Digital Footprints.

You drive to work under the glares of traffic cameras and somewhere along the line your license plate is scanned to ensure your car is registered. You decide to buy an Egg McMuffin and a take-away coffee from Maccas and, because you always pay with your card, your location and details are recorded at the ‘Enter’ button. You use your iPhone to call your boss and let him know you’ll be a little late because the Maccas staff are having some ‘issues processing your meal’, only to forget the bastard has that new app he’s been bragging about which allows him to record all phone conversations.

You’ve scuffed your shoes all over this digital web you’ve somehow found yourself a part of, and your day hasn’t even begun–and when you get into work you double-click the Internet icon: Emails are sent, comments are posted, bank details are typed. And everyday we’re trusting more and more information to someone else, and most commonly, a large group of people.

If you’ve ever used Google, for instance. Say one day you were bored so you Googled knitting. You had a browse, thought nothing of it, got bored and decided to go outside. Well, chances are that at some point in the future, you’ll be seeing ads for sewing machines that weren’t there before. Indeed, these digital footprints are becoming harder and harder to clean.

Recently, it was reported that the Sony Playstation network was hacked, resulting in the acquisition of various users’ personal information such as names, birth dates, passwords, and even credit card numbers.  The Herald Sun reported that seventy-seven-million user accounts were disconnected worldwide. However, what was most alarming about the incident was that Sony Corporation waited a week after notification of the security breach before revealing it.

Though several days of analysis is often required to understand the scope of a breach, it is this appearance of secrecy that online networking platforms need to be smarter about. Many users of Sony Playstation expressed their disappointment and distrust in the corporation’s approach to the issue, appalled that they were not immediately warned about a possibility of identity theft.

In the end, privacy is becoming a serious anxiety amongst internet users. If this subject has taught me anything, it is that internet surfers need to heavily consider the implications of their online activity. This means reading the terms of agreement, and reducing the personal information we spread.

Goodbye ticket box clerks.

Village Cinemas  is moving closer and closer to the stage where actually visiting the cinema to purchase your ticket will ultimately be unheard of.

Behind this advance is the launch of a new mobile ticketing system, which has been put into effect in the last couple of weeks. This launch renders Village Cinemas as the first Australian exhibitor to offer its customers the ability to purchase tickets on their smartphones, skip the queue and proceed directly to the podium where their phones are scanned instantly by an usher previously accustomed to ripping the stubs off of your printed admissions.

As cited in an article by Encore Magazine, CEO Kirk Edwards has claimed that:
“Our aim is to make it easier and more convenient for our existing customers to go to the movies especially during our busier blockbuster periods, in addition to attracting new audiences via a new ticketing platform.”

The system is a web-based service rather than an app, ensuring access from users across the entire smartphone market, with many customers still with Nokia, Blackberry and Samsung services.

Yet the new system poses more risks than rewards. Though teething issues are common with the introduction of new technologies, the regular failing of scanners, the inability to currently select your own seats, and a tendency for phones to mysteriously not display the necessary barcode means that the service offers no real incentives for customers who are already able to purchase tickets online to print themselves via their computer.

In this sense, the real strategy for the introduction of mobile ticketing appears to be orientated at tracking customer behaviour. Commonly, current strategies for cinema’s in gathering customer stats involve the promotion of a loyalty membership–whereby customers sign up online and attach their emails to individual barcodes (located on membership cards), which are encouraged to be scanned perpetually for every movie seen through incentives such as: scan ten films and get the next film free. The loyalty card system is a clever one as is–granting the cinema the permission to track your movie history and then send emails on upcoming functions and deals which, based on your perceived tastes, might appeal to you.

The mobile ticketing system however seems a far less credible means for customer tracking. With currently no incentives for customer’s other than what can already be achieved through online booking, i.e. faster service, it is unlikely that Mr. Joe Masculine will be pleased to realise that his guilty pleasure for rom-coms are being monitored by his own cinema.

Blogging Nihilism.

Lovlink (Reader, page 219) argues that bloggers are creative nihilists “who celebrate the death of centralized meaning structures and ignore the accusation that they would only produce noise”. 

Discuss this argument, giving an example of a blog. 

Good for nothing. Futile. Nonthingists. Disillusionists. Worthless. Pajama Journalists. Producers of Noise.

