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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Wasik’

Thinking About Viral Culture and Time-Shifting

November 15th, 2009 No comments

I’m not sure where I stand on this viral culture thing. On the one hand, I appreciate its myriad distractions; on the other, I curse these distractions as they help keep me from getting work done.

Lost in the shuffle of our discussion of Bill Wasik’s “And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture,” was Wasik’s mention of the all-too-useful “time-shifting” (p. 185). Time-shifting is a term to describe the delaying of one’s gratification for a cultural nugget to be consumed at a later date. By employing this mind-set, we can combat the ephemeral nature of popular culture today. I wonder why the notion of delayed gratification is not so well discussed in popular culture anymore, as if Fundamental Christianity somehow held the patent on such behavior.

This technique, I believe, can be of particular use to myself for all manner of entertainment, for example. Why buy that new videogame today, for $60, when it can be had in two or three months for $30 or $40? The same could be said for new books, movies, or music. While Wasik was primarily arguing for time-shifting’s use as a way to get away from the hype that surrounds the release of a new cultural diversion, I think this type of action is useful for other reasons.

By employing time-shifting, we can combat the flakiness that is plaguing popular culture. I think this is what Wasik was getting at when he discussed Indie music in such detail. Cultural works should not need to be so emblematic of a particular era of time, or they risk becoming irrelevant very quickly. As writers, we can probably appreciate this aspect of Wasik’s discussion.

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Also, I came across an article by Simon Dumenco that was laid out in bullet-point fashion that discussed Wasik’s book. I liked the article because it shed some light on the book, and it was a quick read, with seemingly little time wasted in the normal intricacies of professional feature-writing. One of the comments for the article complemented the author on how this bullet-point style was appropriate for the subject matter. It also made me wonder how much my attention span has been compromised from spending so much time on the web.

One of the things that caught my attention in this article is that the Flash Mobs were a metaphor for the vapid nature of viral culture. This makes me think that Wasik was not at first convinced of his argument until the end of the book.

Anyway, here’s a video of Larry Lessig pwning Andrew Keen on the merits of amateur Internet culture. It’s germane to the topic because Keen despises consumer-produced media, which Lessig champions it.

Bill Wasik Visits Google

November 14th, 2009 No comments

Part of Google’s “Authors@Google” series, Bill Wasik discusses “And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture.”  I thought it’d be appropriate to share this video before we move on with our own discussion.

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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).