Monday, 18 March 2013

Like all cultural developments, transmedia affords us a paradox

Over the past several months I have continuously sited a lack of economic motivation to produce online content. Without appropriate remuneration for their efforts an average individual should not participate in a productive capacity - online or otherwise. Admittedly,  I looked at the issue of production versus consumption in a strictly economic sense, ignoring social aspects in the process. Not everyone behaves with opportunity costs and marginal benefits in mind. Many people simply enjoy participating in online communities and developing online presences.

Despite my usually calculated, economic thinking, I have sincerely enjoyed developing and nurturing skills using a variety of online platforms over the past several months. In developing a sandbox wiki, utilizing the components of Popcorn, speaking freely on Audacity, to writing on this very blog I have experienced many facets of online ability that I otherwise would not have pursued. This course has offered me the opportunity to consume the assigned readings and subsequently produce my own iterations and opinions - things that I will never get tired of doing. Therefore, perhaps there is a possibility you might see me producing online content - for free - in the future. Is such a philosophy the norm? Should it be?

The readings for this module were the most comprehensive and engaging yet (perhaps that is appropriate considering this is the final module). They all fully showcase the potential upsides and downsides to transmedia producing and consuming.

L.A. Lievrouw's article puts forth several interesting perspectives on the topic. One particular point made that seemed important to recognize for the sake of the purpose of this very course. Lievrouw points out the need for network literacies and pedagogies in order to properly educate effective participants in transmedia. Similarly, Rheingold dictates the necessity of literacy development for proper community (network) building. This course has offered us that exact opportunity; because of this, we are better able to contribute in all facets of online - and maybe even face-to-face as a result - communication. For those of us who eventually choose whether or not to produce online content we now have many of the requisite skills outlined by Lievrouw.

S.E. Bird puts forth the thought that the future of content generation lies in the hands of the consumers mass producing communicative interactions. If this is the path of the future for transmedia, the revenue models of the past, consisting of large, cost-intensive media infrastructures will be derailed by a more democratic voice in opinion and news platforms. While I think such a concept may be a little extreme and unlikely, there is no doubt the large multi-media organizations actively encourage participation and production in their business models. This form of encouragement affords consumers the opportunity to have a say in the type of content they consume.

Peter Lunenfeld follows a similar discussion on the malleability of business models in the age of transmedia. By juxtaposing download-based media against upload-based media Lunenfeld purports that without the continued development and sustenance of Web 2.0 society will begin to slip back into an age of "cultural diabetes". I think that this is one of the most clever and important lessons that I have learned throughout this entire course. If we do not encourage content production outside of the usual, big-media producers we will fail to continually develop and shape our species. With the advent of the television set decades ago came increased indolence, indifference, and ignorance. There may not always be an economic incentive to produce online content but there is nearly always an intellectual one.

The question of the age becomes: what indications of intellectual deprival begin to show midst the era of concurrent online production and consumption?

Along a similar argument as Lunenfeld, Jonathan Sterne purports a lack of development in the realm of critical thinking in the face on online interconnectivity  He puts forth a concept that many of us had probably thought of before (albeit in a much more articulate way). He showcases a worry for passivity in transmedia that has existed in prior realms of media; television, movie-going among others. Without constant critical thought about the development of transmedia culture we are depriving ourselves of intellectual, spiritual, and special development.

While I ardently agree with Sterne's utilitarian intimation, I believe there are other worries we must explore. Passive consumption is an obvious, decades-long problem, yet the advent of transmedia has introduced greater intimations of deprival.

Concurrently producing and consuming encourages the development of many helpful and culturally prominent online communities but it can also deprive users of natural, human connection. We often read stories that tell of individuals who get lost in the worlds of seemingly endless online communities. With the propagation of transmedia content and encouragement of participation in the production of additional content, individuals may be further susceptible to a deprived social life (in the physically tangible sense). In an era of increased isolationism and social anxiety the continued development of certain transmedia communities can be harmful to individuals, families, and society as a whole.

