Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blog #11

Lessig's "Two Economies: Commercial and Sharing"


Lessig describes two polar opposite forms of economy in Remix: the commercial economy and the sharing economy. He's not using economy in the strictest modern sense in that he's not describing the foundation of commerce upon which an entire community's wealth is built - indeed, he argues in the next section that both forms of economy "are critical to life both online and offline" (p. 177)

Instead he's describing the way in which value is ascribed to a unit of participation, the mores of exchange and the way the value of the exchange is considered participatory.

He does spend a small amount of time talking about the obvious differences - a commercial economy is payment for goods received, whether that be units of work or actual finished products, whereas a sharing economy is more nebulous and the value of participation or goods is negotiated mostly based on demand, esteem and gratitude.

The more important aspects he focuses on are the sort of participation that each economy encourages, the sort of product that comes out of it, and what I've been calling the mores of exchange: the often unspoken rules and taboos which describe how an individual sharing economy dictates the behavior of the participants in it.

Lessig points out that in a community, or a sharing economy, you contribute mostly inadvertently - by consuming or participating (me-regarding), you create the value of the community as a byproduct - and intentional participation is done out of a sense of membership or out of altruism (thee-regarding). Lessig notes that the two overlap greatly.

The key distinction between the two economies that he focuses on in this section, and reiterates ad nauseum, is that the one form of valuation, exchange, participation, etc. that not permissible in a sharing economy is that of money. I'd issue a small correction of that by saying that contribution is vital to a sharing economy which must, as a unit, interact with the commercial economy. Your club rents space, your guild buys server time; your charity pays for mass mailings or buys food for homeless shelters, your charity may also maintain a domain name, web server, and an admin. I don't think Lessig missed this point, but neither did he consider this form of monetary participation to weaken his point. I don't believe it does either, but it does state that the interaction between money value and community value is more complicated than he'd like it to be for the purpose of this small section.

And with good reason - his argument is that by leaving money out of the equation you're calling on a different form of sentiment - the sense of membership or ownership: proprietary sentiment. People participate in the sharing economy because they feel invested in it. They've received something for free, they like it, so they add to it. It's not just guilt or obligation - if somebody gets something badly wrong on Wikipedia, you might feel indignant enough about the falsehood or inaccuracy to fix it yourself, perhaps with a snarky comment in the update status line. If you're looking for help on a support forum for a problem you're having with a computer, some software, your dishwasher, your cellphone, etc. and you see somebody asking a question that you know the answer to, you might feel compelled to help them along the way. None of this would be possible, Lessig argues, in a system that requires monetary exchange to participate. Some companies have seen success with a token or monetary economy - you pay to post a question, and people who answer get paid if the questioner decides it answers their question - but this is the exception and doesn't encourage participation as well as a more sharing economy. Compare two sites which offer software advice - experts-exchange.com (formerly expert sexchange thanks to a lack of spacing) and stackoverflow.com

Experts Exchange claims to deliver answers using a buy-in economy - you buy points with which to ask questions. If you answer questions, you get more points to ask with, if you don't, you can just buy more. If your question doesn't get answered, after 24 hours you can request the attention of a moderator who ostensibly will research your question. The community around Experts Exchange is a bit sickly and people tend to be sharp with "stupid questions" and not particularly helpful. Although they still answer them to the best of their ability - money talks.

Stack Overflow is entirely community-based and works on a reputation system - asking questions, giving good answers and having your answers accepted means that you gain reputation. By trying to game the system by giving rubbish answers, you end up losing points for being voted down. Voting someone down makes you lose reputation as well. As you gain reputation, you gain power - you get the ability to moderate. By turning community participation into a sort of game, they've built a very healthy community. Of course, they still don't like "stupid questions."

The end result? Experts Exchange tends to be good only for answering extremely esoteric hardware questions and "stupid questions." Stack Overflow tends to produce fewer answers of the "here's how you do exactly what you asked" kind and more of the "here's what you should have asked, why you don't want to do what you said you want to do and how to do what you really want to do" kind. Stack Overflow is far more useful as a programmer's resource and as a sort of community knowledge how-to guide.

