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A Second look at Jenkins

December 9th, 2009 No comments

In earlier Writing for Electronic Communities class we discussed changes that need to be made to our collaborative essay.  I have been assigned the section on Remix culture and Youtube.  Prior to this essay, I had every little experience with the art of composing remix. I needed to do quite a bit of research to be able to discuss the components and issues of remixing existing works to create something new and unique.   I looked to scholars such as Henry Jenkins, Chuck Tyron, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Lawrence Lessig, Eduardo Navas, Nick Diakopoulos, and others.  I explored relevant intellectual property laws at the U.S. Copyright Office and World Intellectual Property Organization.

Jenkin’s Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, which I recently (re)explored in light of the this essay, provides an insightful look at remix and sampling. Jenkins, like many others seems, to feel that remixing should be encouraged and embraced.  This is particularly important in the education system where students can learn to analyze remixes and discuss what must be understood to compose a remix such as various materials and relevant copyright law.  Similarly, he discusses how “students learn by taking culture apart and putting it back together again” (p. 55).

Jenkins spent some time explaining the concept of influent and how this is similar to remixing in many ways.  He states, “the digital remixing of media content makes visible the degree to which all cultural expression builds on what has come before it” (p. 55). He discusses the artistic process and explains that artists do not create uninfluenced by other works.  Instead, they “build on, are inspired by, appropriate and transform other artist’s work…by tapping into a cultural tradition or by deploying the conventions of a particular genre” (p. 55). Jenkins points readers to Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey as a remix of Greek mythology and the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as a “mash up of stories and images from across the entire biblical tradition” (p. 56).

He explains the complex nature of remixing and its many components which may not be well understood by those who have not worked in this area.  Jenkins explains that successful sampling from “the existing cultural reservoir requires a close analysis of the existing structures and uses of this material; remixing requires an appreciation of emerging structures and latent potential meanings” (p. 58). This process may also include making relevant connections between sources that are not usually thought of as related.  Jenkins and the other before mentioned authors have given me much to consider when composing this section of the project.

Reinventing Cinema and Youtube

November 21st, 2009 No comments

Reinventing Cinema; Movies in the Age of Media Convergence” by Chuck Tryon, discusses our understanding of film and how that understanding has needed to change in light of new technology.  Tyron talks of how once distinct and different forms of media have been incorporated into one another so to provide a more effective experience.  Tryon spends some time discussing the changes to the movie watching experience that have been brought about by the ability to view movies outside of theaters. He points to VCRs and now DVDs and the user’s ability to fragment the text.  This has given consumers more control over the movie and increased the number of those Tyron describes as “movie geeks” (p. 16).  He states, “…at home we are able to master the flow of cinematic images, while in the theaters we are forced to succumb to the temporal rhythms of theatrical projection, which require moviegoers to arrive at the theater at a specific time” (p. 25).  Tyron also talked in part about the issue of piracy in the film industry which provided a more well rounded view of this issue when combined with Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Copyrights and Copywrongs; The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity, which mainly discusses the issue as it relates to written text and the music industry.

I was very interested in Tyron’s discussion of movie Mashups and the dialogue that is created between what might, but not necessarily correctly, be called the consumer of movies and the entertainment industry.  I say that the term consumer is not entirely correct mainly because of the manipulation of professionally produced films, among many other things, that are displayed via website such as Youtube. Tyron states that,“…Youtube not only materially but also metaphorically keeps all texts available for reuse and recycling into new narratives.” The use of DVD’s and the “principle of incompleteness” has allowed an infinite number of movies, shows, and clips to be made available to individuals to “ripped apart and reassembled in playful new ways” (p. 151). Examples of such texts include “Shining”, “5 Second Movie”, “Scary Mary Poppins”, “Brokeback to the Future”, and many many more. Similarly, other such videos attempt to make political statements such as “Hillary’s Downfall” and “Baracky” or compilation videos such as   “100 Movies 100 Quotes 100 Numbers”, “Seven-Minute Sopranos”, and “Women in Film”.