First photo courtesy of user: Stuart Miles
Second photo courtesy of user: pixbox77

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Citizen Journalism: Appropriate in Certain Contexts

Although citizen journalism has been around for decades, it has become a pertinent subject of professional journalists, media pundits, and politicians around the world. Through the use of contemporary technological advancements the general public have been granted an unprecedented opportunity to report and opine on current events. No longer are we limited to receiving our news from print or television media. Voices of millions can now be read through three-inch cell phone screens. But will they be read? Does it matter? Is there an appropriate incentive for citizen journalism?

At the center of the Dahlgren article is one of the most important aspects of the topic of citizen journalism: only those who truly desire to, and believe that they do, have a say in society will participate. The author cites that in an era of democratic uncertainty and constant turmoil people want their voices to be heard. It is not simply a concept of saying things for the sake of it, people want their opinions to matter.

The paragon of such uprising-enthused citizen journalism has to be the current state of affairs in the Middle East and Africa. Although many constituents of these geographic regions may not have access to social media or other outlets for reporting, those that do grant the rest of the world access into the depths of the social crimes committed by authoritarian regimes. There is no doubt that this access has afforded those of us in the western world the ability to fully understand these issues - something that traditional forms of journalism might not always be able to provide.

Through my use of Storify and my analysis of the Hermida article, I have found that both citizen journalists and professional journalists alike now have the tools necessary to truly create something special for those who read what they produce. The ease and simplicity of use of Storify sincerely astounded me. Although I cannot see myself producing more content than necessary, simply because of economic reasons, it is a resource that I will now humbly appreciate. Hermida outlines how it is almost a necessity now for professional publications to utilize the tools afforded by social media or risk falling behind the pace and brevity of citizen journalists.

I completely agree with Burns and Highfield when they state that Twitter may be more than random thoughts or opines; it affords users (and producers) the opportunity to become a gatekeeper for news. The ability to retweet is vital in this regard. Let's look at an example:

The New York Times is breaking a story that Mitt Romney's dog has died (levity I know, but for the sake of humour, necessary). I do not follow The New York Times but someone - anyone - that I follow does. Within seconds I now have access to information that I otherwise would not have known.

The use of the retweet feature is only one in a bevy of tools associated with all types of social media. I agree that sometimes clarity and verification - fundamental journalistic integrity measures - can be sacrificed in the face of a large story when using Twitter.

What I do not agree with is the notion that "produsers" are becoming the norm on Twitter. Although some users may feel inclined to participate in producing original content, we must admit that most do not feel that same inclination. I certainly do not. Citizen journalism is about expressing your viewpoints and reporting news when you believe it will make a difference to those who read what you produce. My thoughts are twofold.

Firstly, in line with the ideas put forth by Dahlgren, people only feel a need to produce online content when something important is at stake. The Arab Spring, conflicts in Mali and Nigeria; these are problems that we may not otherwise have full access to without the use of citizen journalism. Cabinet changes in the Ontario government, the winners at the Oscars; these are issues/non-issues that myriad professional news outlets have granted me access to at no cost.

Secondly, in line with my previous blog posts and their economic subtext, I am simply not willing to produce content for free unless some other benefit exists. Jenkins and Thorburn faltered in their article, that putting forth a false optimism and relying on the thought that most individuals desire to indulge in citizen journalism. I would argue that most individuals do not desire to indulge in citizen journalism. I enjoy reaping the rewards from the journalism of others, professional or otherwise, but there is no incentive for me to get involved beyond a rudimentary standpoint.

To conclude, the technological advancements of the past decade and the decades before that have been immediately influential to the reporting of news and opinions around the world. The advent and subsequent development of social media for this same effect has proliferated possibilities. However, without adequate incentives (remuneration, social progress) in the developed world, most users will never become producers.

Photo credit attributed to user: Stuart Miles on

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Gift economies in the online piracy (non)market.

