Search This Blog

Friday, January 25, 2013

Belly up

In my last post, I stated that I that my contributions to online content are inhibited by self-doubt.  I am often plagued with the question, “Does what I have to say and how I say it have any appeal and traction with anyone out there in the World Wide Web?”  Some might say that if someone can post videos of their cat falling into their toilet and get a ton of 'likes' then certainly what I have to say on issues pertinent to me should have some truck with the billion-or-so other consumers of online content.  So just get over yourself.  Point taken.    

One concern that doesn’t dog me, however, is the origins of my ideas and who might take them and build upon them.  I borrow frequently from items that I’ve read, seen or heard, on the Internet and elsewhere.  Working toward my degree in adult education for the past decade and a bit, I know that knowledge is constructed from many parts and pieces rather than magically created.  And, as a perpetual student, I’m no stranger to citing work, giving credit where credit is due.  As such, if someone can borrow my ideas to further their own learning, well then, provided that they give acknowledgment, that’s just fine by me.  This is all just a part of the learning process.  We beg and borrow (and sometimes steal), and others do the same.  In the end we all benefit, no?  Well not if you’re in the business of creating knowledge and culture, dependent on your ideas for making ends meet. 

If someone takes your ideas, creates something similar (even if it is better), and accepts tolls using your toil, this is a real problem.  Not only are you out the profit from your efforts, but you are less likely to come up with new ideas of your own in the future.  What’s the point if you’re just going to lose out to someone who has the gift of grab?  Therein lays the rub.  How do you create an atmosphere where ideas can be created and shared while protecting the rights of innovators to make a buck from their creations?  The answer, for the past few hundred years has been copyright laws and the concept of intellectual property.  These allowed innovators to stake their claim to their ideas, brand them as you would livestock, something that told everyone, “Hey, this belongs to me.  Move it along.  Eyes on your own paper.”   But, in the age of Internet ,the idea-soup is  getting progressively murkier, more stew-like than ever before, calling into question laws and concepts that have held true for so long but now appear so last-millennium.  This leads me to the question that we were tasked with answering this week:  How can online communities of "producer-consumers" literate in new media work toward building a robust and freely accessible cultural commons in the face of restrictive copyright laws? Or, in keeping with my gastronomical metaphor, with the info age upon us, where ideas, culture and information are accessible to just about anyone, anywhere, how do you create a common pot where creativity and innovation can simmer and brew without burning its contributors? 

Henry Jenkins (2004), in the International Journal of Cultural Studies describes the conundrum like this: “Thanks to the proliferation of channels and the portability of new computing and telecommunications technologies, we are entering an era where media will be everywhere and we will use all kinds of media in relation to each other… Fueling this technological convergence is a shift in patterns of media ownership. Whereas old Hollywood focused on cinema, the new media conglomerates have controlling interests across the entire entertainment industry” (p.34).  So, while technology is providing an avenue for cultural convergence across all media, large multi-media companies are rapidly invading the cultural commons, controlling it with restrictive laws and a phalanx of lawyers.  

The cost of this control not only affects the little guy or gal trying to produce and publish his or her own ideas.  It also has global implications.  As Toby Miller (2004) states: “Whereas culture has frequently permitted the South a certain political and social differentiation, the ‘third world’ has not been allocated a substantive role under the new arrangements [of the new global economy] beyond providing a kind of anthropological avant-garde laboratory for music, medication and minerals.  The costs of compliance with the WTO Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights divert money away from basic needs and towards costly computer equipment and costly bureaucrats with the skills and resources to evaluate and police copyright, trademarks and patents” (p. 59).  The globalization of our economy, then, adds a multinational flair to our creative stew. 

In a recent blog post, my classmate, Ann, argues that the question that we were tasked with answering this week is incredibly complex and fluid, making it difficult to even wrap your head around much less answer.  She contends that the question of how we work toward building an accessible cultural commons in the face of restrictive copyright laws would be better framed as: “How do we balance the right of producers to be appropriately compensated for their work (not in perpetuity, but to enable them to earn a living) against consumers who are increasingly entitled regarding accessing material on the World Wide Web”.    I agree that it is a question of balance.  And I would argue that this constant push and pull, this perpetual teeter-totter of re-negotiating boundaries can sometimes set the stage for creativity, if for no other reason than to ‘stick it to the man’. “Innovation will occur on the fringes; consolidation in the mainstream” (Jenkins, 2004, p. 35). 

But I am also thinking that there is still validity to the question, how do those of us who are producer/consumers of online content, through our production and consumption practices, ensure that there are still fringe contributors to the cultural stew (last food reference, I promise)?  How do we ensure that those folks aren’t pureed (okay, I lied) by the legions of litigators representing the multinational media conglomerates?   The answer to that question isn’t easily found as the articles and blogs that I have referenced aptly attest.  However, I think that there are some simple tenets that we can follow to support the maintenance of a cultural commons.  Contribute without payment and encourage others to build on your ideas.  Acknowledge the sources of your ideas.  And lastly, pay for content when you can.    


