Friday, April 30, 2010
To adequately dissect the global Facebook phenomena, it is important to note, not only what power it has over its users, but also the need it fills to justify their continued patronage. Through discussion of Foucault’s Panopticon model and Agre’s Capture model of control, the structure and function of Facebook will be engaged, exposing it for what it is and what it means for all those that use it.
Facebook falls into the realm of visual and linguistic metaphors, as discussed by Foucault and Agre respectively. In the Panopticon, the guards establish their power over the prisoners by creating the illusion that someone is always watching from the shuttered tower at the prison’s center. Similarly, when one joins Facebook, and any photograph of them is uploaded, the user is immediately tagged in the picture. Photographs can be taken willingly, or uploaded from another user’s camera or camera phone without the subject’s knowledge or permission. These little details of the user’s day to day life appear as picture updates on the user’s friend’s newsfeeds. The same issue occurs when one friend writes on another’s wall, allowing anyone on their newsfeed to see a snippet of conversation. Updates to one’s profile, whether about changing music taste, or the ending and beginning of relationships similarly become public knowledge amongst a user’s friend base. However there is also the similarity with Agre’s capture model in that the “guard” subject is not one set person or group of people. If a user is friends with his family members, they may know what he got up to on Saturday night when he was supposed to be studying. If it is a user’s future employer, some recorded behavior or opinion, in either photograph, status update or wallpost, may be later count against their employment.
When Foucault explains the system of surveillance, he offers the model of the town governed according to the principles of surveillance: “...the town immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies...” (198) The system of surveillance relies on the existence of a single authority that collects and possesses all the information (there is only one central tower of the Panopticon). However, in case of Facebook, the surveillance principle is not its only means of functioning because there is no clear single authority that has exclusive right over the information distributed. Instead there is the autonomous, and generally unbiased newsfeed home page, which automatically updates all news from the user’s friends and centralizes the information. The capture model, on the other hand, offers a decentralized and heterogenous model for circulation of information. These two are not mutually exclusive. Though the newsfeed offers a central site for information, users decide what objects of news are worth looking into and what friends they want to check on. On Facebook, every user observes a certain number of other users, but never everyone and he never becomes the only observer. In this way, every user functions as a local center for the storage and exchange of information. Every user’s news feed is the tower of the Panopticon, and every user is a decentralized, autonomous guard choosing where to look.
Surveillance means observing in space and often functions by “invading” the space of the observed. Agre offers structural metaphors, where activity is captured as it falls into preexistent categories within an institutional setting. Unlike the panopticon model’s reliance on a physical space, Facebook is abstract- already a characteristic that distinguishes it from the surveillance model. The freedom of Facebook boils down into preexistent categories of action (poking someone, joining groups, writing on someone's wall, chatting etc) and they always remain within the institutional setting of the website. The activity of a user on Facebook is captured within these categories rather than surveyed like in the metaphor of the Panopticon.
While this surrender of privacy is inherently troubling, the fact that millions of people have willingly surrendered it to gain access to Facebook shows the model is working. Facebook, by its very nature forces the user to examine and recreate himself by the very act of joining. Questions that would ordinarily require some level of intimacy: religious views; political views; relationship status; are all answered in the initial set up of one’s profile. The user picks his own photograph to represent himself, he chooses what bands and books he thinks will look good on his list of favorites. Facebook allows one to construct oneself as he’d like to be, and then interact with others through that façade. Facebook allows for the construction of a new “me” made up of what “I” am not. It is the same sort of freedom provided by program’s like “SecondLife”, however all the users are directly tied to the real world and their real friends. The users of Facebook have signed a social contract, linking this idealized “profile avatar” of themselves within Facebook back to their real identities. The phrase, “That picture cannot wind up on Facebook, ” has become highly-prevalent in common discourse, both out of fear of other’s seeing (and potential real world consequences, i.e.- Parents see pictures of you drinking) but also of damaging one’s profiles good name. Much in the way the Panopticon causes its prisoners to internalize their guard’s gaze, turning themselves into model inmates, the potential of one’s actions being witnessed on facebook, complicated by the fact that there is no set guard, but rather “everyone” watching, forces the user to internalize a similar gaze, modifying their behavior.
Where as the Surveillance model of control has a connection back to the state, the capture model connects to a higher ideal, in this case the human need for interaction and relationship. By providing games to play, such as MafiaWars and Farmville, Facebook provides new means for users to interact and expands its own role in interpersonal connection. Facebook has become completely ingrained into how this generation socializes: it is a hyperreal that reaffirms personal popularity and the belief that one has “friends”, despite the fact its impossible to actively consider more than 150 people at a time. Each user has agreed to a social contract surrendering their control. By giving every user access to anything posted by their potential friends (or even friends of friends), Facebook has also provided an ever watching, all recording bank of information for their users’ access.