Lessig's distinction clearly matters here - the commercial economy promotes commercial-style interaction, whereas you get a deeper interaction motivated by more than just profit in the shared economy. However, as he indicates, both are necessary. Some of the sorts of questions that get answered on Experts Exchange would never get a satisfactory answer on Stack Overflow because they are, at least on the surface, "stupid questions." By guaranteeing a profit motive, you've made it far more likely that a user will get their stupid question answered. They might get a stupid answer, but there's a hidden benefit to this: this question has added to the communal pool of knowledge. If you can't figure out why pressing the "start" button on your dishwasher doesn't start it (when it's not plugged in), a quick Google search will get you your answer - at the expense of the first idiot who was willing to pay for the answer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blog #10

Remix Part 2


Back in the before-time, in the long-long ago, before we had fancy digital technology in our laps (literally) which was capable of video editing (and in fact before we had digital technology which was capable of doing this) there was EBN - the Emergency Broadcast Network - probably the first digital video remix group using purpose-built hardware to produce politically charged (and frankly hilarious) videos. Not as relevant anymore - most of my classmates won't recognize Ross Perot for instance, but it's still got a beat that you can get into.

Lessig vs EBN

Permission! Lessig would agree that there is absolutely no way that EBN could actually get permission to make this remix - now or at the time. As with Hard Working George and the Treated for Mutilation remix of SilviaO's CC contribution, the remix has changed the message of the source material, changed its context, and produced a new piece of culture. Works like this exemplify Lessig's quote "This is not simply copying. Sounds are being used like paint on a palette. But all the paint has been scratched off of other paintings," which might be an interesting project all by itself.

Blog #9

Remix Part 1


Lessig's chief point in the introductory section of Remix is to call attention to the irrationality of the "war on piracy" by pointing out the areas where the argument clearly cannot be won, and highlighting some of the creative uses in which a more open media culture is preferable. He carefully does this without condemning copyright - as he supports and cites the necessity of copyright - but at the same time recognizes that as it is enforced now and viewed by corporate culture it is unenforceable on the current state of American and European culture due to its understanding of the value of media.

+rw vs read-only culture and John Philip Sousa

Lessig uses Sousa's arguments in defense of stronger copyright to support an argument in defense of weaker copyright than what seems to be currently in play. Sousa argued before Congress that the phonograph and the player piano would, in essence, make creativity solely accessible to those professionally trained and employed and that at the same time, they robbed those professional composers of royalties. Sousa's argument wasn't designed to eradicate participatory creative culture, but to protect it (and at the same time, his own interests.)

Lessig uses that foundation to support an argument that there are two forms of production of culture - the R/W or read/write culture and the RO or read-only culture. In the RO culture, there are two parties - the consumer and the producer. The producer creates the content that the consumer consumes, and never the twain shall meet except through the chosen medium of the producer. A sort of caste system borne out of individual marketability.

This sort of culture will stagnate almost immediately (as it has at any number of times in the music industry alone.) Where R/W culture takes over is where the consumer takes over the act of production and the producer works hard to keep up. The rise of Jazz, Rock & Roll, modern Folk music, Funk, Hip Hop, Heavy Metal and Grunge were all more or less causally linked to the stagnation of commercialized (read: stagnated) producer-mediated popular music.

Lessig argues for a future where individual talent and training is less required to produce, shall we say, "consumable" content and musical or audiovisual culture becomes as nearly fully open and R/W as in Sousa's time before the phonograph.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Blog #8 (Part Deux)

For this part of the assignment, I picked "Shadrach" by the Beastie Boys. This song draws from all of the classics. "Funky Drummer" drum pattern laid down by Clyde Stubblefield, as we saw in "Copyright Criminals" is at the core of early hip-hop.

Sly & the Family Stone and a suite of other (though lesser-known) funk roots build up the extreme funkiness of this track which has contributed to its long-lasting appeal. Even the refrain and theme of the song (tied in with the three MCs' Jewish upbringing from the biblical story of the three Hebrew men in the furnace) is lifted from Sly & the Family Stone's "Loose Booty" (inexplicably).

As Miller described, "the mix absorbs almost anything it can engage - and much that it can't... information collage..."

Blog #8

Paul D. Miller's "Rhythm Science"

Rhythmic Cinema

Miller, being almost meta-referential and in good academic practice, "samples" heavily from the writings of the people who came before who have dedicated thought as to how humans communicate cultural ideals, ideas and emotions.

(quoting Goethe) "Our country, our customs, laws, our ambitions, and our notions of fit and fair - all these we never made, we found them ready made; we but quote them." & "...Every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand things: wise and foolish have brought me, without suspecting it, the offering of their thoughts, faculties and experience. My work is an aggregation of beings taken from the whole of nature. It bears the name of Goethe."
He references this to show that culture and creativity are known to be acquisitive and are never fully novel - always built on ideas bigger and larger than (and partially informing) the idea of the individual culture itself. No written or composed work is any more novel than a well-put together mixed work - they all build on tradition and musical, lyrical and literal foundations.

"We live in a time where the human body is circumscribed by a dense locale of technological sophistry: a place where the line dividing the organic and inorganic elements that form the core essence of human life is blurring."

