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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Encouraged and inhibited

This past week my classmates and I were challenged to consider our engagement with online media, as consumers and as producers, outside the scope of our most recent online educational endeavour.  Initially, I thought that I was more of a consumer than a producer and even as a consumer, I wasn’t consuming that much.  But the more I thought about it, the more that I’ve discovered that I am equal part consumer and producer of online content.  And, as a producer of online content, I do so with much trepidation, concerned that my voice is too, well, old.  I’m just not that compelling.  At least not according to the “new” definition of the word, evident in most of what’s out there on the web. This fact, more than any other, both encourages and inhibits my contribution to online content.
Lucas Hilderbrand writes about YouTube, the website where millions of videos, some original and some excerpts or full reproductions of mass media, are posted for anyone to find and view.   YouTube is an example, he contends, of a shift in how we consume, and consequently produce online content.  “Like memory (cultural or personal), YouTube is dynamic. It is an ever-changing clutter of stuff from the user’s past, some of which disappears and some of which remains overlooked, while new material is constantly being accrued and new associations or (literally, hypertext) links are being made” (Hilderbrand, 2007, p. 50).

Hilderbrand’s  analogy made me wonder, what happens when our memories are stockpiled, not with snippets of narratives, but clips wholly unto their own?  “In the culture of the clip, spectacles, stunts, cuteness, pop culture references, and exhibitionism all trump narrative” (Hilderbrand 2007, p. 51).

Teresa Rizzo, in her article on Scan, an online journal of media arts culture, likens YouTube to Tom Gunnings' concept of the “cinema of attractions...based on spectacle, shock and sensation”.  Gunnings' concept was developed in reference to early film produced at the beginning of the last century.  Rizzo contends that YouTube and sites like it are similar in that they are designed to shock rather than tell a story.

So, what happens when we take away the context, the narrative?  What are we left with? I’m not entirely sure because, as I alluded to earlier, I am more of a consumer of narrative than clip, but I see that balance tipping the other way, generationally.  And, if the narrative does give way to the clip, I suspect that we will lose something in that process.  That loss will be the art and wonder of the story.  That undercurrent behind the visual or auditory spectacle that sticks with you and keeps you thinking long after the image and sound fades. 

So this leads me back to my earlier assertion that I am at once inhibited and encouraged to contribute to online content.  I am concerned that what I produce, largely narrative, won’t capture the imagination of the “clip” generation.  But I am also compelled to contribute in a narrative way to maintain the art of the story. 

Hilderbrand, L. (2007). Youtube: Where Cultural Memory and Copyright Converge. Film Quarterly. Vol. 61, No. 1, 48-57
Image courtesy of Maggie Smith,

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