Societies are defined by their location and inhabitants. Facebook and MySpace are profile-centric social networking sites, where the main focus of the society is its inhabitants. Facebook initially seemed to have some formal focus on location, as every user was required to be registered at a school. This eventually broadened to allow high school, and then eventually Facebook networks became almost unlimited including any city or place of work (and by allowing users to not have a network). Facebook used to provide a network webpage for each network, but eventually ended this. Facebook now seems to be it’s own world, with the different user pages being different locations. With the profile being such a focus of the Facebook site, privacy is obviously important to consider. Facebook, as it name implies, allows users to browse through people in the form of profiles of information. In contrast, Dormlife centers information on the location in which an event occurs. Because the focus is not individual people but instead the spaces that they inhabit, privacy most likely would be less of an issue than with a social networking site such as Facebook. The purpose of Dormlife is not to reveal personal information about oneself such as in Facebook; the purpose is to create a digital community through physical spaces.
In the introduction to Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins argues against the understanding of convergence as merely a technological phenomenon, stressing instead that convergence represents a very important cultural shift in the relationship between the consumer and media content. The active, participatory consumer who crafts individual entertainment experiences by making connections across dispersed media outlets has replaced the old conception of the passive consumer. Convergence culture reflects a shift from industrial capitalism, in which consumers were viewed as a monolithic demographic to which mechanically reproduced and unpersonalized commodities could be marketed. As Donna Haraway explains in A Cyborg Manifesto, in post-industrial society "the home, workplace, market, public arena, the body itself--all can be dispersed and interfaced in nearly infinite, polymorphous ways" (163). Haraway's image of the cyborg, which is always a fractured, partial identity, pushes back against the essentialist image of the consumer in industrial society. What Jenkins' convergence culture and Haraway's cyborg point toward is a new flow-based mode of subjectivity that sets the stage for a rhetoric of personalization through its focus on difference and change over static identity. With the introduction of the iPad, Apple takes advantage of the rhetoric of personalization to channel the user's desire for a distinct new media experience into the act of consumption. More than Apple's previous new media devices, the iPad intensifies the enclosure of the consumer within an Apple-centric closed system of media convergence, one in which the consumer's needs for various media content are met through Apple.
In the April 2010 Wired article "How the Tablet Will Change the World", Steven Levy writes that "the iPad offers a streamlined yet powerful intuitive experience that’s psychically in tune with our mobile, attention-challenged, super-connected new century" (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/03/ff_tablet_levy/). What appears as Apple's catering to convergence culture in a form that "streamlines" the participatory experience for iPad users is actually an ideological restructuring of user subjectivity, an ideology driven solely by the capitalist profit motive in which the user is always and above all a consumer of and through Apple. Behind a rhetoric of efficiency, ease, and choice, Apple has in fact created a structure in which it is the entity through which all media and information can or must be accessed. As Levy notes, the "rigidly enforced standards of aesthetics will ensure that the iPad remains an easy-to-navigate no-clutter zone," a feature that seems wholly to the benefit of the user, but in fact plays into Apple's consumption paradigm. The strict aesthetics of the iPad, with its icons arranged in orderly rows across the screen allows for very little of the personalization afforded by the desktop of a computer. Whatever desire a user may have for personalization or individualization must be satisfied through the act of consumption through the App Store, of selecting and purchasing apps with which to outfit one's iPad. Apps are only available through the App store, and all developers and publishers must have their apps cleared by Apple. The App Store is the final and arguably the most crucial component in an Apple-centric closed system, one in which the need to go beyond Apple is preempted or denied. Users not only get their apps solely through the app store, but they must also surf the web on Apple's Safari browser, can only access web media that is QuickTime compatible, and must use the iPad's iPod to listen to music or watch movies.
In a sense, it is possible to argue that Jenkins foresaw this type of corporation-centric convergence, writing that convergence "is both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-driven process" (18). Jenkins saw corporate convergence in "new media conglomerates" like Warner Bros., which "have controlling interests across the entire entrainment industry" (16). Apple's model, however, is new and totalizing in that it also acts at the level of the device with which consumers access their media content. By starting with the media technology, with the success and ubiquity of the iTunes and App stores it is easy to forget that Apple was first and foremost a electronics developer, and then expanding to the regulating of media content, Apple was able to create a closed system unlike any other. Through the iPad, Apple complicates Jenkins' argument that "convergence does not occur through media appliances, however sophisticated they may become" (3). While the Apple-centric style of convergence does not occur solely through the iPad, the device nevertheless plays an instrumental role in Apple's consumption ideology as this "media appliance" allows Apple to shape a specific form of convergence culture. Furthermore, through the iPad Apple problematizes Jenkin's argument that "delivery systems are simply and only technologies," opposed to "cultural systems" (14). By restricting access to software and thereby creating a monopoly on "delivery", Apple incorporates the delivery technology as an element of capitalist ideology.