The media we absorb becomes a part of our identity - our idea of self is informed by the cultural ideals infused in us by the process of enculturation, and now our culture is transmitted worldwide through the technology with which we surround ourselves. No longer are we limited to identity through proximity - the reach of our personal identity is no longer at the town scale, no longer at the state scale, no longer even fully at the national scale. Modern culture absorbs all things. I made a connection between one of his observations and another of my own from some time ago. Miller notes, "The post World War I world, like ours, was one that was becoming increasingly interconnected and filled with stories of distant lands, times, and places." The two World Wars, like the Crusades, spread cultural ideas far and wide. Though destructive and wasteful, both sets of conflicts served as vital a purpose in the development of modern culture as the spread of the Roman Empire, the Tokugawa period of Japan and the Three Kingdoms period of China: they spread ideas between isolated cultures. Men returned from the wars with the ideals, attitudes, linguistic changes, songs, stories, jokes and superstitions of their fellow soldiers, regardless of place of origin. Culture cross-pollinated through its soldier. Today our soldiers are packets of information distributed through the Internet - videos on YouTube. War continues, but it has less of a pronounced cultural effect inside of the connected world. The connected world cross-pollinates daily, something unprecedented in human history and likely is the signature characteristic of the 21st century. As any of the Himalayan peaks would be notable in the middle of Kansas, but hardly stands out amongst all the other giants, we notice cultural change by its prominence - the larger and more stark the change, the bigger its influence. While an American soldier with his iPad, high tech weaponry, and his vast music collection in downtown Detroit would scarcely make waves, the same soldier in rural Afghanistan is a revelation - a view of a world almost beyond the reckoning of the locals. Why? Connectivity - the same reason that WWI and WWII had such a profound effect on American culture.

Rhythmic Space

This brings us to another point Miller makes:

"...twenty-first-century [sic] aesthetics needs to focus on how to cope with the immersion we experience on a daily level."
Miller describes a total immersion in data previously unseen in human culture. The picture he paints of the airport and the immense volume of information incoming is intended to be a stark picture of how much information we must absorb to participate in modern culture, however, the scene he describes is less information-dense than the rainforest or the watering hole on the Serengeti; the difference is perceptual. He notices the difference because he remembers a time when there were human-produced data coming at him - less informational noise. Because of this new weight of human-produced data, he puts forth, "Nothing is out of the ordinary. Nothing... Cultural relativism - actually dealing with all the diversity out there ... let it be like a record spinning." He argues that the best way to produce that relevance is to embrace the information - let it flow.

Errata Erratum
"The click of a mouse, the roll of a pair of dice - they both have a kind of intentionality behind them. One is directly relational, the other is lightly random. The art of DJ-ing rests somewhere in between those poles of chance."
"...the original Erratum Musical, we're seeing someone's voice placed in a system of chance operations. Rhythm becomes the context for the performance and the artist becomes a part of the sonic palette he describes."
"DJ-ing deals with extended kinship systems of rhythm - one beat matches or doesn't match a sound-flow, and it's the interpretation of the gestures that make up the mix..."

Miller is comparing and contrasting avant-garde with the art of DJing, and the parallels are clearly apparent; the art of "found art" as with the simple act of painting what one sees are both deliberate acts of creation with the intent of communicating a message, "how one can make a work of art that is not a work of art" is as much of a problem as how one can take disparate noises and tunes with different rhythms, tempos and temporal signatures and make them fit together into something cohesive.

The Future is Here

In this section, Miller is talking about convergence between media and cultures and how the agglutinative nature of hip-hop and his notion of "rhythm science" is trans-cultural - at least among the connected societies. As he quotes Gibson, "The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed." He build using observational anecdotes from a variety of scenes built on his quote from Kittler, "Aesthetics begins as 'pattern recognition,'" creating a description of a number of trans-cultural scenes in which people are brought together to exchange very different ideas by the medium of music. "It's almost exactly a social approximation of the way web culture collapses distinctions between geography and expression, and it's almost as if the main issues of the day are all about how people are adjusting to the peculiarity of being in a simultaneous yet unevenly distributed world."

The Prostitute

Miller is describing the demands of his medium from the perspective of a club DJ - you serve the audience like a memetic prostitute. He describes it in terms of selling a service which is defined by both party's willingness to participate in an unequal exchange in the same activity - prostitution. He talks of his music as if he's lost in the media which creates it and he talks as if he is mastered by the act of mastering it: "that sense of wandering through an indeterminate maze of intentionality is what makes up the creative act.... The music and art I create is an end result of a life lived in an environment where almost all aspects of urban life were circumscribed by the coded terrains of a planet put in parentheses by satellites in the sky beaming back everything long ago... Pay the piper, and call the tune..." "The prostitute in the conveyer belt... It's not about a person, but the locus of intent and the negative dialectics of a role-playing game where your demands of a person are based just as much on their willingness to play a role as on the basic fact that the money being handed over is an emblem of your time and energy. It's a dance contest between master and slave... You pay the price and expect to receive satisfaction."

