What is old is new again, somewhere.

27 03 2009
One of the post powerful communicative tools.

One of the post powerful communicative tools.

In the Western world we take many things for granted, from flushing toilets to public transit. What we recognize as everyday technology is in some places of the world, a new arrival. For instance, take radio stations in the poor rural areas of Africa.

Within South Africa the divide between the digital elite and the rural impoverished is large to say the least. The wealthy urbanites who partake of the internet are educated and aware of new technologies, but those living in poor rural areas do not have the necessary resources. So, being the caring culture that we are, we donate or sell older radio equipment. With this the rural communities are able to establish a primary means of communication outside and within the village while also introducing the population to the benefits of new technologies.

Salt smells good.

Salt smells good.

I find it startling to realise that some areas of the world do not have phone lines, that some villages have never seen indoor plumbing. In comparison, we in the Western world have too much technology; and we rely upon it to an unprecedented degree. I think everyone should be aware of technology and experience its marvels, but only if they want to. We watched a movie in my Advertising & Society class last semester about the traveling ‘Ad Missionaries’ in Papa New Guinea. Western products like powdered detergent and Coca-Cola were received with scepticism and caution; the crowd that gathered around the missionaries needed to be convinced through skits and demonstrations, which are extensions of their oral culture.

A small setup with a big job.

A small setup with a big job.

I worry that new media will take away the independence that remains in the world. Once rural radio stations become more widespread in Africa what’s to stop a digital urban elite from amalgamating then into his corporation? If local radios can remain independent, running off grants and local support I believe they can make a difference within those communities. Through this medium, the spread of news and entertainment will bring near and far communities closer together while maintaining the traditional oral culture.

Megwa, Eronini R. “Bridging the Digital Divide: Community Radio’s Potential for Extending Information and Communication Technology Benefits to Poor Rural Communities in South Africa..” Howard Journal of Communications 18(2007): 335-352.





Utopia on Earth

27 03 2009

The internet has proved that it is here to stay- few of my generation will have turned on their televisions before their computers this morning. Many of my peers use the internet for academic purposes daily, and thousands use it regularly in the workplace. Together, we have established collective knowledge and participation in a new realm, a utopic realm.

The beginning of collective knowledge in cyberspace.

The beginning of collective knowledge in cyberspace.

French philosopher Pierre Lévy believes that the internet, or cyberspace, will “…perfect cultural and biological evolution and deliver control over our collective destiny.” This will be possible through collective knowledge, which will result in global unity and equality because everyone has access to the same knowledge and industry will cease to be capitalistic in nature.

However, Lévy’s utopic futurology doesn’t end here. Humanity will then be able to control the biosphere, from weather patterns to evolution. This control over the biosphere could then be used to reach “our own goals” while still maintaining the planet.

I tend to agree, or at least dream, of Lévy’s theory. Collective knowledge has been attempted in the past, from pre-Revolution salons in France to local libraries, but through contemporary technology it has reached it’s zenith; the means are now available for everyone to contribute and benefit. If intellectual property rights and capitalism can be controlled, then in theory war will end and inequality will be bridged.

If only it were that easy.

If only it were that easy.

Unfortunately, it would require the cooperation of billions of people, and I have a Hobbes-like view of the human race: they will never get along for long. Profit has been ingrained into our society for the past several thousand years. It may take several more before the human race can let go of material gain in order to transcend into peace.

Alien invaders from Earth

Alien invaders from Earth

On a side note, Lévy’s notion of directing evolution to achieve our goals gives me goose bumps; it makes me think of aliens. Not that aliens freak me out, but imagine the state of the world under utopic principles. There would be no fear from neighbouring countries and advancement would turn from militaristic to explorational-despite having a collective wealth of information there is still the off-planet element of the unknown and the human fault of curiosity. It’s a force which is driving us in this day and age but will never be fully realised until total attention can be given to it. To explore new planets the home world must be secure, meaning Earth must (or should) be a utopia at that time. Life is cyclical though, so while utopia would bring about a new age, it would later destroy it through such familiar tools as censorship (of new discoveries from the public) and competition.

Strangelove , Michael. The Empire of Mind: Digital Piracy and the Anti-Capitalist Movement. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Inc., 2005.





A world of Dunces

27 03 2009

okkkkk yes i did need this for homework cuz my teacher told us to pick a song and get the lyrics . so there need some ice for that burn! OH wait why wud i wana give u some wen u r a totall ugly jurk who is absssesed with a singer, who doesnt even know u! oh and next time u wana diss me -well looks like there wont ve another time cus u just got smoked.. ouch sizzle did that burn u? like i wud care anyways!! xoxo URnERDS!

Oh my Lord, where to begin? This enlightening comment was found posted January 22nd, 2009 in the board on Taylor’s Swifts-Love Story lyrics (and yes, it has been sitting in my draft folder since then). I heard it and the lyrics intrigued me enough to look it up. This song has a little (okay, large) Romeo & Juliet theme, which works out all well and good until Juliet blurts out that she’s a Scarlet Letter. At this point in time everyone is just thinking to themselves, “How could Juliet be anything like Hester? That’s a big secret.” I hope anyways.

