April 14, 2010

A New Perspective on Privacy

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:24 am by Kira M. Newman

April 3, 2010

Between Creating Work and Controlling Creation

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:43 pm by Hyeueon Bek


G-Dragon, a singer, released a 30 second preview of Heartbreaker online, the title song from his solo album in August of 2009. There were opinions that the song sounded like Right Round. Soon after, online communities and the media began criticizing G-Dragon for plagiarizing Flo Rida’s song, because he had announced that he had written the music on his own. After the release of the entire album, people began comparing other songs included in the album with that of other musicians, and put up clips showing the similarities. The discussion about plagiarism, sampling, writing music, legal issues and the creativity of G-Dragon as an artist went on for months. And finally, about a week ago, to ‘prove’ that his work is a pure creation of his own, G-Dragon came up with a new remix version of the song featuring Flo Rida.

The fact that Flo Rida worked with G-Dragon seems to show that Heartbreaker is not a plagiarized song. It has surprised many that the original singer has acknowledged the song which has been in dispute of copyrights and the debate came to an end. Some argue that it is a completely different song and apart from the first 30 seconds it does not resemble Right Round in any way. Heartbreaker is an example of creative act which got away from the controversy of plagiarism, but we hear other examples of such cases very often, and in this ‘Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, it has become a simple job which could and is be done by anyone.

Music and the sound, as a form of information, is being produced and reproduced and a large fraction of them include sampling. Sampling has allowed recordings of an infinite number of songs. In terms of creativity, the freedom to reproduce, upload and share music (or any other form of information) is a positive outcome of a digital world.

Paul D. Miller is for open culture because it increases creativity. He describes music and its sounds as something which can be changed by a software program, mixed and simplified in some cases. If the similarity between two different pieces of music is recognizable by the public it may become a serious issue, but even then, some have the opinion that it is a helpful act towards creativity. People uploading different forms of information, taking samples to reproduce another style of art all leads to the creation of another thing with different meanings and interpretations. The reproduced form can now be seen, listened and reproduced again and this spreads various ideas and culture.

Well known singers most likely have the reason of commercial profits when it comes to sampling, but other small individual producers of music, who do not have to do with commodity, may have other reasons and goals when they reproduce music. And even when benefits from their actions the focus should be the final product of creation. The new culture has the tendency to see other pieces of work and use it, although there are regulations about what is defined as intellectual property.

The mechanical production of art, in this case music, has become much easier than before. Walter Benjamin mentions in his article, that ‘the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.’ The process of reproducing sound itself has a significance, and when the listener accesses the reproduced version it ‘reactivates’ the sound. Reproduction frees the work of art from and lets the musician or producers add another value which differs from the traditional one. Benjamin was afraid that in such cases the mechanical reproduction harms the commodity and uniqueness of the original object. As Benjamin wrote, reproduction changes the way the audiences looks at a newly created work. There are opposing viewpoints about creative work and when it is being controlled and restricted, but the trend is flowing towards accepting the changes producers and consumers. More changes and developments are becoming possible for art and people get the chance to see it and share opinions. Maybe it’s better to let the creation move on by itself.

Works cited:

     Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), pp.217-251.

     Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, “In Through the Out Door” in Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), pp. 5-18.

March 31, 2010

What’s going to happen to all these Books?

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:54 pm by campbellmax

One of my favourite projects on the internet right now is Rob Walker‘s series on the “idea of the book.” If you read through some of those posts, you will find one dated March 5th that raised some interesting points, notably, the idea that with books turning digital, what is going to happen to those people who enjoy having bookshelves as a sort of wall paper or room decoration? Taking that one step further, what is going to happen when we can no longer buy and collect physical books?

So from that post, I started thinking of my own “idea of the book,” or what it is that books are becoming in the age of digital… everything. Personally, I love my collection of books, and, until the Kindle can recreate the experience of reading a book (I like holding a book in my hands and turning pages, so I doubt the Kindle will come close), I’ll gladly stick with my collection of dust-collectors. But there is another issue here, beyond convenience or preference, and that is how the digitalization of life is going to affect the way that we digest this media.