In her article “Reload: Liveness, Mobility, and the Web,” Tara McPherson discusses the unique experiences of the Internet, many of which apply directly to the Wii and suggest parallel experiences between them. McPherson claims that the Web’s cursor is “a tangible sign of presence implying movement” (McPherson, 201). The slightest move of one’s hand can move him limitless distances through cyberspace. The Wii’s remote mimics this dynamic, but also expands on it: Wii users literally point to where they want to go, using the motion sensing technology of the game to wirelessly control their movement through it. With the stroke of the remote, one’s location changes in the Wii world, giving the remote the power of “liveness” shared by the Internet (McPherson, 201). As McPherson says, the Web’s liveness “foregrounds volition and mobility, creating a liveness of demand...a sense of causality” (McPherson, 202). Flicking the Wii or clicking its buttons can take the user to an endless variety of worlds, immediately and at the user’s whim. Like with the Internet and mouse, the user has complete control because of the remote: control of where they go or what they experience, a control which McPherson terms “volitional mobility” (McPherson, 202).
The user’s choice to navigate the screen occurs through an immediate process. The motion of the remote control instantaneously affects the motion of the cursor, causing rapid gratification during game play. Jenkins, in “Games, the New Lively Art,” remarks that when observing the immediacy of game play, one should look “not in terms of how convincing the representation of the character and the fictional world is but rather in terms of the character’s ‘capacity’ to respond to our impulses and desires.” The Wii characters are essentially replicating the user’s movements, as a swinging of the arm translates to the swinging of a racquet. In addition to this visual gratification, the controller vibrates at appropriate times (i.e. ball hits the racquet) to create an accompanying physical gratification. The game console, however, strips away the aesthetics and sharpness of the fictional world to compensate for its attention to interaction. The remote control functions as an extension of the arm, serving as the vital connection to the character and game play. One might wonder if it’s worth taking away the visual appeal, but Jenkins points out that it is the “expansion of the player’s capacity which accounts for the emotional intensity of most games.” While a conventional game controller typically measures a character’s strength by how frequently the user pushes button X, Wii’s innovative design requires a faster motion by the user’s arm. The user’s freedom to move his arm in any direction leads to the same freedoms and movements for the character.
However, within the confines of the Wii, the user’s control by arm movement is just that—control by arm movement. The Wii remote’s interactivity does not extend any further. Whereas Jenkins focuses on a character’s ability to respond to the user’s full range of desires and commands, the Wii limits the characters primarily to the user’s ability to gesture. What cannot be gestured cannot be accomplished. For example, in Wii Tennis, the system’s popular tennis “simulation,” the player has full control of the strokes of his racquet. He can slice, he can use topspin, he can pull the ball wide or he can drive it straight. And while the versatility of the racquet via the Wii remote offers the illusion of actual tennis, character limitations keep that illusion grounded. Because of the nature of the Wii remote, the player is entirely stripped of his freedom of movement. So while the “emotional intensity” Jenkins discusses is certainly present in the often hyper-competitive Wii Tennis, the Wii’s programming directs character movement and therefore restricts a significant portion of user control. The overlying idea is that the user overlooks this limitation because of the specific and powerful control he possesses over the racquet.
The structure and form of the Wii intervenes in the user’s otherwise-complete control over their player in the game, but it also intervenes in the broader narrative of their gaming experience, hindering their volitional mobility in subtle but not invisible ways. The Wii’s design and form prevents the user from having complete bodily control over the remote, and it also prevents them from having complete control over the path and progression of their use of the Wii. This problematizes the parallels between the Wii and Tara McPherson’s reading of the Internet as a realm of user freedom and choice.
McPherson claims the Web “can be multidirectional and also simultaneous, both forward and backward at once” (McPherson, 203). In other words, there is no true limit or necessary direction to the path an Internet user must take while experiencing the Web. Once the Internet user enters an address, he or she can enter another with the same ease: the user can go forward endlessly via the address bar, mobile in any direction desired. The Wii, however, is neither simultaneous nor dimensional. Even though both the Web and Wii offer a myriad of experiences, they do not overlap within the Wii, and cannot be accessed from one to the other. For example, suppose a Wii user wishes to leave Wii Sports and experience the Wii Shop Channel. He must first return to the homescreen, then find and select the Wii Shop Channel. On the other hand, Web users need only type a new web address to mobilize themselves in the exact direction they have chosen. The Wii’s interface and design impede the user’s volitional mobility by tethering users to the homescreen.
The iPod is an object of desire: a personal device, a fetish object, essential for the music consumer. Users desire the iPod and its promise of mobility and freedom, but the iPod is also a vessel through which they can then express future desires. Desire begins as a force outside of the user that he or she plugs into but is then reworked through the user's interaction with it. According to Tara McPherson in her article "Reload: Liveness, Mobility and the Web", the modality of volitional mobility is used to describe that desire plays an active role in navigating the Web. Mobility is a key aspect linking the iPod to the Web. Yet, the iPod complicates the modality of scan-and-search by holding onto the older modality of flow. The iPod's disjuncture of space and time separates it from the web.