User-generated video, such as the before mentioned, maintain and promote the discussion about the films, shows, and clips that they take their content from.  Therefore, some studios such as Twentieth Century Fox have attempted, with mixed results, to harness this free advertisement.  While others such as Viacom, also with mixed results, have “attempted to contain these fan productions” (p. 173).

Tyron explains the importance of such user-generated content and its ability to connect individuals with similar cinematic tastes or providing an avenue for discussion for those with different tastes. Individuals are given the ability to comment on products of the entertainment industry, politics, the news, or anything else for that matter.  Such texts promote the idea that “anyone with a computer is a potential producer, able to remix, rewrite, and reinterpret Hollywood movies” as they see fit (p. 173).

And Then There’s This: An Overview

November 13th, 2009 No comments

Bill Wasik in And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture states that one of the goals of the text is “to consider political smear, meaningless fads, perishable bands, momentary celebrities, and disposable narrative” in a more realistic and accurate light.  He begins with an example of what he describes as the nanostory.  He refers to Blair Hornstine, a high school senior and valedictorian from Moorestown, New Jersey who was scheduled to attend Harvard University. However, the superintendent of the district ruled that Hornstine must share her valedictory honors with the second place finisher, whose score was only lower due to a technicality.  Hornstine, whose father was a judge, sued to be named the sole valedictorian and for 2.7 million in punitive damages. The U.S. district judge ruled in her favor however a local paper “discovered that she was a serial plagiarist” and so “Harvard quickly rescinded” her acceptance (p. 2).   Wasik provides this example to show readers “the trajectory of her short-lived fame” or as he later describes it, meaning because of how her story was “fit handily into one of the various meanings imposed on her…” (p. 3-4).

Wasik continues on to talk about viral culture which he describes as seizing, elevating, and spreading ideas as meaningful, significant, or representative of “something about the moment” (p. 64).  He saids that “viral culture is based on a new type of sudden success- a success with 4 key attributes” (p. 8). These are “Speed”, “shamelessness”, “duration”, and “sophistication”(p. 8). Wasik explains that “success in viral culture is interactive, born of mass participation, defined by an awareness of the conditions of its creation” and is built “upon what one might call the media mind”(p. 8).  Further on in the text Wasik states that the media mind refers to when individuals market and promote themselves in the hopes of making meaning and gaining followers which would then change the way they speak, how they act, and how they see themselves (p. 12-13). Wasik explains his ideas on viral culture in the video Bill Wasik’s new book: The view from atop the spike of viral culture.

Wasik discusses his flash mob experiments which he states were brought on by boredom.  With the help of e-mail, Wasik was able to gather people together in specific locations and then on the day of the mob give them directions on where to go and what to do.  This idea he said would work because “it was  a self-conscious idea for a self-conscious culture, a promise to create something out of nothing” (p. 19).  Wasik’s mobs occurred in several different sites in NYC but inspired others to create mobs in other cites as well.  These mobs were described as meme: “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” (p. 25).

Wasik goes on to talk for some length about an indie rock band called Annuals who was swept up in what Wasik calls niche sensationalism. The band’s rise and fall provided a perfect example of nanofame, with the added benefit of the band’s name itself accurately portraying viral culture. Wasik states, rather poetically, that title was a “melancholy vision of a beautiful band built constitutionally, to die” (p. 62) The author provides us with another experiment in viral culture in which he tried to “neutralize or reverse” the buzz of the band Peter Bjorn and John.

Wasik goes on to talk about the Huffington Post Contagious Festival in which he enters a site called “The Right-Wing New York Times” using the pseudonym Will Murphy and ultimately wins.  He acts as both a participant in the contest and a journalist interviewing the other prominent contests and so is able to show readers a more complete picture of the creation of a meme

The author continues on to corporate agents and word of mouth marketing.  Here companies attempt to engage consumers and turn them into proponents of the company’s products or services. The reward often times for this the agent’s feeling of being an insider.  Wasik talks about how this changes the individual’s relationship with the company and the product.  Wasik created Bill Shiller “the ideal viral consumer” to better show this point and had Shiller actively seek out companies and products to support and promote including giving demonstrations and recommendations of products to friends and family (p. 123).