Walker links to this Globe and Mail article in his post, with a subtitle that reads: “In the future, our books will be invisible, like our music, but we’ll be the poorer for it.” Nicholson Baker, in his great New Yorker article laments the disappearance of certain nuances from one of his favourite literary passages after reading it on the Kindle:

“the wasp passage in “Do Insects Think?” just wasn’t the same in Kindle gray. I did an experiment. I found the Common Reader reprint edition of “Love Conquers All” and read the very same wasp passage. I laughed: ha-ha. Then I went back to the Kindle 2 and read the wasp passage again. No laugh.”

The rest of the article is fantastic if you are curious about the distinction between reading digitally and reading on paper.

But all that proves is that there are some people (myself included) who don’t feel as though the Kindle is a good substitute for paper-and-glue books. A Benjamin-ian reading of the Kindle would likely spark a debate over whether there is a difference between the words on a screen and the words on a page. Besides, with no raw materials or real industrial processes, wouldn’t the digitization of text provide actual facsimiles? “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” would no longer be relevant; “The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Access” would follow-up nicely and Benjamin wouldn’t have to do all that convincing to explain why one series of Is and Os are identical to another. What I have on my screen is exactly the same as what you have on your screen and there is no debating that. What I mean by this is, using the internet as an example, I am viewing text and images that are loaded from the same source as your text and images. It isn’t reproduction, it is two lenses on the same object. Can the same be said about my physical copy of Benjamin’s essay and yours? Probably not.

And what would Borges think of digital books? Surely his Library of Babel wouldn’t exist anymore. Even now, a library with no apparent organization or reason seems impossible, what with computerized cataloguing systems and all. So that insinuation that the chances of a man “finding his own book, or some perfidious variation of his own book, is close to zero” is wrong, because the 21st century man will just hop on the Google and find his book in a second. Hell, it’s probably on his Kindle anyway, so he won’t have to walk through the panoptically depressing library that Borges describes in order to find it. Everything on an e-reader is right there at your fingertips, there is no need for a Library of Babel or even a bookshelf at all, we just need a gigantic iPad.

So those are pretty much the two sides of the book argument. There are the purists who, like Baker, are interested in the difference between the digital and physical reading experiences or, like Walker, are interested in the physical book and all that goes along with the object. And there is the other side that just wants life to be more convenient. Why schlep 10,000 paperbacks around when you can carry a Kindle or any other e-reader instead?

I’ll let you guys figure out which side you’re on and also leave you with these questions: what does the continued digitization of tangible items mean to you? Have you ever thought that reading off of an e-reader will change the way you read a book, or has a book always been “just words?”

Further Reading:

Benjamin, Walter, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), pp.217-251.

Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Library of Babel,” Ficciones. 79-88.

Freeconomics: FREE is not an option but a foreseeable destination

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:26 pm by ellebourgeois

After a few years of experimentation, in 1895 King Gillette introduced the disposable razor blade, but to his surprise it did not take off immediately. Over the next two decades he desperately tried every trick in the book. Razors were coupled with everything from gum to marshmallows, and these freebies helped to sell the marketed products while creating demand for disposable blades. This business model has laid a strong foundation for entire industries, and is the result of shifting costs from one product to another, otherwise known as cross-subsidy. This is a prototype that contemporary society is very familiar with: Give away the blackberry at $0.00! And sell the pricy monthly plan, make the Wii system cheap and sell expensive games. Once a marketing gimmick, free has emerged as a successful market, based on the reality that the cost of products themselves is falling fast. The rise of “freeconomics” is driven by an underlying principle, Moore’s Law, which dictates that a unit of processing power splits in price every 18 months, and the cost of bandwidth and storage is dropping even faster. Every year the equipment does more for less bringing technology, in the units that individuals consume, towards zero. Although process power, storage and bandwidth are three very innovative substances there is a lot to learn about them, but we are a certainly on the road to discovering a new world.