The web is different than that of television primarily through the difference in navigation. McPherson differentiates between “flow” and the “scan-and-search” as two modalities of experiencing media. Flow is the feeling that one freely coasts through one's interaction with media objects. McPherson illustrates the concept of “flow” through the experience of watching television. We immerse ourselves in a television program that constitutes a continuous and unified trajectory. The “scan-and-search,” alternately, exposes Web users to different segments of data simultaneously, and thus they employ a scan-and-search method of viewing so as not to miss anything. McPherson states: “This is not just channel-surfing: it feels like we’re wedding space and time, linking research and entertainment into similar patterns of mobility” (204). Unlike TV, in which the choice to change the channel is the extent of one's ability to navigate the medium, the modalities of the Web allow for the manipulation of space and time, amplifying the effect of the user's desire on one's experience.
The iPod, like the Web, has disrupted the experience of “flow,” a modality that resembles listening to music on the CD player or the walkman. Prior to the iPod, one primarily listened to a cohesive album that constituted a musical narrative. The navigation of the iPod depends upon the modality of volitional mobility, in that the user must choose music and navigate through one's library to construct a personalized listening experience. Additionally, the Shuffle feature on the iPod, which randomly selects the next song from the user's music library, enables one to listen to an eternal mix tape, again resisting the traditional coherent narrative of the album. Instead, users listen to individual songs similar to the way in which they see individual web segments, allowing for a scan-and-search method of spanning countless genres and periods of music. Ultimately the experience of listening to the iPod depends upon a mobility of the user through the iTunes library, desire prompting action.
However, the iPod also incorporates an experience of flow into scan-and-search that makes it unique from both the Web and television. Similar to the flow modality associated with TV, simultaneity is not possible with the iPod; one can only listen to a single song at a time, similar to the division of channels on a television. The agency essential to the Web is reduced in the iPod. A common thread between TV and the Web is the desire to not miss information. Yet, the iPod resists the anxiety inherent in both the scan-and-search modality and the flow modality with respect to missing: "Whereas this fear of missing something in the realm of television may cause the user to stay tuned to one channel, not to miss a narrative turn, this fear of missing in the Web propels us elsewhere, on to the next chunk" (204). One's music exists permanently in the archive of the iTunes library and then downloaded into the iPod itself, therefore the desire to navigate through the iPod is not based on anxiety. The songs cannot be missed because they are already embedded within the iPod's hard drive. The desire to navigate, then, exists free of anxiety. Thus, the mobility that creates the sense of "liveness" in the iPod is attributed to the immediate desire of the user to listen to music whenever and wherever, rather than the object itself embodying "liveness", such as live broadcasts on TV or the instant updates of the Web.
The iPod further demonstrates a schism from McPherson's description of liveness by countering her point that the user is “wedding space and time,” with the Web. Physically, the media object takes up such little space yet manages to hold within itself so much time: hours upon hours of music fit into a very tiny nano or iPod shuffle. This small size enables mobility, creating the wherever of the iPod. The whenever of the iPod is structured a little differently. The act of "plugging in" to the iPod expresses a desire to dissociate space from time, willing one separate from the other: one hopes to mentally escape the physical space one is in, or to pass time when it seems to linger. Both scenarios disengage the user from the now: the current space or the current time. To listen to the iPod whenever means that one must sacrifice the time of present when this when occurs. The volitional mobility that accounts for the "wedding" of space and time on the Web instead divorces the two in the iPod. Though the Web and TV stress that "liveness" corresponds to real time, the iPod's liveness allows one to move through real time by fracturing it.
Through volitional mobility, the iPod becomes the ultimate expression of the user's desire. Desire prompts our navigation from song to song, but unlike television and the Web, this desire to act is not motivated by a fear that the user will miss the next thing. The iPod distinguishes itself from its parent media, TV and the Web, in that its mobility, which contributes to its "liveness", is not based on how one navigates the device, but rather depends upon the user's desire to be mobile. This desire to move away from the parent media is both in the physical device - to use it the listener must be away from the computer - and in the theory - moving away from flow and scan-and-search to carve out its own modality: a volitional liveness that allows navigation to transcend the device itself, swapping real time for iPod time and escaping space through the iPod.
Tara McPherson, “Reload: Liveness, Mobility and the Web,” The Visual Culture Reader, 2nd Edition, Ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York: Routledge, 2002), 458-470.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
Watching the spread of certain videos ("David after the dentist", "Charlie the Unicorn", etc) and images (Lolcats) without any real explanation invokes in me a certain belief in a collective unconscious, or at least in the concept of ideas that spread rapidly like plague. Perhaps this has more to do with Keenan's assertion of the self-other construct being just that (constructed), in the way that peer pressure is actually an internal influence, but it strikes me as odd that many people become aware of the same material at the same time.