Jenkins, H. (2004) The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence International Journal of Cultural Studies March 2004 7: 33-43
Miller, T. (2004) A view from a fossil. International Journal Of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 55-65.

Image courtesy of chawalitpix,

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,

Sunday, January 6, 2013


I’d like to expand on my prior post, on this notion of being fettered. The freedom promised by communication technology is a farce, an illusion. We live in an age where our technology affords us a level of mobility like nothing we have experienced in the past. Temporal and physical spaces no longer define our lives; we can live in one location, work in another, and establish, develop and maintain social ties across vast distances. But do all of these affordances mean that we are any freer now than we were in the past? Have we not simply exchanged one set of chains for another? Have we not traded our attachment to places for attachment to devices? I would argue that we have. 

According to Campbell and Park (2008) “we have entered a new personal age of communication technologies. That is, the communication technologies predominant in today’s society, particularly mobile telephony, are characteristically personal in nature” (p. 372). Now, this is not to say that our communications are more personal, but rather our interaction with technology is decidedly more personalized. It’s all about us, or, more precisely, me. The ‘me’ being whoever ‘you’ are, so long as you are connected. Confused yet? Let me explain.

Nowhere is the personal age of communication technology better exemplified than in public spaces. Walk into any park or mall and what will you see? Many people engaged with their devices, checking emails, tweets, posts and the like, swiping, tapping and typing. I have noticed this at work, particularly in the minutes before a meeting is about to start. A group of people sitting around a boardroom, pleasantries taken care of, madly working their devices, responding to and sending messages across the ether. “Mobile communication around copresent others not only personalizes public space, it also personalizes the communal experience of being in that space” (Campbell and Park, 2008, p. 379). We are no longer participating in the construction of a common space between copresent others. We are not finding common ground and in that common ground, the freedom of knowing that we are not alone. When we engage with our smartphones as intermediary to communicating with the outside world, we have more than just checked out. We’ve checked into our own personal world in a way that excludes all else. 

Campell and Park (2008) explore this personalization further: “Previous to the adoption of the mobile phone, individuals would have more bounded interaction with friends. They would perhaps save bits of information in anticipation of their next meeting and then use that time to update each other. The mobile telephone means that there is no longer the need to deal with this backlog of information. The members of a social group are frequently updated as to the issues and events taking place among their peers” (p. 380). So, we’re no longer wasting time hearing about what has happened to each other in between the times that we actually speak to each other because we already know via the multitude of tweets, posts and so on….I guess that’s more efficient. But does this free up our time so that we can discuss more pressing issues when we actually do get together? In her blog, Katie Benedict reflects upon her personal relationship with her mobile phone: “I am always checking my text message, facebook posts, tweets and emails. If I don’t see my red light blinking on my phone I feel, “what’s going on?” I sort of feel lonely.” So, as I have witnessed around the boardroom table, time spent in social situations with others is more often spent attempting to churn up and consume even more information, reading up on and providing more updates via our devices. And I suspect that the time spent waiting on the blinking red light, is further time taken from engaging in the here and now. 

Walker et al (2009), studied the iPhone as an example of an emergent product design strategy that engages users, knowingly or not, in the personalization of their device and the further development of the technology. “Far from being rigid, fixed, bureaucratic and very ‘technology-like’, the iPhone is instead open, flexible, adaptive, with a lot of underlying technology largely hidden from view” (p. 206). Products like the iPhone are designed to set the stage for personalization and consequently, further development. They are built not with an end product in mind, but rather a set of conditions that will allow for further development. While this may be true, Goggin (2011) suggests that “the playground of apps [the software that allows the user to personalize the device] remains tightly controlled by particular corporations—such as Apple, Google, Samsung, Nokia, and others—and the rules of the apps stores that each has created” (p.150). In his blog, Mike Mitchell asserts that, “apps allow us to track nearly everything we do and with more ease than ever before. They allow us to do the things we want faster, easier, and more inclusively. Like any other market, the market for apps is subject to the laws of supply and demand. It searches for profit first, community interest second.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s supply and demand and profit and loss that ultimately dictates what apps are available. So, while we may feel a certain freedom by personalizing our devices with our ‘own’ apps, it’s the companies that supply those apps who have the ultimate control over how we interact with our devices and consequently how we employ them to communicate and interact with our world.

In my previous post, I talked about getting out from behind the LCD and back to the social side of human services. While I was chained to my desk, I noticed something about myself. Social skills are like any other. Use it or lose it.   I was becoming more socially inept as days past sitting in my cubicle, interacting almost exclusively with hardware and software. This was one of the motivating factors that led me to my present vocational direction: the need to trade interaction with electrons for interaction with neurons, hardware and software for wetware. 

But what I found when I accepted my smartphone, was a world of ubiquitous communication, facilitated and mandated by mobile electronic devices. This wasn’t my first experience with the communication technology of the information age, but it kind of closed the loop for me. Work was the last bastion, ironically, where communication had its limits: the confines of my cubicle and my workday. Such is the world that we live in, though. Through mobile communications, we have exchanged wires for microwaves and, in doing so we have also traded the option of turn-off and tune-out for the promise of all the time and anywhere.