The author finishes with a discussion of how nanostories effect politics. He shows how false or embellished information can “Swift-boat” a candidate’s campaign (p. 153) . Wasik also created a bipartisan cite called OppoDepot that provides “decontextualized negative stories” about the candidates (p. 159).  However the cite was not as successful as he had hoped.  Wasik points to the rise of Youtube and ads such as “Vote Different” and “Chuck Norris Approved” saying that the online 2008 political campaign was “defined by Youtube more than by blogs” (p. 175).

The book ends with a conclusion in which Wasik looks critically at how as a culture we have become hyper connected to technology.  He proposes that we unplug from our devises be it the internet, iphone, television, etc or at least come to some sort of compromise.  He warns that we should become less enthralled with nanostories and become more “judicious controllers of our own context, making careful and self-reflective choices about what we read, watch, consume” (p. 186).

Facebook and the Influence of Social Networks

November 7th, 2009 No comments

Recently I read an article about how we are influenced by our digital social networks. I assume that most of us are familiar with the proverbial phrase “you are who your friends are”. This same idea may also be applicable to your digital friends and your friends digital friends and your friends friends digital friends. And if you are active in one or more social networking cites than that is probably a whole lot of individual many of whom you have probably never meet either face to face or digitally.    The article, Obesity, STDs flow in social networks by Elizabeth Landau, reiterates the idea that we are impressionable creatures and that those impressions may just as easily be made digitally as in person.  “New research shows that in a social network, happiness spreads among people up to three degrees removed from one another. That means when you feel happy, a friend of a friend of a friend has a slightly higher likelihood of feeling happy too,” states Elizabeth Landau in the article  Happiness is contagious in social networks and the video The Power of Social Networks . The same may be true for your eating habits, voting preferences, etc. However Landau explains “at the fourth degree the influence substantially weakens.” Dr. Nicholas Christakis the author of “Connected,” and Dr. James Fowler an associate professor at the University of California, have expanded on this new theory to explore the trends in cigarette smoking and obesity. An article by Fowler and Christakis in New England Journal of Medicine stated that when an individual quits smoking than their friends’ likelihood of quitting smoking was 36 percent. Moreover, clusters of people who may not know one another gave up smoking around the same time”.

These theories are still in their initial stages and somewhat experimental.  But, it will be interesting to see how their might affect other areas such as marketing and advertisement placing.  Already Facebook advertisers target their ads to individuals based on their personal information, tastes, hobbies, opinions, etc. so that their ads will be more appealing and you are more inclined to make purchases.  It will be interesting to see if knowledge of your friends and social spheres will increase that.

However, some people are unnerved by this influence or find that the lines between different aspects of their lives have become too blurred.  Christopher Butcher is an employee of The Beguiling a comic book store and has a Facebook group for the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. Butcher explains that when Facebook was just for college students it “provided a inbuilt system of boundaries” but when everyone was able to join, Facebook “lost the aspect where what network you’re in defines the information you get.”

Similarly Fowler and Christakis have proposed that even though individuals may call hundreds of people on Facebook and other social networks their “friend”, or an equivalent term that points to some sort of connection or interest in an individual, the number of close friends that a person has did not necessarily change.  Christakis and Fowler found that people had approximately “between six and seven close friends on Facebook, which is not far from sociologists’ estimate that most people have four to six close friends in real life”.  They believe that a better measure of friendship is found though pictures.  If individuals tag each other in posted photos than they are more likely to have a close relationship not just the person you sat three rows behind one semester in class but never talked to.  Overall Fowler states that social networks like Facebook and Myspace are “just yet another way through which humans exert their inherent natural tendency to try to connect to other people that they care about.” With this knowledge it will be interesting to see how social networks evolve in the years to come.

A look at Participatory Culture

November 6th, 2009 No comments

With advances in the internet and the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, individuals can better utilize digital recourses.   The features of this evolution according to Tim O’Reilly include; “Services… with cost-effective scalability, control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them, trusting users as co-developers, harnessing collective intelligence, leveraging the long tail through customer self-service, software above the level of a single device, and lightweight user interfaces, development models, and business models.” Users of Web 2.0 have greater ability to interact with content.  Thus, they have moved from a consumer driven culture to a participatory one where users actually produce content and inform others.