With the rise of KnowYourMeme.com and Digg.com, these objects themselves are being spread wider and faster than ever before, drawing further parallels in the way that the spread of the internet represents the spread of a single, universal culture that is a convergence of all the others that went into its creation.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
My favorite part of the reading can be found on page 37 where she writes:
“Free labor is the moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited.”This, in a nut shell, summarizes the rest of the paper and perfectly encapsulates emerging internet trends. Fan fiction, as was described in class on Wednesday, is a perfect example of this. Fans love reading the new material, but the original writers themselves can take advantage of it without any compensation to the fans. Facebook’s user-agreement stipulates that any original material on the social networking site is property of Facebook. In other words, crowd-sourcing is the name of the game on the internet these days because of all the useful material that free labor produces. Terranova calls these new workers “digital artisans.” I also find it particularly interesting that the younger generations seem to be adopting these new trends quicker. Although I consider myself a heavy internet user, I have never contributed to Wikipedia, been an active member of an online community, and have never uploaded a video to Youtube. On the other hand, there is no limit to how many 13-year olds upload video after video of them ranting nonsense. I think modern crowd-sourcing sites are the beginning of this trend toward harnessing the power of crowds online and am excited/scared to see what comes next.
Yet, I still don't think I completely understand the difference between “free beer” and “free speech” in terms of computer software. Even after reading Open Source Initiative, I still did not think programmers were awarded enough for the work they did. On the other hand, when I thought about it in more general terms, I realized that people from many professions do not get sufficient awards for the work they do. In fact, the income one receives does not (and often is not) proportional to the amount of effort one invests or the talent one possesses. That is why, in my opinion, free labor is so important.
Free labor is what makes functioning of the capitalist society possible. Free labor enhances the flow of information greatly, enabling more people to participate actively in the functioning of that same capitalist society. Without free labor, information would circulate much slower which would, in return, cause not the development of the capitalist society, but rather its stagnation.
Taken in that context, the ideology behind Open Source software makes much more sense. Ultimately, Open Source is not something that would destroy programming profession, but rather help it develop to a more advanced level. True, in the very beginning, programmers would most likely experience financial difficulties, but, Open Source software could lead to higher demand of programmers due to the fact that it stimulates individualization of software for specific needs of the users and due to the availability and possibility to modify the source code.
No one could stop the programmers from selling copies of modified Open Source software that would satisfy needs of particular users. In that way, not only would programmers still have their jobs, but the users would have software that would be more appropriate to their needs.
However, the complete transition between standard commercial and Open Source software would be certainly very hard, if not impossible. For that, we have to start perceiving computer software as a tool of our electronic “speech”. Because of that, we should have the right to use it just like we use other people's written or spoken thoughts.
There are times when I get on Facebook that several people have posted the same video. Where is this information coming from? It is as if there is a collective source of knowledge. This is what the internet does. It provides for a collective space for knowledge to be shared in. When there is a scandal, almost everyone has the same information. It creates a collective memory and essentially connects an imagined community not only on the source (Facebook) but also information.
How does this information even come about? Sites like Google cater to larger companies who purchase ad space and it caters to the consumers who choose the popular websites. The consumer chooses a lot of what appears when they enter a website because it is based on what the consumer has a tendency of checking online. (All my Facebook adds mention Jason Mraz and fraternities) "The Internet is the material evidence of the existence of the self-organizing, infinitely productive activities of con- nected human minds." (11) All this work by the consumer is creating free labor. We create the content that appears on websites and at the same time consume it.
I was a little confused by Jenkin’s Convergence book. He says, “I will argue here against the issue that convergence should be understood primarily as a technological process bringing together multiple media functions within the same devices” (Jenkins 3). Alright fine that’s all well and good, but then for the next couple pages the only references to convergence he makes exemplify the contrary. He goes into detail about how the cell phone represents a convergence (that he believes to be unnecessary) of phone, web, video, picture, music storage, and navigation. The cell phone is the perfect example that refutes his argument. He brings it up, and then does not explain why it is not an example of convergence. Later he mentions Microsoft and Sony and how they planned on disguising convergence within their game consoles. Indeed these consoles do represent a form of convergence; they can be used for enjoying games, movies, or music. I think convergence is better represented in the examples Jenkins uses in order to try to change how people think about convergence.
I disagree with Jenkins' claim that the black box will never exist as evidenced by the divergence of technologies. He immediately points out how annoying it is to have so many different devices and technologies. Ultimately, there will not be one black box; however, think of the black box as an essential system of situated mobility. It will be a system that utilizes mobile devices networked over a broad public national network to any other device anywhere on the system. Additionally, you will have a point of situation, whether it is a web page or a networked hard drive, that contains your relevant information that you want to have with you as you move. This way your iphone can act as a remote control for your television. That's what I think will happen and I disagree with Jenkins.
Jenkins talks a lot about what it means to converge. He seems to say that convergence is a state of mind. That convergence occurs in our mind as much as it does in our appliances.Convergence, to him seems to be a positive movement forward. It is a way for old media to meet new media and for old media to find a new meaning to new audiences. Like the theater that becomes elitist or the comics that become specific to certian audiences. He says that the difference between old media and new media is that new media is interactive. It gives us the chance to create a collective memory and it deceneralizes media. but i wonder if this is actually a good thing because this means that we start to hold the position of consumer/producer. We are using programs in order to produce material that is then put into another program through which the owners generate revenue through advertising; therefore we as producers are free labor ( even if it is a labor of love). Or we create content, whilst watching a video that tells us how to produce content. Or we begin to expect to be able to produce and consume at the same time, or to consume different things all at once. We begin to expect to be able to have our music on our computer, ipod and phone. We begin to expect to be able to take a picture with our phone and send it to a friend. The incident that he first mentions about the “Bert is Evil” problem that Sesame Street had just seems absurd and yet so normal. We are faced with these kinds of things everyday now with our convergence culture.