Such appellations pepper Lovink’s essay and combine to form a generalised and unfair portrait of bloggers as merely ‘creative nihilists’—citizens in growing disbelief of the media, who question it a priori and “celebrate the death of the centralized meaning structures” through an independent medium (Lovlink 2007, 22). In arguing that there exists a point in recent history wherein “mass media lost their claim on the truth and could no longer speak as the voice of authority”, Lovlink suggests that bloggers have appropriated an ethical doctrine where truth is inescapably subjective—where blogs provide them the freedom to broadcast banal musings and in turn have these validated as legitimate and even newsworthy indicators of opinion. Ultimately, Lovlink sees the content of bloggers as being worthless and “ignored as noise” (Lovlink 2007, 23).

Lovlink’s views seem to flourish from an a posteriori approach to truth—apparently upholding the opinions of professional media/journalist practise over general considerations of what is ideal. To an extent, his concerns are valid. As a free platform devoid of editorial control, professional ethical guidelines and the enforcement/necessary means to actually go out and cover the story, blogs are not an ideal source for credible information, or even basic awareness. Nor, do I think, they ever will be. However, to merely trash the blogosphere as the site for the disillusioned, good-for-nothing noise of ‘nothingists’ is to ignore exactly the role that it does fulfil: a fundamental alternative to mainstream media where opinions can be shared and discussed without the influence of economic directives or political spin.

In this regard, there is a lot to be gained from Gianni Vattimo’s argument that “nihilism is not the absence of meaning but a recognition of the plurality of meanings; it is not the end of civilization but the beginnings of new social paradigms, with blogging being one of them” (Lovlink 2007, 22). Blogs capitalise on an important belief that we cannot simply suffice with centralised meanings. However ignored they may ultimately be, blogs promote a necessary conversation of the media and in turn provide us with new meanings, understandings and perceptions on both relevant and irrelevant topics. The blogosphere serves as an outlet for facetious and informal media chit-chat, and therefore facilitates the community’s involvement within the media itself. It is in this sense that blogging ultimately promotes the internet as it should be: a democratic forum to encourage public choice.

Below is an example of a ‘good-for-nothing’ blog; one appealing to a niche market of film and pop culture lovers:

http://bennettmedia.blogspot.com/

So, is it worthless? That answer is for you to decide. And this, in a sense, is the point of the blogosphere. While blogging may reflect a loss of belief in the media (Lovlink 2007, 23), it is in no way nihilistic beyond simply a recognition that meaning is subjective. Blogging may distrust, question and criticise the media—but it does not ignore it. Rather, it upholds it. Jurgen Habermas envisaged the ‘public sphere’ as a discursive forum where issues of political concern could be raised in the public eye in an inclusive and egalitarian manner. As a participatory culture, the blogosphere meets these requirements, allowing for far, far greater community engagement than the mass media. If anything, blogging perpetuates democratisation through a step back from centralised ideas and a step toward individual opinion.

Works cited:

Lovlink, G (2007). ‘Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse’, Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. London: Routledge, pp. 1-38.

Proulx, P. and J. Sargent (2011). ‘Bennett Media’ <http://bennettmedia.blogspot.com/&gt; 22/5/2011.


You Make the Movies: An effective anti-piracy campaign

A UK anti-piracy campaign called ‘You Make the Movies’ marks a shift by film and television content owners from a ‘stick’ to a ‘carrot’ strategy in marketing their message about copyright theft. Rather than guilt tripping the public out of downloading/purchasing pirated films, with heavy-handed commercials labelling movie-downloaders as criminals, the campaign instead aims to thank consumers for supporting the industry; a series of ads have been released spoofing classics such as Lord of the Rings, Jaws and Life of Brian, each with the concluding message: “Your cinema ticket helps support the Film Industry in the U.K.  Thank you.”

Two of the videos can be seen below:

and

Previously, anti-piracy campaigns were always seeking to make offenders walk the plank; for instance, implying that anyone with the balls to download some Kevin Costner flick might as well be out on the streets mugging old women and jacking cars. Either that, or they sought to play the world’s smallest violin–their central message being: ‘Please don’t pirate movies because it siphons money from the millionaire producers and Hollywood stars.’ Seldom has a deterrent sounded more like an incentive.

I believe this campaign is the most effective I’ve seen–viewers aren’t shamed into avoiding film piracy but instead are encouraged to appreciate that the money we spend legitimately in the cinema provides for a higher quality content of film and television in our own industry.

Creative Commons

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) 

Creative Commons provide free content licenses to allow uploaders to legally share work. These licenses state the freedoms and limitations that apply to one’s work–essentially, what people can and cannot do with your content.