We know this freaky land of free as the Internet where endless amounts of resources, from Vogue Magazine to Facebook, are available with the click of a button. Particularly Western society has become so accustomed to downloading endless albums off ITunes, or signing into surfthechannel.com to watch recently released movies, that the thought of being directly charged for anything online is seen as waste when there is almost always a cheaper alternative. This digital age is fairly recent but strongly taken for granted. Walter Benjamin discusses the “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, and uses the word aura to refer to the sense of awe one experiences in the presence of a unique work of art. With the advent of technological reproducibility, the experience of art, music, movies, writing and more, has been freed from its natural place and brought under the gaze of computer audiences. If this and more, comes at the zero cost, does this not further diminish the value, worth and ritual of something material turned digital? Who cares about waste and the loss of originality? When everything is free, it can be easily refreshed, downloaded and renewed.

Carver Mead identified the solution to Moore’s law of ever escalating computing power; we should start to waste transistors, a semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals. How does one waste computer power? Alan Kay, an engineer working at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre, explained that rather than save transistors for core processing functions, he developed the Dynabook, a computer model that created software with broader appeal, attracting more users with animated eye candy. What Mead and Kay understood was that transistors would become so abundant, that they might as well be free. Even though things may never be entirely priceless, there is great advantage to be had in treating them as if they were free. From the consumer’s perspective there is a huge difference between the two, a “penny gap” between cheap and zero, that they are most certainly aware of. Computer users are probably very conscious that the Web is far from a free business, and someone’s hand is always collecting and spending cash from their pockets. If Gmail doesn’t directly charge their credit cards, Bell will.

It’s now very customary that everything computer technology contacts becomes free of charge; at least as far as consumers are concerned. Consider this association: At the dawn of nuclear power in 1954, Lewis Strauss, head of the Atomic Energy Commission, guaranteed that in the future electricity would be “too cheap to meter.” That didn’t take place, but what if he’d been accurate? Everything electricity touched would have been changed. Rather than scale electricity against other energy sources, we’d waste it because it would be too cheap to be bothered. Today it’s digital technologies that have become too cheap to meter. Free is not an option but the foreseeable destination. The amount of free!dom on the net is not necessarily as simple, safe and risk free as it appears. Everything digital technology has touched has been completely transformed, from the novels to kindles, from photo albums to the Ipad…why would anyone PAY for free information in a downloadable, and better yet, free age?(Why would anyone PAY for FREE information?) The cross-subsidy system is reversed, and after buying a technological device such as an Ipod, hundreds of dollars worth of songs can be downloaded without charge. Now that the novelty of endless resource access has completely worn of, has the information age completely lost its concept of value, as people demand more and more for less and less?

Click on the link below for a demonstrative explanation of the Free! concept by Editor in Chief of Wired, Chris Anderson! FREE! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business by Chris Anderson

Works Cited:

Chris Anderson, “Free! Why 0.00 is the future of business” in Wired (http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free) 3/10.

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), pp.217-251. 3/10.

March 29, 2010

CHICTOPIA.COM: The Business of Stylesharing

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:26 pm by danielearthur

“We are witnessing the emergence of an elaborate feedback loop between the emerging “DIY” aesthetics of participatory culture and the mainstream industry. The Web represents a site of experimentation and innovation, where amateurs test the waters, developing new practices, themes, and generating materials which may well attract cult followings on their own terms.” – Henry Jenkins, “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture”

Chictopia.com, the self-described “people’s fashion destination”, has in a few short years become one of the internet’s largest fashion-oriented social networks. It’s part online community (membership’s required to create a profile, enter contests, post in forums, etc.) part online store, a social networking site designed around the increasingly popular street style blog model popularized by sites like Facehunter, The Sartorialist, and Stockholm Street Style. On it, fashion savants and newbs alike create profiles, post pictures of their most “chic” outfits, share their general likes and dislikes, and discuss “all things fashion”.

Chictopia’s a veritable goldmine of fashion information and inspiration; it’s a site – rather, a community, tailor-made to fit the needs of YOU, the average style-conscious girl. Just take a look at this excerpt from the site’s ‘About Us’ page:

“Chictopia is a fashion destination website that answers the ultimate question: What looks good on you? What defines you? It is your body shape, your skin tone, your age, and your style preference. By connecting style seekers to trend setters that are similar in shape, size and taste, Chictopia offers the most valuable resource for style inspiration and shopping guidance. Chictopia allows you to connect with stylish users of the same shape and style as you. This way, you are learning how to dress from real people like you – a more relevant alternative to flipping through magazines filled with models or movie stars.”