This kind of humor is normal, if not hilarious. When a show like Family Guy parodies a song or a clip from a film, are they in danger of being sued? What about a person who parodies a clip and posts it on Youtube? If anything they are generating more buzz for whatever it is they are parodying. It is free labor. The other thing that has come out of convergence that I am fascinated with is Viral Advertising it is by far the best thing that advertisers have ever done. Viral advertising is produced by a “producer” but is read like it is produced by a producer/consumer. It is everywhere and it is created in a way that it converges with our culture, our habits, our needs, our wants and goes unnoticed as advertising, but is rather enjoyed as a form of entertainment.
Certainly, the Playstation 3 is not the only example of media convergence, nor is it the ultimate example. Everywhere people go, media is becoming relevant and significant across multiple platforms. The term convergence itself, in Henry Jenkins' mind, refers to “the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences” (Jenkins 2). Jenkins' three part definition can be easily illustrated by the recent efforts made by godaddy.com. The company, which earns money by selling domain names, airs brief, misleadingly risque ads that end with a message: go to godaddy.com to see the rest of the ad. This method is occasionally successful, and results in the viewers seeing the coordinated effort between two platforms to communicate the company's message.
Convergence, though, does not end at just a definition. As content flows across various media, “consumers are encouraged to make connections” (Jenkins 3). Obviously it is impossible for one person to know everything or make every connection. However, everybody knows something. As a result of this incomplete personal knowledge, a collective intelligence is formed. That means that the bits and pieces of information possessed by multitudes of people are pooled to add up to a more complete whole. The richness of information in media helps to stimulate a desire for discussion, which in turn generates a buzz surrounding the content. Therefore, collective intelligence serves as an alternative form of media power (Jenkins 7). This leads to an important point of convergence—it takes place in brains, not appliances. As the crossover takes place in people's minds while discussing information, they piece things together and begin to contribute in there own way.
I think the Nintendo Wii is the perfect example of convergence culture. Jenkins defines convergence as “the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries” (2). The Wii is at its core a video game console, but it is really so much more than that. On the menu page, there is an option for uploading your photos from an SD card and it has the current weather and news stories. You can connect to the Internet over the Wii Wi-Fi Network to interact with other people and go shopping. The different applications you can do with the Wii each have their own “channel” (eg. Internet channel), which is interesting because it is juxtaposing the idea of TV channels, video games, and the Internet all into one. You are looking at the TV screen and “flipping through the channels,” essentially changing programs, but it from a video game console, not the actual TV.
When the Wii first came out, it cost $5 to be able to use the channel to browse the Internet. After two years it was made free and everyone who had previously purchased it could get a refund. Making the channel free showed how deeply integrated the Internet had become to the media of video games- they have converged. Also, it means the TV basically becomes a computer. The Wii brings together all the media forms to create ultimate convergence.
The Wii actually facilitates convergence within its own genre. Using the online store, you can buy “classic console” games, which go all the way back to the first ever Nintendo console. No other system can boast having such backwards compatibility. Past and present media are both available in the Wii and coexist side by side.
Lastly, the Wii can now be used to watch TV and movies. Netflix recently introduced a disk that Netflix members can request for free, and it allows you to watch your TV shows and movies from Netflix on the Wii. The Wii is literally a combination of a DVD/VHS player, a TV, a camera, a computer, and a game console. The Wii 100% accomplished the challenge of “expand[ing] the potential uses of this cheap and readily accessible technology so that it…smuggled convergence culture right into people’s living rooms” (8). The appeal of this broad range of media cultures is apparent in the Wii’s success- it leads the market in sales over its competitors Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, which have Internet capabilities but nothing like the multi-media approach of the Wii.
Friday 11AM Section
Emily for Matt's section
In “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy,” Tiziana Terranova discusses postindustrial societies’ emphasis on knowledge as a new commodity for consumption. While I had never directly considered knowledge in this way, as an entity as commodified as anything material, what struck me more about Terranova’s article was not the idea of free labor and its fueling of Internet capitalism (though it is simultaneously exhausted and largely unrewarded), but rather the extents to which this free labor stretches – just how many free laborers the Internet is contingent upon, individuals who make possible some of its largest capitalist enterprises yet are not acknowledged or reimbursed for their efforts. Moreover, they are often not even aware of their own labors. When you consider a site like eBay, mentioned in a post below, it is quite amazing how holistically the entire system depends on free labor. Users must photograph, describe, and post their products to be sold; sellers must browse seemingly endless pages and bid constantly to secure their win. Negotiations between the winning bidder and the seller are common, and occur directly through email: what, then, does eBay really do to sustain itself, besides providing the domain and interface through which buyers and sellers may find one another? For, once they do find each other, the labor rests almost entirely on them. Of course, eBay, like all other large commercial websites (e.g. Amazon) has adopted customization features, telling users what products they might be interested in based on past purchases, but even still, the site itself, i.e. its paid and acknowledged employees, are not particularly responsible for the site’s capital revenue. The users’ labors, the posting and bidding and emailing and shipping, fuel the site through its commission and seller fees.