In the end, to play the role that your audience requires of you, in Miller's world view, you need to surrender yourself to what works is what he seems to be saying. This sounds less like a "rhythm science" and more like "rhythm shamanism."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blog #7

de Bourgoing

First and Lastly

  • Spread your brand: "Hip hop today feeds from both an active online and offline presence that contaminate each other." Use the social networks and special interest blogs to drive listeners to your performances. Use file sharing or free music distribution to widen your audience. Let your music cross-pollenate, borrow from other media in the genre, it'll borrow from you.

    DJ Spooky says: "...writing's infectiousness, the way you pick up language from other writers and remake it as your own." & "[DJing] ... builds on the early successes of file-sharing to create a milieu where people can exchange culture and information at will and create new forms, new styles, and new ways of thinking. The DJ spreads a memetic contagion..." & "Today we have an entire youth culture based on the premise of replication..."
  • Shamelessly sell your identity - marketing is one of your media and is integral to the spreading of your message. Your brand is built on your message.

    DJ Spooky says (slightly out of context, but nonetheless true): "...identity is for sale to the highest bidder."
  • Take your cause or your movement and make it part of your music.
  • Collaborate - it's the core of the medium.
  • Use storytelling - write your music. Tell a story, be theatrical.
  • Don't forget the ladies of hip hop (this is an argument?)
  • Live in the genre, learn from the past, use it.

    DJ Spooky says: "You can always squeeze something out of the past and make it become new." & "...sound/writing and in an era of rhythm science, both serve as recursive aspects of information colage." & "Sampling, DJ culture, and the hip-hop zone are founded on ancestor worship and the best rhythm scientists are constantly expanding the pantheon ... There has always been an American hybrid multicultural scene and the music was always a reflection of that." & "Hip-hop is always innovative and it can absorb almost anything."

Miller aka Spooky


Miller's piece is an apologia for the remix - describing its situation as an art form, its foundations and its significance relative to the culture that came before and the culture that's forming even now to succeed it. From Goethe to Duchamp, from classical myth and legend to Edison and Freud, from Emerson to Surrealism then all the way forward to Grandmaster Flash and further forward to Ninja Tune; Miller's scope scratches back and forth through tim elike a record on the DJ's turntable... All to arrive at his key premise - because it's both agglutinative and innovative, hip-hop and DJing are significant aspects of culture and are ultimately additive creative experiences.



deBourgoing is at least partly inspired by the profit motive - her scene website is of course going to profit from encouraging hip-hop to utilize online resources to build their scene. However she acknowledges a basic point that Miller has and which builds very strongly on what O'Reilly noted - the online marketplace is unsurpassed in available manpower for any sort of intellectual or communicative task, and is by far the best vector for any kind of contagion - whether memetic or broadly cultural.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blog #6


I'd say the focal point of the introduction is the concept that content has been divorced from its traditional medium. He talks a lot about convergence, which is a pretty loosely defined term that academics and buzzword men have been throwing around for a couple of decades at this point. The fact that no two sources are really agreeing on what it means is fairly telling - it doesn't mean anything, it's just a sort of zeitgeist catchall buzzword that is intended to evoke the ideas that Jenkins was trying to nail to the page:

  • As in Weinberger, participation makes the definition of who produces the content a fuzzy one. Convergence in this sense describes the intersection, overlap, and in some cases replacement between and of user-generated culture and the supposed culture factories - the content distributors and producers.
  • Multimedia convergence is another one he's trying to talk about, which is describing the phenomenon that no one medium controls the delivery of these traditional media - film is available on your computer, broadcast TV, your cable connection, your phone, the movie theater and on the new generation of set-top streaming internet devices. News comes from papers, television, podcasts, blogs as well as good old word of mouth. This bleed-through of content from one medium to the next is what Weinberger would probably point to as the disintegration of the traditional first and second orders of order.
  • Another definition of convergence is related to the first one I brought up which is user participation through mediated channels with the content producers - as in the reality show examples of American Idol and Survivor - in one case the audience has virtually no power and is merely being given a token means of participation, and in the other, the audience is winning the intelligence arms race against the producers who are trying to preserve the element of surprise. I'm not sure that I've seen anything in Weinberger that directly compares with that, but he'd certainly be fascinated by the Survivor leaks community and their use of social media to coordinate large scale intel operations.