A participatory culture according to Henry Jenkins and the other contributors of Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture is “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices… [a culture] in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection” (p. 3).  In this text Jenkins, provides an in depth look at how technology is impacting our culture. I was particularly interested in the idea that individuals that have moved from consumers of information to producers of information may have done so primarily because of popular culture and to some degree societal pressures not as much because of their education.

Jill Walker Rettberg also pointed to these changes in Blogging; Digital Media and Society Series. From the title of the text we can guess that Rettberg is talking mostly about blogs and their functions as a means of self exploration, citizen journalism, creating a dialog between the author of the post and those who wish to comment, etc.  However, these same ideas are relevant to other aspects of digital literacy.

Such is the case with Jenkins discussion of video games and their possibility to communicate valuable information to players. Jenkins states that “contemporary video games allow youth to play with sophisticated simulations and, in the process, to develop an intuitive understanding of how we might use simulations to test our assumptions about the way the world works” (p. 23).  Jenkins continues on to highlight a conversation between a boy and his father that shows that the game provided valuable historical and political information.  We can see this sort of participation in an ever growing number of spaces including but certainly not limited to music such as with youtube and sampling as is described in Copyrights and Copywrongs; The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity by Siva Vaidhyanathan.

Thoughts from a Twitter User

October 31st, 2009 7 comments

Recently I noticed that one of the people I follow on Twitter had been having what I thought of as interesting twitter followersconversations with someone that they follow.  Since I was interested and could only see half of the discussion I decided to follow that individual as well. I didn’t think that there was anything unusual or surprising about that decision. The following day I received a message on my Facebook account from that individual stating that they had noticed that I was following them and asking if I knew them.  I am paraphrasing their words which were said in what I perceived to be a slightly more harsh and accusatory tone.   I was a little surprised and I did not know exactly how to answer the question.  I had not thought that a face to face meeting was a necessary prerequisite to following someone via Twitter.  I did not think that was so for friending someone on Facebook either but I can see where the term “friend” and the idea of calling someone a “friend” might imply that your social spheres have crossed or that there was some level of cordial communication involved.  I did not see it that way at all for Twitter.

I was under the impression that the site promoted following based on the ideas and interests that the individual is tweeting about, among other things of course. Lisa Brookes Kift stated about social networks that they are “a great way to network and foster relationships with like minded people and those interested in learning more about topics that I know something about.” Twitter itself explains that this is a way for individuals to “stay hyper-connected to your friends and always know what they’re doing. Or, you can stop following them at any time. You can even set up quiet times on Twitter so you’re not interrupted. Twitter puts you in control and becomes a modern antidote to information overload.”  Dr.John M Grohol PsyD states that Twitter “is a unique form of online socializing. Twitter offers no real beginning, middle or end to a conversation. As a result, the open universe of non-stop, rolling chatter makes people feel like they don’t want to miss anything.”

Twitter is also not just for individuals and small businesses.  More and more twitter activity has become a corporate endeavor.  The suggestions for a successful corporate twitter presence differs somewhat from the common sense etiquette that individuals should follow but not all too much.   According to “Corporate Twitter” by Chris Miller these guidelines include listen to followers, add value and provide useful content, only follow others when followed or mentioned so to not to annoy or appear as spam, respond to every tweet directed at you, and use replies rather than direct messages so to appear more transparent.

Despite recent news hype warning of Twitter’s ability to destroy your non-internet related relationships by making you “less available to your children, friends and partners in your real-life world,” states Soren Gordhamer, an expert on the over-stressed and over-connected, as a new vehicle to “bruise our digital egos”, as a means to lower productivity through distraction,  etc. this is in my opinion an excellent tool for anyone interested in staying informed.