Even a site like Facebook, where no direct transactions involving the users are executed, still depends on the free labor of those who join it. The more Facebook users, the more wall postings and uploaded pictures and general time spent on the site – all a sort of labor in itself – and thusly the more site traffic, which attracts the advertisers that clog the margins of our screens and create large amounts of revenue for Mark Zuckerberg et al. To go a step farther, even news websites like The New York Times Online or CNN online – which certainly do create much of their own revenue through their journalists – still depend partially on the free labor of others. News coverage of the riots in Iran last year, for example, was deeply rooted in the cell phone videos and pictures submitted to the NYT, CNN and others by people far removed from the organizations – people present at the event itself. It was their labor, their strife and the effort of capturing it, which allowed online news publications to break the news with on-the-scene video and photographs.
And yet, as Terranova very astutely says, free laborers are not entirely exploited: they have a “desire for affective and cultural production that is nonetheless real just because it is socially shaped,” which creates an interesting distinction between the free-labor-dependent capitalist structures of the contemporary Internet and, perhaps, a stricter Marxist view of capitalism (Terranova, 36-37). There is a sense of “fulfillment through work” that drives the voluntary labor of so many web users (37). We enjoy viewing and consuming Facebook pictures, and thus post them to create/produce our own fulfilling experiences. With eBay, there is a monetary/material gain (whether you buy or sell) but fulfillment plays its part too. And of course, in the example of online news sources, one might contribute to worldwide awareness of a cause or event; the free laborer’s contribution and production has undeniably beneficial ramifications in the news world, thusly supporting Terranova’s claims of “fulfillment through work,” even when it is free, uncompensated, under-appreciated work.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I want to talk about the black box (issues of myth that surround convergence) in Jenkins' article and relate it to Terranova's theories about freedom and control.
The image of a "black box of convergence" that Jenkins discusses posits resided in my mind. I couldnt help but see similarities between it and the sleek black, rectangular iphone and now iPad. The black box is an ideal goal for convergence that has real wold corollaries (ipod, kindle, blackberries, xbox etc) but at the same time is imaginary, something to strive towards, inovation, simplicity. The ideal black box wouldnt be a fixed object but rather durable hardware that can adapted to the flexible and always updated world of software, allowing for the new inovations to work on the device. There are always new apps coming out, that make the iphone not just a point of convergence for media but a toolbox, a means of currency and transaction (imagine a not to far off world where creditcards will be embedded into phones). Inherent in this image is a not so far off world where not just media converges but all technology may converge.
This idea attracts our society because of its implicit promises of freedom, mobility etc. Indeed today many people aspire to have location free jobs, or ones in which mobility becomes possible. In our postfordist society this is increasingly more possible (appaderai points to this in his idea of Ethnoscapes). The imaginary associated with this is a CEO doing work from the a beach in Fiji, sipping a momosa. Such freedom is an ideal: to travel the world, to follow a loved one, to shake up the stagnation of daily rhythms, and live life to the fullest (sorry gettting a bit carried away here) but that is the point.
Essentially convergence becomes synonymous with ease, and freedom, and convienence. Authorship of the little black box means early retirement, fame, accomplishment, buisness. Both the consumers and the producers participate in this goal. Consumers want it and will pay for it, while producers want to create it. This creates a situation in which the quest for utopian convergence fuels productivity, research, innovation. This work essential is unpaid because profits are hypothetical based on meeting a future goal. But those who enter the race, enter willingly and most importantly freely
The myth then that surrounds convergence is responsible for late hours, for technological juicing of human productive power, and de-emphasis on the individual in favor of the synergistic energy of collaboration.
Perhaps convergence is an interesting way to think about Appaderai's theory of consumption fetish where there is both a fetishism of the producer and a fetishism of the consumer.
Now i turn to the appaderi's social imaginaire. Appauderies idea of nostalgia and the social imaginare- which he says: "Social imaginare is built around re-runs". We are stuck in the the media of other temporalities the past yes via the re-run culture, but also the future, imaginary culture (of convergence) which we strive towards.
Fuller's article about Microsoft discusses our hope for more autonomous workers, and also that work gets absorbed into the technology via the convergence of skill and capabilities into one interface. But at what point does this hope become oversaturated? is it only imaginary? Has it yet been realized in society?
Are we simply taking the neoliberalism promise too seriously and becoming addicted?
It seems that capitalism is trying to manage our desire for change/progression (is there a difference?). but equally it could be that we we project onto capitalism our disires and ideals. and that capitalism can regulate our actions without itself having agency other than simply being a promise or a set of rules.
