms. Anyone is free to start creating and sharing videos, providing feedback, and of course viewing the videos which helps determine what is popular. Whilst there are ranking tactics that affect the popularity of videos, i don’t believe it significantly affects the participatory culture of YouTube.

References:

http://mashable.com/2011/02/19/youtube-facts/

Van Dijck, J. (2009) ‘Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content’ Media, Culture & Society, 31(1): 41-58

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YouTube: Celebrity within the large or small scale?

Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269).

It is argued that YouTube is becoming ‘a site of cultural and economic disruption’ (Burgess & Green, 2009), and represents a shift in power from mainstream media to the people, a groundbreaking and culturally significant outlet for new media. However, to what extent does YouTube have independance from mainstream media? In their article ‘Online Video and Participatory Culture’, Burgess and Green contend that ‘Even when ordinary people become celebritites through their own creative efforts, there is no necessary transfer of media power: they remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media’.

The first thing i want to discuss in this statement is the term ‘ordinary people’. What does this mean? Burgess and Green cite Nick Couldry (2003) who argues that within mainstream media ‘the distance between ‘ordinary citizen’ and celebrity can only be bridged when the ordinary person gains access to the modes of representation of the mass media’. So basically, using YouTube as an example, one is only classified as a celebrity once their infamy has surpassed the YouTube world and has been recognised in a mainstream medium. An excellent example of this is the rise of Justin Bieber. Biebs was first discovered by producer Scooter Braun as he was browsing YouTube. This is one of the very first videos he ever uploaded.

Justin Bieber is now one of the biggest stars in the world. He is obsessively adored by girls the world over, his song ‘Baby’ has over 500 million hits on YouTube, and recently he sold out his concert at Madison Square Garden in just 22 minutes. ‘Bieber Fever’ has taken over the entire world! He has infiltrated almost every aspect of popular media, he pretty much defines celebrity. And all this was spawned from YouTube. So in this instance, Justin transcended the boundaries of YouTube, and is now identified not as a product of YouTube but an unquestioned component of mainstream culture. It is stories like these that lead YouTube to be associated with the concept of the rags to riches story, a platform for amateurs to make the big time. And indeed, there have been many instances of notoriety born from YouTube. However, they are either kept within the confines of YouTube celebrity, or boosted into mainstream media. Burgess and Green argue that users can only be transported from their amateur status to celebrity status if they are recognised by a major media outlet. Another example of this is Keenan Cahill, whose videos of himself lip-syncing to popular contemporary songs have accumulated tens of millions of views.

Keenan is some-one who in all likelihood, would not have been able to reach the same levels of celebrity without YouTube as his platform. He has now appeared on popular US talk-show ‘Chelsea Lately’, has recorded a video with 50 Cent, and been featured on MTV. This year he signed with record label ‘G-Unit Records’. Keenan suffers from Maroteaux–Lamy syndrome which causes him to have a dwarf-like appearance. He does not embody the conventional look of teen stars, like Justin Bieber for instance. And yet he has been able to go from complete anonymity to not only an internet sensation but also celebrity, for a relatively obscure attraction. It the unique mix of quirky, funny, and honest that caught the attention of the online community.

Most YouTube videos that grow viral do so via word of mouth, and linking via social networking sites. Rebecca Black is an example of this; her song ‘Friday’ currently stands at over 150 million views. The clip went completely viral, with an outpouring of abuse and incredulous reactions from viewers. She became an internet sensation, creating that much controversy that the media was alerted to it. The power of internet users is not to be underestimated; it is the sheer velocity of activity, particularly on YouTube, that attracts the media and leads to the jump into stardom for some. YouTube has it’s own internal world, it’s own system of celebrity and hierachy that doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with external recognition. An example of this is Kingsley, a YouTube (perhaps self-proclaimed) King who is famous for his shockingly honest and extremely hilarious gripes concerning pop culture. The things we are all thinking, but can’t say with quite the same…zest. Example:

Kingsley has not yet been broadcast in a mainstream media outlet, despite his undeniable success within the YouTube community. Yet he is definitely a celebrity of some kind. Which lends to the argument that infact Youtube is ‘gradually becoming incorporated as a mainstream part of the cultural public sphere’ (Burgess & Green, 2009, 36). They assert that ‘YouTube has now arguably achieved mainstream media status’. However, YouTube will always have user-controlled content, and thus is ‘not just another media company’, so power is with the people rather than the media.