Creative Commons offers six different licenses. I have chosen the above license (CC BY-NC-SA). This means:

You are free:

  • to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
  • to Remix — to adapt the work

Under the following conditions:

  • Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
  • Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
  • Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

With the understanding that:

  • Waiver — Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
  • Public Domain — Where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license.
  • Other Rights — In no way are any of the following rights affected by the license:
    • Your fair dealing or fair use rights, or other applicable copyright exceptions and limitations;
    • The author’s moral rights;
    • Rights other persons may have either in the work itself or in how the work is used, such as publicity or privacy rights.
  • Notice — For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link to this web page.
I have chosen this particular license to encourage online collaboration of content. However, as this blog is for non-commercial purposes I therefore believe that its content should be treated accordingly in the event of any future use. And as such, I would expect any tweaked content to be distributed under a similar license. 

‘Broadcast Yourself’: The Limits of the ‘Ordinary Celebrity’

Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269).
Discuss the above argument giving an example of a YouTube video.

Burgess and Green’s above argument rests with an ongoing debate surrounding YouTube’s ‘Broadcast Yourself’ manifesto. Here, the common assumption underlying the YouTube phenomenon is that “raw talent combined with digital distribution can convert directly to legitimate success and media fame” (Burgess & Green 2009, 21). In essence, YouTube seeks to separate the media world from the ordinary world, offering users an independent, DIY form of self promotion and celebratory fame that is isolated from the corruption of mass media business systems. YouTube, and other online platforms alike, either promise (or certainly, imply) the potential for the ‘discovery’ of its users as recording labels and talent scouts increasingly shift their attention toward online user-generated content. However, what is forgotten, as put forward by Burgess and Green, is that even when ordinary people become celebrities through their own creative efforts, “there is no necessary transfer of media power”, as they remain submissive to the traditional gate-keeping mechanisms of old media (Burgess & Green 2009, 24).

To a large extent, they are right. While the video-sharing site, where nearly “13 hours of video footage is uploaded […] every minute” (Beaumont 2008), certainly offers an extremely accessible route to public awareness, the success of its creative content relies entirely on old media systems. Uploaded videos, whether aimed at generating commercial success or not, are in this sense merely new-age television pilots. Based on its reception, the celebrity status of the video’s creator, or star, depends on the intervention of an old, familiar dominant media which still decides whether or not to accept them into the world of mainstream fame and fortune. Otherwise, their status remains within the site’s own system of merit-based popularity and ‘fame’. An example of this is the mass media’s ‘celebritization’ of twelve-year-old Oklahoma kid Greyson Chance, after a video of his performance of Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’ at a sixth grade talent show surfaced on YouTube. The clip “gathered more than 20 million views” in three weeks, in turn leading to Chance’s contact by Ellen DeGeneres, “whose show he appeared and performed on only a week after the video went viral” (Baker 2010). On May 26, he was invited back, where DeGeneres announced that she was starting a record label called Eleven Eleven, and that he was going to be her first artist. The video, which began his ‘rags-to-riches’ story, can be seen below:

Albeit an inspiring story for the appeal of YouTube’s ‘Broadcast Yourself’ schema, Greyson Chance is an ideal example for Burgess and Green’s argument that the ‘ordinary celebrity’ of online platforms still relies on the “existing structures of celebrity” (2009, 23). Greyson Chance was made known by YouTube, but was made a celebrity through the existing media industry, for which the site really provides no alternative. In this sense, those who are commercialized because of their initial success on YouTube never really broadcast themselves. They just open up the possibility.

But is this really a bad thing? I agree with Burgess and Green here, but I also argue that most users of video-sharing sites are aware of the limits YouTube offers them as a launching pad into celebrity status and fame. Because of the success of individuals such as Greyson Chance, videos are now more regularly uploaded in appeal to the existing media industry; they are aware that they must first ‘broadcast themselves’ to this media world, before they can in turn be broadcasted to the rest of the world. I believe that the real concern rests with content that is prioritized by the existing media: ‘viral’ videos defined by the mundane, the tasteless, and the talentless. Lip-syncing, self-humiliation, and clap-trap too often defines the content that is launched into celebrity culture, granting its ‘creators’ their fifteen minutes of fame, and exhausting their popularity before tossing them into the used pile. It is this form of commercialization that is destroying YouTube’s appeal as a platform of possibilities; a place to showcase talent.

Works cited:

Baker, W. (2010) ‘Five Celebrities Who Got Their Start on YouTube’, Paste Magazine Online, <http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2010/06/-celebrities-who-started-on-youtube.html> 5 June, Accessed on 8 May, 2011.

Beaumont, C. (2008) ‘The Rising Stars of YouTube’, The Telegraph Online, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/3527671/Youtube-top-10-celebrities.html> 26 November, Accessed on 8 May, 2011.