Chictopia’s a refuge, a place “not under ‘adult authority’ and thus (…) an autonomous public space in which users can interact and ‘chill’ with their friends.” (Cote and Pybus, 2007)

More interesting than the content of the site though, is the very idea on which it’s based and underwhich it operates. Keeping Mark Cote and Jennifer Pybus’ thoughts on Immaterial Labour 2.0 and Henry Jenkins’ thoughts on participatory culture/fan-production in mind, I propose that we look at Chictopia.com foremostly as a business. One designed to capitalize on the priceless creativity, free labour, and goodwill of its workers or ‘fans’ (in this case, ‘Chictopians’ as they’re known) . The remainder of this entry will consider the growing trend of participatory culture – that is, the new trend towards “media which encourage average citizens to participate in the archiving, annotation, appropriation, transformation, and recirculation of content” (Jenkins, 2003), and its exploitation by those seeking to make a profit off of the “mining and selling of user-generated content and (…) the tastes, preferences, and general cultural content constructed therein.” (Cote and Pybus, 2007)

In Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and Social Networks Cote and Pybus consider the “free labour that subjects engage in on a cultural and biopolitical level when they participate on a site such as MySpace.” (2007) This ‘free’ labour – what they call Immaterial Labour 2.0, in its most general sense, refers to “the activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and, more strategically, public opinion.” (2007) Such a definition seems apt when describing what happens regularly on Chictopia.com. By posting their pictures, participating in polls, rating styles and trends, and sharing/discussing their general likes and dislikes, members of Chictopia.com are – I would argue – effectively engaging in a form of Cote and Pybus’ immaterial labour 2.0. Regular users of the site are dictating what is fashionable; they are setting standards of taste, generating trends, and ultimately influencing what other members buy and in some cases, where they buy it. Whether or not they realize the value of what they’re doing is hard to tell, afterall, “with the economy of immaterial labour, ‘leisure time’ and ‘working time’ are increasingly fused, making life inseparable from work.” (2007)

The value of this ‘work’ certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by potential advertisers and trend seekers who stand to make a fortune off of the ‘insider’ information gleaned from the site and its forums. Getting your label advertised – even modeled by members, on Chictopia results not only in greater exposure, but, presumably, in greater profits (click here and here for an example). Administrators of the site no doubt understand this, and market themselves to advertisers accordingly as evidenced by the “If you are interested in reaching out to fashion influencers, please contact us at advertise@chictopia.com” line at the bottom of the page.

Chictopia.com, like MySpace, is an “overtly public space, a place where people constantly want to be seen – an extension of peer to peer communication, but, (…) shared within a community.” (2007)  And like most social networking sites, it operates somewhat under the guise of a ‘community’ – a ‘grassroots’ network run by, created for, and catering to everyday fans of fashion (upon whose ‘work’ the site and its advertisers depend). We should look at it then, not “as a unique site of accumulation, but rather as an aggregator, consisting of a complex network generating surplus value all of which is driven by the creative cultural content of user’s immaterial labour.” (2007)

Works Cited:

  • Coté, Mark and Jennifer Pybus. “Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and Social Networks.” Ephemera 7.1 (2007): 88-106..
  • Jenkins, Henry. “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture.” Publications. 2003. MIT. 27 March 2010 <http://web.mit.edu/cms/ People/henry3/starwars.html>
  • Chictopia. Web. 27 March 2010. <http://www.chictopia.com/&gt;

March 12, 2010

Social Media Experts: A new opportunity or a new form of control?

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:20 am by Kira M. Newman

The past decade has seen the rise of a new job: the social media “guru,” who uses social media to market products and conduct consumer research.  Based on this job listing, I will analyze the new “social media expert” in light of Jenkins’s analysis of fan culture and Coté and Pybus’s discussion of immaterial labor.  I conclude that social media marketing, though it may seem insidious and invasive, has the potential to empower consumers because companies must adapt to their communication styles and practices.