References:

Burgess, J. & J. Green (2009). ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’ pp. 15-37, in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press.

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Blogging: The issue of public and private self-indulgence

Lovink (Reader, page 222) also argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”. 

I would have to agree with Lovink’s statement, and assert that blogs are most commonly formulated as a medium from which people can indulge themselves by sharing basically any kind of information they wish to with the entire world wide web.  A prime example of this is Tumblr, a blogging site that allows users to post written entries, photos, videos, and links, all in an easy to use format. The tumblr world is an interesting one, as it is primarily inhabited by adolescent girls, all of whom want to share their angst-ridden worlds with eachother through photos and incisive posts. An interesting duality is created because everyone is searching for commonality and like-minded people to share their emotions with, but at the same time everyone is striving to stand out and be original. I suppose it’s a pretty apt online represenation of adolescense itself. Tumblr also has a ‘follow’ function, which allows users to follow other tumblrs, meaning that person’s posts will show up in their dashboard. So in this sense, Tumblr is a product of both sides of the argument in that the content is purely self-indulgent, however there is a legitimate sense of community amongst the tumblrites. Tumblr users are able to follow others, message them, and also ‘re-blog’ content that they post.

In Thomas Mallon’s A Book of One’s Own, People and Their Diaries he concludes that ‘No-one ever kept a diary for just himself…In fact, I don’t believe one can write to oneself for many words more than get used in a note tacked to the refrigerator, saying, ‘buy bread”‘.  The purpose of keeping a diary is an attempt to preserve that moment in which you are writing; the activity, the emotion, the immediacy of these feelings. We write in anticipation of reflection, that we will look back on what we have written in a month, a year, even ten years and be able to identify with ourselves at that time and understand ourselves. But while self-reflection is needed, it can sometimes be very difficult, and as humans we struggle to view ourselves entirely objectively. And thus with the advancement of technology and social networking, we are able to diarise our lives in a public sphere, we we can get feedback and interaction. ‘Blogs experiment with a public diary format’ (Lovink, 2008, 6). Lovink expresses concern over this increasingly blurred distinction between public and private sharing, situating blogging ‘between online publishing and the intimate sphere of diary keeping’, throwing into question the ‘already disturbed seperation between what is public and what is left of privacy’ (7). This is particularly relevant to Generation Y and younger, who are growing up with social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook and have a fairly skewed filter for what to make public and keep private. The amount of personal information that a large portion of teenagers make available online is staggering, and quite dangerous.  Lovink cites Yahoo! researcher Danah Boyd, who asserts ‘Teens are growing up in a constant state of surveillance’, so blogging is often a form of escape and freedom of expression. However Boyd also points out that as a result, ‘youth are pretty blase about their privacy in relation to government and corporate’. (Lovink, 2008, 7)

With the ever increasing array of online outlets from which we can blog, there are of course wildly varied types of blogs, not all primarily concerned with the writer. However, in documenting say, news or politics, with such control over the content and production it is hard for a blogger to remain impartial. I feel that no matter what the content, blogging is always going to be inherently linked to the blogger, and thus is definitely a tool to manage the self. In saying this, it doesn’t mean community isn’t a big aspect of blogging; interactivity is one of the cornerstones of Web 2.0 applications. An undeniable aspect of blogging is the feedback from other users, with most blogs having the comment option so online users can engage with eachother and share views. There are many blogging platforms that allow for insightful discussion within the online community. However, this is quite often not the case. As Lovink tactfully points out, ‘If you can’t cope with high degrees of irrelevance, blogs won’t be your cup of tea’.

References:

Lovink, G., ‘Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse’, in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London: Routledge, 2008, pp 1-38

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Privacy Issues

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