The passage chosen was paragraph eleven from the following article:

Bradley, D. (2006) Scenes of Transmission: Youth Culture, MP3 File Sharing, and Transferable Strategies of Cultural Practice. M/C Journal. 9(1).

I found that this particular passage/paragraph was the most pertinent to this module's topic. The convergence of the two subcultures - hackers and MP3 communities - perfectly blends with the themes of this entire course. The passage shows a degree of prescience regarding Napster as a seminal firm for the file sharing community. Today, Napster has been left behind for leaner, meaner, file sharing and pirating activities that are certainly rife with their own moral and legal issues. This is the future.

Soundcloud image courtesy of user: Idea go,

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Oil Sands Connun-drum

All rights to the video belong to Al Jazeera. In no way am I affiliated with Al Jazeera nor do I reflect any of their views. The remixing of this video is for non-profit, academic purposes only. My thanks to Al Jazeera.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Copyrights vs. Culture: How to beat down the big guys

How can online communities of "producer-consumers" literate in new media work toward building a robust and freely accessible cultural commons in the face of restrictive copyright laws?

There are two generic problems currently facing the prospect of a robust and freely accessible cultural commons. The first is to justify appropriate copyright reform. Restrictive copyright laws have taken most of the Western world by storm over the last couple of decades. We must figure out how to roll them back and open up more possibilities for the development of a vast and venerable cultural commons. The second problem lies in encouraging more contribution to the cultural commons. Although we are said to be in an age of "producer-consumers" most of those who partake in online activities merely consume. Both issues can be addressed in a couple of ways.

Justifying appropriate copyright reform is no easy task. As mentioned above, many of these laws have been in place for decades or otherwise have been decades in the making. In order to get any government to listen to the ideas of the "culture-as-commons" viewpoint we must introduce valid economic arguments.

In 2004, Henry Jenkins showcased that media convergence is more than simply a technological shift. The relationship between existing technologies, industries, markets, genres, and audiences have been definitively altered. Is this a bad thing? No. Economically, there really is no basis in the claims of many big industries.

There is seemingly no empirical evidence showcasing that drops in revenue in particular industries are a result of free or illegal access to certain products. Other reasons as to why revenue is supposedly falling in areas like CD and DVD sales do exist. Competing forms of entertainment, such as video games and social networks are important cogs in the growing mass-market of interactivity. These platforms are seemingly replacing - or, at worst, attempting to - more dated forms of entertainment like music and movies.

An aging demographic does not help the issue. As our country and other Western countries grow older there is less of a market for modern cultural products, music especially. Older constituents simply have no desire to purchase churned out pieces of "culture" that do not appeal to them. The shrinking youth population still wants these new forms of entertainment, but the market for culture seems to go with the demographic.

Extensive copyright laws can also hinder the long-term economic growth potential of the economy. By limiting access to the creative works of talented individuals, as Kirby Ferguson puts forth in his instructional videos, we are denying the fact that "everything is a remix" - if not denying, we are willingly suppressing the potentially infinite cultural endeavours of those who wish to contribute to the commons.

By enforcing such restrictive copyright laws we are encouraging the production of below average cultural products. Producers in music, movie, and television industries will know that they will generate at least some return on investment no matter how poor the quality may be. This reinforces a poor level of cultural commons in the economy, inhibiting current and future economic growth potential in the process.

Besides simply showcasing the crippling economic effect of restrictive copyright laws, we must also encourage contribution to the cultural commons. This is also traditionally not an easy thing to accomplish. Many people consumer what is produced on the Internet and in various other forms of cultural entertainment but very few actually contribute themselves.

A classmate of mine indicates, that it might be the "constant stream of information" that prevents us from contributing more ourselves. It is not that we are discouraged to participate; in fact, Youtube constantly encourages us to "like" and comment on videos. It is that we are encouraged to continually consume which, in effect, reducing the amount of time or effort we could put in to producing content ourselves. It is a fantastic point and quite eye-opening.