A Little Context

October 31st, 2009 No comments

This tern our Writing for Electronic Communities class has been working on a collaborative essay.  We have each analyzed a text that relates to literacy and/or New Media and added about five pages.  Those texts have included; Selber’s Multiliteracies for the digital age, Kress’s Literacy in the new media age, Brooke’s Lingua fracta: Toward a rhetoric of new media, Hayles’s Electronic literature: New horizons for the literary, Jenkins’s Confronting the challenges of participatory culture, Rettberg’s Blogging, Vaidhyanathan’s Copyrights and copywrongs: The rise of intellectual property and how it threatens creativity, Tryon’s Reinventing cinema: Movies in the age of media convergence, Wasik’s And then there’s this: How stories live and die in viral culture, and several articles related to web 2.0. The results have been a little bit of chaotic (which is to be expected with any project such as this) but a very rewarding experience.  We are now prepared to set aside our work and begin a new to create a more cohesive, focused text.

One of the challenges that we must tackle is to decide on the goal of the article.  What is it that we wish to accomplish? What is the purpose of the text? What is it doing? What is it saying? These questions are somewhat complicated because there are several of us working on the project and our interests and ideas for it may be different. We will also need to discuss how that article is broken up, what to include in the literature review, which case sources to explore, what contextual information we need, etc.

This is a collaborative project so we are adding to, changing, and deleting each other’s work.  ThCollaborative essayere is an excellent chance that what you had written initially will not find its way into a later draft.  Such concepts challenge the definition of authorship which has been addressed by several of the texts we have read this semester but most recently in Vaidhyanathan’s Copyrights and Copywrongs; The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity.

It will be interesting seeing how the collaborative essay, Toward an Understanding of New Media Literacy changes and develops.  And it will be equally interesting to see which challenges provide difficulty in the upcoming weeks.

The Ethics of Influence

October 25th, 2009 1 comment

I have often wondered where the line between being influenced or inspired by someone and stealing from them is drawn.  Obviously copying someone’s work, passing if off as your own, and receiving some sort of credit for it be it momentary, prestige, course credit, or otherwise is wrong and unethical.  But what if the influence is less obvious.  If I write in the style of another author is that plagiarism.  As an aspiring writer I tend to read a great deal and it is natural to try to emulate far better writer’s work, particularly if you are prone to reading most of an author’s collection in a short time.  But when does that influence become plagiarism.  I think of the different movements in art.  I am most familiar with the impressionists so I will use them for this example.  In 1881 Claude Monet painted “Sunflowers”. This painting used many of the traditional impressionistic techniques; large and visible brushstrokes, calm subjects, open composition, attention to lighting, movement, and angle, etc.  In 1888  Vincent Van Gogh, a post impressionist, painted “Sunflowers”.  The paintings, both having a vase of sunflowers as their subject, look somewhat similar.  Of course there are many distinctions in style but it is known that Van Gogh was inspired by the impressionists and he probably saw the earlier painting. Obviously you cannot copy right an image of an object or a title but I wonder how something like that would be viewed in today’s copyright climate?  Whether it would be frowned upon.  If I admire greatly and attempt to write in the style of award winning author, Cormac McCarthy is that plagiarism?  What if I write a story about a man and his son going south in a post apocalyptic United States in that same style, which is a far too brief description of McCarthy’s The Road?  I think that Siva Vaidhyanathan in Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity might advocate that those things are not plagiarism. Vaidhyanathan supports a loose and balanced copyright system.  A system that “does not prevent artists from taking from the ‘commons’, supports the idea that new artists build upon the works of others, and rewards improvisation within a tradition” (p. 125).   To reach this the author suggests that the protection should “expire on definite dates, thus constantly enriching the public domain with new material” (p. 125).   Vaidhyanathan has given me a great deal to think about and I am anxious to continue looking at this controversial debate.