A for Adultery, P for Princess?

A for Adultery, P for Princess?

But I digress from the issue at hand: the disintegration of the English language through electronic communication. The above example is probably from a tween, that lovely age between ages 10-12. While the superior attitude of her (I don’t know why, but I assume the poster was female) words is concern enough, her use of ‘internet English’ is what shocks me the most. The horribly mangled spelling and complete lack of grammar makes the message all the more offensive. But this is how the younger generation is communicating, using poor language skills to impart negative comments. And of course there are those who are simply lazy.

This guy should tour elementary schools.

This guy should tour elementary schools.

Ingrid Mina Fandrych takes an oppositional stance, saying that electronic communications such as e-mail and forums are not destroying a medium of communication (ie: proper English), but has become a new medium entirely. She places electronic text between the mediums of written and oral language, as it replaces traditional Latin-derived words with the vernacular. This makes English simpler as well as more logical and practical for everyday communication.

I disagree because Fandrych sees electronic communication as a linguistic advancement rather than a self-destructive force. Before the creation of a universal dictionary reading and writing must have been a headache as everyone had a preferred spelling or meaning to words. Several hundred years later I see this happening again. We live in a society of consistency, and this is probably the reason poor spelling and grammar grates my nerves like cheese.

Fandrych noted that the New York Times ran a story about the characteristics of ‘internet English’ and how they were appearing more and more frequently within student work. These characteristics being “…shortened words, abbreviations, improper spelling, capitalization and use of typewriter characters.” Her new third medium is slowly destroying the older.

Have we reached the point were the education system can no longer teach correct language skills because of the internet’s dominant role in our every day lives? The day is fast approaching when our language is going to have to think seriously on the direction it’s taking and its communicative consequences; lets not take the lazy path. Let’s spend the extra 15 seconds to type out a full sentence, the minute or two it takes to look-up an unfamiliar word. English is by far one of the most colourful and vast languages, rise up to the challenge.

Using more than one or two fingers helps.

Using more than one or two fingers helps.

Fandrych, Ingrid Mina. “Electronic Communication and Technical Terminology: A Rapprochement?.” Nawa: Journal of Language & Communication 1(2007): 147-158.





Goodbye TV, Hello PC

26 03 2009

Over the eras technologies have come an gone, but who would have thought that the computer would replace the television? Thanks to the internet’s collective nature, television shows, movies and commercials are easy to find, and prices are so cheap they’re a steal. Coupled with the features of a personal computer, it’s no wonder which machine is dominating.

The generative nature of the computer makes this possible. The term generative is coined by Jonathan Zittrain and refers to the ability of the user to create and control content. On a television set, this ability is limited to setting the channels and clocks, and maybe even a welcome message. This type of television would be a proprietary in nature, meaning content and the machine itself can only controlled within the parameters set by the producer.

In 100yrs will they be antiques?

In 100yrs will they be antiques?

A study by Ben Anderson looked into the social effects of introducing broadband to a household. Among his significant findings, he discovered television viewing did decrease as the internet was turned to instead. His reasons were the same as my hypothesis above.

Based on these trends, it’s not surprising that new technology, like the Sony Bravia, is now being released to work with computers, and Windows Media Center with home entertainment systems.

If computers continue to draw the cable audience to their monitors then I can see cable companies either collapsing or shifting entirely to internet based content. Oh, that’s already going to happen with the switch from analog to digital signals. Radio stations are already streamed through computers; it is only a matter of time before we have the technology to stream a station directly from the internet onto our television screens.

Anderson, Ben. “THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF BROADBAND HOUSEHOLD INTERNET ACCESS.” Information, Communication & Society 11(2008): 5-24.

Zittrain, Jonathan. The Future of the Internet – and How to Stop It. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Yale University Press, 2008.





Lessig & the Bishies

26 03 2009

Last Tuesday Larry Lessig opened my eyes to remix culture. Our society has access to unbelievable technology, and with that we can replicate or create content. Sometimes when we create content we are replicating corporation-made material while at the same time adding our own socio-cultural meanings through outside material.

I swear he's male.

I swear he's male.

A good example is fan fiction, a sub-culture that is shunned by most internet surfers. But fan fiction is more than just text sex (most of the time anyways). Writers build on pre-established characters in a new context, sometimes that means a different relationship or setting, in order to convey personal or societal opinion.

Wei Wei, a professor at the University of Minnesota, researched the online realm of bishonen/shonen-ai (“boy love”) manga, revealing that the creators of fan fiction are participating in “semiotic guerrilla warfare”. Most often created by girls, these re-worked stories are a defiance of their traditionally patriarchal society. As individualism is growing in Asiatic countries, the younger generations are feeling lost. By using androgynous characters, writers are able to convey their personal frustration within their culture:

“…young people … [find] themselves unable to relate to the opposite sex as they are constituted within the contemporary cultural and political environment, an environment that creates a profound disjuncture between the expectations of men and the expectations of women.”