Continuing along the same vein, another classmate - Raymond - outlines his nostalgic experience watching old Simpsons clips on Youtube. Although this may seem rather benign, there is an important parable taken that builds upon the point of over-consumption and under-production. We enjoy these remixes as they can evoke even the most remote of emotions. However, if we continue to enjoy consuming cultural content so much that we have no incentive to produce any ourselves the quality will eventually deteriorate.

Teresa Rizzo's article study solidifies and consolidates the importance of my classmates' contribution to this discussion. She attributes an exhibitionist tendency to those who produce cultural content. I might add that most people today do not possess such traits and exude more of a voyeuristic tendency. Most enjoy watching, reading, and listening to the products of others instead of producing content themselves.

One way to encourage contribution is to allow a participatory effect. Sites like Youtube use a rating system which allows users to grade the level of cultural content which eventually procures a more robust commons in the process. Another way is to utilize the concept of a profile. Companies like Facebook and Twitter allow people to display their online personalities however they deem appropriate. By instituting profiles on the sites that host the desired cultural content, more users will be encouraged to participate online.

Keeping away negativity is also relatively important for sites to attract more producers. Most people are prone to the theory of loss aversion; most people prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Thus, many are afraid to contribute online due to a fear of rejection or insult. Sites like Youtube are rife with abusive comments. By reducing or removing these negative stigmas surrounding online participation, more online constituents will contribute.

Ostensibly, the entire purpose of the "culture-as-commons" viewpoint is to promote free and easy access to cultural products in order to proliferate the production of remixes. Yet, providing economic incentives - as in monetary rewards - for those who go above and beyond the call of duty, producing something brilliant, will spring novel, intelligent ideas to the forefront of modern culture.

I think we all like the sound of that.

First image created by user: Stuart Miles,
Second image created by user: FrameAngel,

Saturday, 12 January 2013

My Exploitation of Online Content - And its Validity

On any given morning - weekends especially - the first thing I do is turn on my laptop and visit certain websites that have piqued my interest over the years.

Critically recognized American newspapers like The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post are usually first on my list. Next would come the Canadian nationals, The Globe and Mail, and - unfortunately, the only other national newspaper - The National Post. Then I will most likely venture into more regional territory with papers like The Toronto Star and the St. Catharines Standard.

Sometimes I will stop there, deeming my leeching need for news all but satiated. However, other times I will peruse the websites of some of my favourite magazines. Opinion pieces and long-form journalism are abound in both Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Magazines like The Economist, Money, and Time are always informative and to-the-point. No journey is complete without stops at ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Golf Digest.

I seemingly access websites like YouTube and Twitter multiple times throughout the day. "Following" the twitter accounts of those newspapers and magazines mentioned above allows me quick and easy access to myriad articles of choice. Extensive, and more importantly, free (access to the websites of The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and The Los Angeles Times are restricted by paywalls, however these are easy enough to get around) I exploit the Internet for information everyday.

Even more, I choose not to contribute or produce anything myself for two simple reasons: I do not possess the skills nor the desire to pursue the production of online content for marketable purposes (the only truly driving force behind the purpose of a nearly-graduated student).

We can see though the article by Toby Miller that labour often goes unrewarded in the online cultural commons. Miller avows that 'creative industries' are not panaceas for economic problems and gifts to cultural studies. Labour does play an important role both in the consumption and purpose of cultural content. Websites like PirateBay and the spectacularly named KickAssTorrents allow anyone access to free downloads of movies, television shows, eBooks and more. These are websites that help end-users exploit the control that "big media" looks to assert over online cultural content.

For Miller it is not necessarily a question of "big media" exploits but the exploits of the labour being endured by innovators around the world. This is a fair question and an important one in economic and remuneration terms. However, for me, as long as I have access to free content I will never pay for the same or similar content no matter how arduous the input of labour may have been; sound economics.