Burgess, J. and J. Green (2009) ‘YouTube and The Mainstream Media’, YouTube Online and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Policy Press, pp. 15-37.


 

Independent Blogging and Journalism

Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.

The above question, which draws from Russel (et al.), implies an inherent relation between independent blogging and journalism. Alex Bruns, author of Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production, though recognising that blogging and journalism do in fact interconnect, cites blogger-journalist J.D. Lasica to suggest that: “independent bloggers aren’t journalists because no editor comes between the author and reader” (Bruns 2009: 210). Herein lies a comparison of these two means of information distribution.

Indeed, the absence of an editor in blogging processes is hardly a bad thing. Within the blogsphere, any civic-minded citizen with a computer and the desire to express their opinions can contribute to the media and the public dialogue. And as a vast majority of news sources today are owned by multi-newspaper chains, editorial independence in professional media systems is uncommon. Blogs therefore offer a much needed way to expand on the number of news sources available, and ideally, provide for alternate views over political-economy bias. For instance, the political blog Australia Watch <http://auswatch.blogspot.com/> serves as a good example of a credible news source that remains independent of elite media institutions that abide by professional codes; one that serves on merit-based popularity rather than on “the viability of its business model and the sustainability of its products” (Russel et al. 2008: 136).

Moreover, the potential for blogs as information-distributors is significantly advantaged through their existence within the ‘infinite space’ of the web environment, automatically implying an infinite number of perspectives from which news issues may be looked at. Yet does this mean that blogs are more advantaged as informers?

Russel outlines that while these new-media networks may well provide a platform where all voices can be heard, not all voices attract equal amounts of attention; “[a] small set of so-called A-list bloggers garner the majority of the blogsphere traffic” (Russel et al. 2008: 136). While this can still be seen as “an improvement over the previous status quo in which big media dominates”, it perpetuates a merit-based process whereby users are encouraged to achieve ‘star status’ (Russel et al. 2008: 136).

This puts forward another question; one that I feel must be addressed: Is the purpose of blogging, first and foremost, to inform the public, uphold opinions and provide discussion, or is it to promote the blogger?

Of course, web platforms have developed in recent years as, principally, a place for self-promotion. Think: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. Even Amazon, on which Kreiss (et al.) (2010) writes: “research suggests [that] users often falsely imagine that their free reviews will lead to paying positions with professional publications” (250). If this is true, then a closer inspection of the aims of bloggers is necessary; for if a writer is concerned mostly with feedback, recognition, and interest in their work—essentially, looking for ‘hits’—then surely this undermines a blog’s ability to ‘effectively inform the public’, and may perhaps even result in a manipulation of content. Ultimately, self-absorbed journalism, I believe, is not journalism at all.

And while bloggers, as unpaid reporters with no motives beyond either a passion for their subject or a desire for quality (which in turn generates merit), are arguably devoid of political or economic bias toward media ownership, their isolation from any strict professional codes means that their tendency to actually investigate an issue themselves (such as through interviews) is less likely. This is also true for important journalist ethics—such as sourcing material and providing evidence for big claims—which do not apply to bloggers.

There is also the issue pertaining to whether blogs do in fact offer an improvement on political bias. I propose that centralised values in newspapers are more effective in maintaining political discussion amongst readers. Old media is generally consumed with respect to a divide in political values — The Age offering liberal values and The Australian offering conservative values, for instance — and it is this division which automatically offers debate within the public sphere. The political content of old media is in this way moderated–something that is lost in the blogsphere, with the bloggers’ freedom from immediate counterargument and regular scrutiny providing for more radical assaults on political parties and lesser access to even debate.  Surely the public is better informed on policy through an adversarial media system which ensures an equal distribution of both right and left wing values.

In the end, blogs are a platform for a discussion, analysis, and critique of news and affairs, rather than a report base. While I agree that the blogsphere’s independence from the domination of big media institutions inherently suggests a greater sense of impartiality, and therefore of honesty, in the dissemination of news and opinions, I maintain that its freedom from ethical codes and professional guidelines renders it as both a less effective and trustworthy means for informing the public; a public which, in the end, must get their information from somewhere to begin with, before they can participate as citizens in the new-media environment.

Works cited:

Bruns, A. (2009) ‘Case Studies: Blogs and Journalism’, in Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, pp. 201-232.

Kreiss, D. Finn, M. and F. Turner (2010) ‘The Limits of Peer Production: Some Reminders from Max Weber for the Network Society’, New Media and Society, 13 (2): 243-259.

Russell, A. Ito, M. Richmond, T. and M. Tuters (2008) ‘Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation’, in Kazys Varnelis (ed.) Networked Publics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 43-76.