These gender neutral characters (although some are pegged as male or female through the use of stereotypical symbols) are then able to overcome their struggles.

If it were not for their remixing of pre-made content and its mass distribution through online communities like Elfwood or Fanfiction.net social issues could not be discussed in a “safe zone”. If a character experiences sexism in a far away setting it will not be immediately thought of as a reflection of the author’s society, and they will not be questioned or harassed. But because it is not publically questioned for its content meaning, fan fiction remains a niche form of expression.

Wei, Wei. “Resistance in Dreaming: A Study of Chinese Online Boy’s Love Fandom..” Conference Papers–Internation Communication Association (2008): 1-25.





If it’s not an iPod it’s a cell phone

25 03 2009

Teens everywhere are plugged into iPods or chatting on their phones, ignoring their surroundings. Most can be located by their characteristic “fuck off” head headphones. When they are not doing either of those they’re texting-on the bus, at the table, in church, during exams, etc. It’s becoming a widespread bad habit in the eyes of the older generations, but a natural part of socialization for teens.

Growl.

Growl.

Rich Ling compiled several studies and noticed that teens use cellular phones as a means to emancipate themselves from their parents. They do this by using the cell phone communicate within an internal group, ie. a clique. However, by remaining within this group they alienate themselves from outside individuals, creating a sort of “mafia” in their seclusion. By communicating with only this group, teens are eliminating people from their lives, such as potential employers or boyfriends/girlfriends. Since the nature of a cellular phone is high mobility, this clique can be reached nearly 24/7, which removes the need for an extended network.

For the future, Ling predicts the continued use of cell phones in this emancipatory fashion along with their influence on social behaviour. Technological advances like adding more functions and appliances to the already compact cell phone will also contribute to peer cohesion, but Ling never goes into detail about how.

I predict that iphone-like technology is the way of the future (although I disagree with Jonathan Zittrain who states that iphones are a step towards proprietary systems; rather it is the capabilities of the device that will be widespread). Iphones are a minature, super-powered computer. I may be unfounded in my speculation, but based on the direction technology is advancing I think it reasonable that iphone-like machines will encompass the realm of the desktop (and possibly laptop) computer. The small machine itself would act as a mini-computer and later as a flash-drive like device as it was docked into the hub of a larger machine, say your television, which already has USB ports and other computer characteristics. The docking station could hook up the phone to an internal computer meant to expand upon the applications within the phone, rather than provide them. It would be the most portable, universally functional (if it didn’t end up being tied to specific television company) machine.

On screen display is only the beginning.

On screen display is only the beginning.

I think the effect of such a contraption would not greatly effect how teens socialise through the device. It may place a greater emphasis on the new screen/hub technology, but the constant contact available through texting alone is too powerful to simply remove now.

Ling, Rich. “CHILDREN, YOUTH, AND MOBILE COMMUNICATION.” Journal of Children & Media 1(2007): 60-67.

Zittrain, Jonathan. The Future of the Internet – and How to Stop It. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Yale University Press, 2008.





Someday I’ll make viral ads

25 03 2009

With the dawn of this decade advertisements have taken on a new twist, they’ve become viral. They don’t spread colds, but they have a few other things in common: they’re highly replicable, hard to fight off completely and are usually unexpected. Thomas Baekdal offers some good pointers about viral ads and their creation, but what’s the point of making a viral ad?

Let me show you a story. In it J.J. Abrams produces a viral cult prior to the release of “Cloverfield”, resulting in the best January release ever.

“Cloverfield” trailers were handheld shots of joy juxtaposed with pure chaotic terror with the purpose of drawing the viewer online. The main character is apparently having a birthday and then suddenly fire rains from the sky and the statue of liberty’s head is outside his building. Intriguing.

This was bold and new; it was an experiment. Audience interaction and cooperation is the foundation of the internet and J.J. Abrams and his marketing team hit it on the head. By seducing audiences online with twisting trailers, they then offered them the experience of hunting for clues online through various websites like Tagurato and Slusho!, which both appear in the movie. It was, in essence, a viral scavenger hunt that lasted about four months up until the release of the film. It was a grand success, one of the best January has seen (remember. most people are at home watching the tv series box sets they got for Christmas).

Aww, thanks Slusho!

Aww, thanks Slusho!

Anyways, the point is that promoting something through viral advertising gives it the potential to grow exponentially. Duncan Watts, a sociology professor at Columbia University, challenges the strength of viral ads. He says they are targeted at a specific audience, which is usually smaller than the group of “easily influenced people”. By targeting a smaller audience promotion and profit are decreased.

These are perfect for low budget movies then, right? “The Dark Knight” is among the highest grossing films of all time and had viral marketing campaign.

Don't under-estimate him.

Don't under-estimate him.

Brodesser-Akner, Claude. “‘CLOVERFIELD’.” Advertising Age 79.113/17/2008 58. 25 Mar 2009 .

Creamer, Matthew. “What’s plaguing viral marketing.” Advertising Age 78.287/16/2007 33-35. 25 Mar 2009 .