Theoretical Background

Jenkins classifies fan fiction as a middle ground between avant-garde film – associated with experimentation and alternative cultural politics – and commercial film, like Star Wars.  The commercial aspect of fan fiction lies in its use of mainstream cultural material, which is reworked as amateur producers create new storylines, new characters, or spoofs.

Using this three-part framework, social networking could also be seen as a middle ground, between social interactions unmediated by private corporations (e.g., in person or on independent websites) and the commercial use of social media, or social media marketing.  For social networking, the commercial aspect lies not in the content but in the structure: Facebook, MySpace, and other companies determine what types of interactions and communication are possible among users.  Social networking is also commercial insofar as social media users, particularly technology professionals, “market” themselves using some of the same techniques pioneered by corporations.

This view of social media use, as a type of middle ground, is supported by Coté and Pybus.  They classify it as “immaterial labor,” labor that shapes cultural standards, fashions, norms, etc. (89), involving a constant tension between the “radical potential” of social media use (enabling the grassroots development of opinion and resistance) and its commercial aspects (how corporations like Facebook are capitalizing on their users’ social interactions).

If social media can fit into Jenkins’s three-part scheme, then recruiting social media users to become social media marketers is akin to how Lucasfilm recruited talent from within the Star Wars fan fiction community.  For Jenkins, this reflects how culture is becoming a cycle – where corporations influence fan culture, which in turn influences corporations – rather than a process of top-down production and control.  In the realm of social media, this would mean that social media users now have some influence over corporate marketing.


This HubSpot job listing suggests two ways that social media marketers are taking hints from social media culture.

First, its hip language and in-group references suggest that HubSpot wants to recruit talent from inside the social networking community.  The ad begins: “Are you an SEO freak?  Is SEOMoz your ESPN, Matt Cutts your Chris Berman and SES your Super Bowl?”; one of the job qualifications states, “You blow Dunbar’s number out of the water.”  When young digital natives are recruited as “social media experts,” they will have the power to influence marketing in new ways, rather than being subordinate to older executives with potentially inaccurate assumptions about new media and young people.

Second, the ad demonstrates how companies are trying to adapt to grassroots social media culture.  It states, “You will be evaluated based on your ability to grow organic search traffic and traffic from social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.  You will have enormous freedom to figure out how to do this”; it later explains, “You must be smarter than your hiring manager.”  HubSpot will rely on its social media expert to speak to social media users in their own language, a language that HubSpot itself may not fully understand.  This means adapting to grassroots social media culture – users’ interests, styles of communication, community norms, etc.  For example, users will not read blog posts that are blatant marketing, or follow a company blog or Twitter account that is updated only once a month.  Because HubSpot’s social media marketer will be evaluated on whether his or her tactics generate user interaction, consumers have more power in determining how the company interacts with them.  This is made possible precisely by the nature of new media, which enable features like comments and counting page views, in contrast to older forms of advertising like TV commercials.


I have presented the positive potential of social media marketing because I suspect that critics will focus on its potential harms, but issues still remain.  Both Jenkins and Coté and Pybus present trichotomies: avant-garde film/fan fiction/commercial film, and radical activity/immaterial labor/commercial exploitation.  Whereas Jenkins sees three realms that beneficially influence one another, Coté and Pybus see them in tension and conflict.  If they are right, the commercialization of immaterial labor – in the form of “social media experts” – could be more harmful than beneficial.  Ultimately, though, it may be a question of social practice: how consumers respond to social media marketing and how companies respond to them.

What do you think?  How do you feel about social media marketing?  Is it inherently good or bad, or is its future yet to be determined?

Works Cited

Coté, Mark and Jennifer Pybus. “Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and Social Networks.” Ephemera 7.1 (2007): 88-106.

Jenkins, Henry. “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture.” Publications. 2003. MIT. 8 Mar. 2010 <http://web.mit.edu/cms/ People/henry3/starwars.html>

“SEO & Social Media Marketing Manager.” Careers. 2010. HubSpot, Inc. 8 Mar. 2010 <http://www.hubspot.com/careers/?nl=1&jvi=o4UdVfwQ,Job&jvs=Indeed&jvk=Job>