So then my questions break down here . i want to know how capitalism regulates social desires. And what does marx have to do with it?
Like Fuller, I am typing this article on word, and I can agree with him that since lot of the space “is taken up with grey toolbars pocked with icons.” This gives the user so much to do. From personalizing the toolbars to deciding which tools we want to use, we feel like we have a lot of freedom. This multiplicity of offerings is also available on the other applications in Microsoft Office.
While it seems like there is much freedom given to us as the user, we must remember that, like when using one of Google’s many websites, we are still in a system, and cannot go outside the boundaries, unless we are the ones programming a new version of Office. This brings us back to the control society and the idea of “always escaping, never leaving.”
It also is illustrating it’s control over us by “shifting things about in the workplace…And what it changes into at work effects how it is used, what it allows to be done, outside of work.” Word is also changing standards by changing what we think is normal for a program to give us, as “the volume of features…is often represented as a disastrous excess, but…[is] fitted up as standard” now.
I think that what word and programs in general have been doing are very interesting and definitely pertinent to the changing face of programming, and I hope that we can talk about what Fuller wrote about in section tomorrow.
I want to take eBay as a perfect example of Terranova’s ideas. eBay is quite possibly one of the largest market sites on the web. Its big rival is most likely Amazon, but their difference is remarkable. Amazon is a company: it runs by selling books from its own warehouses, but eBay runs person-to-person, with people selling their belongings to one another. This website would be completely defunct if it did not have the many users it has today. It is as if we are all working for the website. How paradoxical is this though? Because this website is used as a convenience, something that people can easily get rid of old things with and make a few dollars on the side with, eBay is not thought of as controlling. Thus, the freedom and control that the web gives us is interestingly intertwined. In section this week I think it would be interesting to think about this intertwinement. Most of all, does the web give us more freedom or more control?
This is why the tone of Fuller's piece didn't resonate strongly with me - the ideas are compelling and accurate. It's the presupposition that I've been extensively frustrated by the Word software that misses its mark. It's not that I don't think the program has design flaws that could have been thought through more thoroughly from the start - I just think those flaws have a rapidly decreasing salience to the experience of the average user.
In Jenkins piece, it is through convergence that we not only see a way in which old media emerge n the new, but "a change in the way media is produced and a change ijn the way media is consumed" (16). Speaking further to this Jenkins writes, "Convergence requires media companies to rethink old assumptions about what it means to consume media, assumptions that shape both programming and marketing decisions. If old consumers were assumed to be passive, the new consumers are active...[i]f the work of media consumers was once silent and invisible, the new consumers are now noisy and public" (18-19). Whereas the film spectator was silent in their seat in the house of disciplinary media, Jenkins calls us to rethink the new media or digital user as extremely visible.
One question I wish to bring to discussions is whether the users of digital technology especially surrounding the internet can always be thought of as "noisy" or visible because the media themselves are public? In a sense how are new media technologies always caught up in a process in which users become the producing consumers contributing not only their "free" or immaterial labor but to a collective knowledge. If this is the case then it requires us as Terranova suggests to question notions of the employment. Under this new form of consumption Terranova recognizes that "Often the unemployed are such only in name, in reality being the life-blood of the difficult economy of 'under-the-table,' badly paid work, some of which also goes into the new media industry" (46). Not only does such a formulation question the binary of producer/consumer in relation to the media but to the economy at large forcing us to ask if such a binary is even possible in our control society.
The term “free labor” given by Tiziana Terranova could be a little horrifying. It sheds a very different light on the open source movement. Words like participation and collaboration are of course still relevant, but it seems they do not necessarily guarantee the creation of a utopia which the Internet had been entrusted with the potential to be from its emergence, free from controls of the real world, state or corporate. As ‘Netscape went 'open source' and invited the computer tinkers and hobbyists to look at the code of its new browser, fix the bugs, improve the package and redistribute it, specialized mailing lists exchanged opinions about its implications,” enabling maybe the better and faster upgrading of its browser for free, than could be done by hiring a group of engineers to work on it. Because the Internet is a site of limitlessness. They could hire the best people they can find, but somewhere on the Internet there must be someone better. And of course however many people they hire it will not be as many as those that are active on the internet. What is more, the Internet offers an “open communications environment” that is hardly conceivable in any one company. It is the most wonderful space for generating new ideas and knowledge that is crucial to today’s digital economy. What capitalism needs to do is to find ways to capture these ideas and knowledge and turn them into profit. Terranova’s essay tells us that it has found ways to do it, for free. It really bothers me to think that the many activities that we enjoy as leisure activities that better our lives, such as uploading YouTube videos, and for some people, fixing the bug of an open source browser, can be conceptualized as tasks that generate profits for some corporation that I have nothing to do with, and that we are not paid for it too. I need to think more about what to make of it that the line between work and leisure is blurred to such an extent that it’s actually possible for people to generate profits while genuinely believing that they are having fun. But then, it’s not their own profits that they are generating, so this is a kind of exploitation for sure.