Some thoughts on Copyrights and Copywrongs

October 24th, 2009 No comments

Copyrights and Copywrongs by Siva Vaidhyanathan offers an in depth look at the history of copyright law and how it has morphed from its original intent.  Vaidhyanathan proposes three goals for the book.  The first of which is to “trace the development of American copyright law through the twentieth century…it will proceed to a series of accounts of how copyright law affected American literature, film, television, and music” (p. 15).  He walks us through key figures such as Mark Twain, Learned Hand, and D.W. Griffith.   Twain’s role as an advocate against piracy but in favor of artists building on other artist’s work is extensively discussed. The author also provides us with a description of the various copyright laws and acts.  This discussion starts with the Statute of Anne which as enacted in 1710 in Britain and is considered by some to be the first copyright legislation.   The Statue of Anne had copyright lasting for only 14 years and could be renewed for another 14.  This was done to encourage “learning and create an incentive to produce more books” (p.40).  From there we are taken though the various acts and court cases that have morphed our system into one that promotes the established over the emerging and dampens creativity.  The history ends at about the year 2000 (the book was published in 2001) with the last act being the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.  This act “grants complete power to allow or deny access to a work with the producer or publisher of that work.  The producer may prohibit access for those users who might have hostile intentions toward the work” (p. 248).  This may include critiques and scholars. The second goal set forth for this book is to “succinctly and clearly outline the principles of copyright while describing the alarming erosion of the notion that copyright should protect specific expression but not the ideas that lie beneath the expressions” (p. 15). The author argues for copyright law as it was originally intended; to encourage creativity, cultural expression, the spread of ideas, and the sharing of information.  The rights of the creator are almost a by-product of the more important goal of creating a well of information in the public domain.  However, copyright has shifted into a form of property law which stalls creativity.  The third goal of the book is to “argue that American culture and politics would function better under a system that guarantees “thin” copyright protection” (p. 15).  The author continually advocates for “Thin” copyright protection that is “just strong enough to encourage and reward aspiring artists, writers, musicians, and entrepreneurs, yet porous enough to allow full and rich democratic speech and the free flow of information” (p. 5). Rather than “’Thick’ copyright protection [which] has a chilling effect on creativity” (p.16).  The book left me reevaluating my stance on copyright protection and reweighing the benefits of these laws.

A look at Literacy in the New Media Age

October 16th, 2009 No comments

Gunther Kress in Literacy in the New Media Age begins by posing some questions that will be addressed in the book.  Kress states that the book offers “some stocktaking, some reflection,…and the search for the beginnings of answers to questions such as: …What is common about the making of representations and messages between then and now, and in the likely tomorrow?” (p.8)  Kress continues on to state that “what we need are new tools for thinking with, new frames in which to place things, in which to see the old and the new, and see them both newly” (p.8).

Kress uses his text itself to show the ideas that he mentions, giving readers a better understanding of the points in this book.  He talks about how the layout of the text changes how we interpret it.  He gives the example of bullet points saying that “the ‘force’ and ‘feel’ of the text have changed. It has become more insistent, more urgent, more official. It is now about presenting information” (p.16).  Changing the textual structure changes “not only the deeper meanings of textual forms but also the structure of ideas, of conceptual arrangements, and of the structures of our knowledge” (p.16).  If a poem were not set up in lines and stanzas but instead in paragraph form it would cease to be a poem and might instead seem more like a lyric essay.  We are preconditioned to recognize that specific textual structure as a poem so we have an expectation of what will follow.  Those expectations would be different if we saw a set of bullet points or if the writing was bold or in italics. Similarly text and images are best used to different ends text works to “provide, in fact, an account of events, and image is used for that which image does best, to depict the world that is at issue” (p. 155-156).

Also how we access and read traditional text as opposed to electronic text can, if used in certain ways, be different.  Traditional texts are organized in a linear fashion and is most comprehensively read starting at the beginning and reading to the end.  Electronic text may be read that way but depending on what the text is trying to convey it may also be accessed starting at other points or focusing on a particular idea and further exploring them with hyperlinks.  The various functions of the electronic text may provide a more fluid process for readers as they navigate the text and are able to access terms or ideas further.

Kress talks about the effect that the resource has on the writing itself.  He states that “old resources colonized the new technology, but at the same time the affordances offered by the new technology reshaped the resources” (p.83).   Kress continues on to say that, “the written sentence as we still know it is as much an effect of the affordances of that technology in interaction with the users and the environments of use as it is an effect of the resources which had been brought from the past to writing for print” (p.83).  Kress offers an in depth look at this ideas that leaves the reader looking at literacy in a new light.

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