Ann blogs about her experience as a baby boomer teacher of Gen Y students in this personal age of communication technology. “How do I work with this phenomenon – do I integrate it – ignore it – ban it – give up? I text – some; I have not (as yet) linked my workplace email to my phone – I do not want emails to reach me at all hours at which they are sent; do I take my iPhone to the bathroom – no – but I have thought about it! I can live without mobile phone access 24/7. Can (and should) Gen Y – who are my student base? “ Those are salient questions that illustrate a struggle and frustration similar to my own, I think. To conclude this post, I’ll attempt to sum up my reflections on my relationship with ubiquitous communication technologies.

I, like many others of the human race, have a compulsion to communicate. I really do. Just not with you. And, not with all of my friends and family and coworkers, present and past. And, certainly not with a multitude of people that I don’t know. Not all the time anyway. And truth be told, probably not often enough. So, this is the dichotomy that I struggle with and it is exacerbated by the ubiquitous nature of communication technologies today. To the point, I marvel at the apparent freedom to communicate anytime anywhere, but I abhor the compulsion to communicate all of the time, wherever I happen to be. I am at once free and shackled by ubiquitous communication technology.   


Campbell, S. W. and Park, Y. J. (2008), Social Implications of Mobile Telephony: The Rise of Personal Communication Society. Sociology Compass, 2: 371–387.
Goggin, G. (2011). Ubiquitous apps: politics of openness in global mobile cultures. Digital Creativity, 22(3), 148-159.
Walker, Guy H., Stanton, N., Jenkins, D. and Salmon, P. (2009). From telephones to iPhones: Applying systems thinking to networked, interoperable products. Applied Ergonomics. March 2009, 40(2), 206-215.

Image courtesy of wandee007,

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Shackled and chained

For those of you who have read my prior posts and may have been following some of my musings on my vocational meanderings, you will know that I work within the social services.  For much of the recent past, say the last few years, I have been working behind the scenes, involved in the analysis and design of social service delivery models, processes and systems.  Such work, although collaborative at times, saw me spending much of my time researching and writing, eyes glued to the screen, chained to my desk, as it were.    Most recently however, I had the opportunity to return to the more ‘social-side’ of the human services field.  I’m not working in the trenches, the front-line, though.  Rather, I am working in management.  A little removed from carrying and managing a caseload, but challenging in its own right and certainly more social than the backend work that I had been doing for some time. 
I was excited to begin my new job.  I had worked in management a number of years ago, was a little disillusioned when I left, and was eager to give it a go again, armed with greater experience and knowledge and generally more maturity.  Also, I was eager to get out from behind my LCD, start interacting with people, rather than machines, speaking language with nuance and feeling rather than statistics and outcomes.  When I walked into my new office and sat in my new chair, I remember thinking, “This chair isn’t exactly comfortable, but that’s okay because I’m not going to be sitting in it too often”.  And, indeed I haven’t.  I’ve busted out of those chains that bound me to desk and screen.  But before you presume that this story continues with a soliloquy about how I emerged from the cubicle dungeon to take on the role of transformational leader, engaging my colleagues in participatory organizational change, think again.  That’s a story (perhaps) for another day.  Rather, the point that I want to make in this post is that I may have broken free of my desk, but I’ve traded the handcuffs of my 17 inch LCD for the tiny shackles that firmly hold my thumbs to the keyboard below a equally tiny 3 inch LCD. 
The smartphone that I was issued shortly after starting my new job found me sending and answering emails at all hours, in all sorts of places.  Any gap in time during the day was no longer filled with small talk with others but rather furious typing on those little devices.  I was interacting with others but not really.  I was interacting with my smartphone while communicating with others in staccato bursts, taking full advantage of its ubiquitous nature. 

Ubiquity is the concept of anytime, anywhere.  Mobile technology and its convergence with the Internet, embodied in the smartphone, give rise to the notion of ubiquitous information and communication:  the ability to access any information, at a moment’s notice, from anywhere in the world and communicate that information just as immediately.  Goggin (2011) asserts that this is a farfetched and far-off reality (p. 149).  We really don’t have access to all information all of the time and we are really not able to communicate instantaneously.  But is it really that farfetched and far-off?  Campbell and Park (2008) speak about the emergence of biotechnology and the “growth of sentient objects, that is, information and communication technologies embedded in the surrounding environment” (p. 383).  Could there come a time when our personal biotechnology interacts with sentient objects in our environment to provide our body and minds with information even before we think to ask for it or pause to wonder?  Could there come a time when we send an email to someone simply by thinking about it?
So I’ve traded the chains of my desk for the shackles of my smartphone.  Will there come a time when I trade those tiny shackles for something else entirely?  What will those bindings look like and, more importantly, how fettered will I be?
Campbell, S. W. and Park, Y. J. (2008), Social Implications of Mobile Telephony: The Rise of Personal Communication Society. Sociology Compass, 2: 371–387.
Goggin, G. (2011). Ubiquitous apps: politics of openness in global mobile cultures. Digital Creativity, 22(3), 148-159.

Image courtesy of Pong,