Lev Manovich's notion that we build our worlds and identities around readily available mass produced goods by using differing tactics is easily applicable to my use of both the Internet and the cultural commons that inhabits it. Manovich believes that the true challenge may lie in the constant innovation, energy, and unpredictability of the Web 2.0 Culture. As long as these dynamics remain the dynamics I look forward to more exploitation and indolence with regard to my online experience.

Image created by user: tungphoto,

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Does commercial or government mediation affect the way we communicate?

Like most events in our day-to-day lives, the way we communicate today is tinted through interventionist government and profit-seeking capitalists. Like most events in our day-to-day lives, we don't really care. We shouldn't care. The youth of today seem oblivious and adults willingly deem it irrelevant. The future holds more of the same, and maybe that is a good thing. We do not feel a need to communicate through modern mediums; we want to.

The mediums through which the products of communication are consumed seem unimportant to today's youth. For Scott Cambell and Yong Jin Park, this mobile youth culture persists through a desire for enhanced personal autonomy. Thoughts of bourgeoisie exploitation and government surveillance generally fail to sway fledgling consumers. My classmate Hana places a strong emphasis on the theme of convenience. Along a similar argument, another classmate, Christian, notes how quickly mobile devices have shifted from luxuries to necessities. Cambell and Park believe that mobile communication devices help configure momentous social development in the lives of youth today. These devices procure a kind of identity formation that might otherwise be unattainable. The ways in which they are used or exploited simply do not matter.

For those of us who are aware of the activities of both government and commercial interests in the industry, we should think the same way. The consumption of mobile communication devices is no different than the consumption of other topical commodities. As Gerard Goggin outlines, we are subject to the wills of major transnational global mobile media corporations who premise their models on the dominant interest of commercial industry. Like the consumption of most other commodities, we as consumers have little say in the end product. Yes, transnational corporations conduct the necessary market research and apply the same value-added activities as they have always attempted to do, all in the name of pleasing the consumer. Yet, with the aptly-advertised consumer choice models, we are led to believe that we have control in the production of mobile devices. We do not. What we do have control of is how we use these devices and all that comes with them.

What I have stated before, will continue to state, and what Fabio Josgrilberg echoes is that: what one does with a mobile phone is not separated from how he or she projects him or herself in life. Multiple dimensions of communication now exist and pervade our lives everyday, but it is ultimately how we use these dimensions and what we do with them that showcases how we really feel. Action is character. Everyday we see hundreds of fellow consumers buried in their cell phones, tablets, and laptops. Do they seem to care about commercial or government mediation in their efforts to communicate? Of course not. What people say or think is different from what they do. You may know someone who boycotts products sold by a certain company because of exploitative practices in their factories in Cambodia. You may even do so yourself. Good for you. You are not the majority. For the majority, the corporation is king. For our industry, developers are king and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Developers hold the culture of the future in the palms of their hands, passing it into the palms of ours. Using Apple as the preeminent example, Goggin calls these developers cultural intermediaries, stating that: in its consumption, the iPhone sees the mobile phone take on more and quite novel everyday uses. Important to Goggin and important to the future is the developing market for applications. The developers of applications, or "apps", are emerging as key players in an ever-evolving industry. Apps allow us to track nearly everything we do and with more ease than ever before. They allow us to do the things we want faster, easier, and more inclusively. Like any other market, the market for apps is subject to the laws of supply and demand. It searches for profit first, community interest second. We know this. These commercial interests do not and should not reduce or restrict our consumption of communication devices.

My classmate Raymond showcases an inquisitiveness as to what the future of mobile devices will hold. My answer is that the future will contain more of the present. The technology will change. It will adapt to holding bigger, more powerful devices embodied in smaller, more convenient mediums. We will be able to do more in less time and with less effort. Yet, the way we think about mobile devices and services will remain the same. We will continue to turn a blind eye to commercial or government mediation, disallowing any effect on the way we use these devices. Freedom has its price; at least we are free. We do not need to communicate, we want to.

Image created by user: jscreationzs,