Archive for April, 2012

I love convergence! How can I not, I mean, convergence is bringing so many new and exciting opportunities to the world. According to Henry Jenkins, convergence changes the use of technology, influences our cultural and global interactions and understandings, shapes new ways for industries and potential economies and even changes the way we act socially! Convergence enhances hybridity and globalization, and a participatory culture which looks like it can be the closest we have ever been to democracy.

It sounds very promising. But is it all good? There are many issues one could choose to discuss for this question, and today I have chosen to write about social convergence and citizen journalism. At this very moment I am writing a post in my very own blog, the blog is public and there are no filters or code of ethics which controls what I choose to publicize. If I have something to add to the news today, I can, and if someone wants to read it, they can. Social convergence is making multitasking very easy and gives us the opportunity to get information and news from several places almost at the same time.

Back in the days Walter Cronkite used to finish his news with his own signature-line: “That’s the way it is”. Being a highly trusted broadcast-journalist this was his way of telling his audience that “this is what the news is today”, and it probably was. But as time has gone by, I believe that we have been met with several incidents that have made us not trust mainstream media as much as before. Politicians being corrupt, ownership of media giving us unbalanced and biased packages of news, I think these things made us embrace social convergence even more. Instead of putting our trust in mainstream media, we now put our trust in collective intelligence.

The negative side of us being able to produce news and share it to the public without being actual journalists is of course that there appears a lot of information on the web which are not true; it is hard to filter what is correct and what is not. There are no code of ethics, like journalists strive to write by and I believe that we need this code of ethic. Henry Jenkins talks about “civic media” instead of “citizen journalism”. He says:

“Civic media, as I use the term, refers to any use of any medium which fosters or enhances civic engagement. I intend this definition to be as broad and inclusive as possible. Civic media includes but extends well beyond the concept of citizen journalism which is so much in fashion at the moment.”

The use of any medium which fosters civic engagement. That means us, as well as mainstream media, and talk-shows, and TV-shows, and politicians and everything that spreads information. Instead of “being at war” with mainstream media, thinking that it controls all information, we should seeze the opportunity and cooperate. Citizen journalism might give us an opportunity to express ourselves, but what are the chances for us reaching a world-wide audience? Cooperation might lobby our stories more than we can do ourselves. Marcus O’Donnell, subject coordinator of journalism at the University of Wollongong, suggested that having news being told to us, as well as being given a space to participate, might be as democratic as it can be. I would have to say that I agree.

Reference:

O’Donnell, M 2012, Citizen Journalism, audio recording of lecture, BCM112 Convergent Media Practices, University of Wollongong, delivered 30 April.

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We very often hear about the effects of the media. “Watching television makes you fat”, “violent videogames trigger violence” and “advertising causes pester power”, it is all familiar to us. But can we really blame all of this on the media?

Of course, there will always be someone saying that these things are proven, that the media does influence the audience, but are they really? There is always an experiment where experts, most likely psyhologists, try to reveal the truth between causes and effects, but how can they manage to prove anything? There is not any evidence, it does not exist. Well, the first saying that I mentioned is fairly easy to prove wrong actually, watching TV does not make you fat; it is the lifestyle which might come with it. Sitting in a couch all day while eating can very well have an effect like weight-gaining.

But videogaming and advertising towards children are tougher issues to come around. This is not because there are more evidence proving that they cause effects on an audience, it is because there have always been anxieties, or call it moral panics, connected to these issues. We have always been afraid of the media, blaming it for our children being violent, for having bad language, for dressing improperly and even for making us spend more money when we shop. It is like we have always needed someone to blame for our misbehavior, and of course, the media is the perfect source for that.

So why are we afraid of violent videogames and movies? Now this is when the we might call the media the bad guy. It is because we have heard too many stories telling us that videogames and movies are on of the reasons for violence. There are, it is sad to say, many examples of murders where the murderer seem to have been playing violent videogames or watched a violent video, and therefore we automatically conclude that “violent videogames trigger violence”! There is the Jamie Bulger case from 1993, the Martin Bryant case in 1996 and actually today some people suggest that the murders committed by Anders Breivik in 2011 were influenced by him playing World of warcraft and Call of Duty-Modern Warfare.

These kinds of stories promote moral panics, but they do not prove that it is the case, they are just assumptions. We should look at other causes before we jump to conclusions like how were their childhoods? How about neglect, abuse, alcoholism or bullying? This can be just as valid reasons for aggression as videogames! We learn by watching other people, by rolemodels, by being given moral codes from adults. This is more than a supposable cause for an effect. I am afraid that this is a harder source to blame though; it is tougher to point a finger at parents and society than at the media.

Kirby Ferguson suggests in his blog that “Everything is a Remix“. Collecting material, combining it and transforming it are the same skills or methods that are used even if it is the first, second or fifth time it is produced. When I come to think about it there are really not much originality left in new movies, songs or games that we are introduced to us today. Take for example Michael Jackson’s “Wanna be startin’ something*, have we not heard his phrase in a number of songs now? Akon, Rihanna and Glee have all used it to create either a new remix of the song or created content for a musical. This is not illegal, it is just to demonstrate that remixes are produced all the time and that not much is original anymore. What is worse is when material is produced and claimed to be original when it is not, which I have just learned that Led Zeppelin might be responsible for with a lot of their songs.

There is also the music genre; breakcore, or breakbeat hardcore, which is quite unique when it comes to copying and creativity. Breakcore tends to take use of rearranged breakbeats to create new music. The history of breakcore goes back 40 years and roots in gospel, funk, hip-hop, rave, jungle and d’n’b (Whelan 2012).

A breakbeat is a certain part of a song, often a very popular or exceptionally cool part of a song, which is taken out of its original song and used repeatedly and excessively in another. The song *Amen Brother* by Jester Hairstone (1963) has the most used drum sample in the world (Whelan 2012).

At the same time as breakcore broke out, in the late 90’s, filesharing and mp3’s also spurred and the three of them together made a cooperative team! Between 2002 and 2008 filesharing were responsible for 40-60% of all usage bandwith (Whelan 2012). This is of course a huge problem coming to copyrights. I actually find the whole music genre of breakcore a bit infringing! It is weird that there can be a whole music culture out there, producing music based on other artists music, while other people are being asked to remove their content from for example YouTube because a song is being played in the background, unintentionally. Maybe it is a matter of fair use, but I still find the rules a bit blurry and variable. Another thing I thought of, is if Kirby Furguson is right, that everything is a remix, we really ought to rethink our copyright rules.

Reference:

Whelan, A 2012, Rip/Mix/Burn, lecture, BCM112, Convergent Media Practices, University of Wollongong, delivered 23 April.

Can you think of an issue which concern you a lot? Is there any matter in the public sphere in which you engage yourself and feel that change and/or control is needed? Politics, health, the environment, they are all examples of topics which can create moral panic in a society. Have you ever stopped to think why everyone is worrying or if there really is something to worry about? What is the source of moral panic?

Stanley Cohen (Turnbull 2012) defines moral panic as;

“…A condition, episodes, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values
and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people.”

One such condition can be body image. There is a lot of talk and discussions of “the ideal body” both in social conversations and in the media. Health has always been important to us, but recently it seem to me that being super sporty, eating right and having the perfect body has emerged as a trend in our society. During the last years everyone have got a membership at the gym, it is no longer only the pros who has expensive outfits for cycling-sports or jogging, we all have to buy the healthiest bottled water, sushi, herbs and nuts are required for us to be truly nutritious  and smokers are looked upon as aliens we have never seen before.

There is an obsession today about eating correct and being fit and it can be experienced as threatening to our social values and interests. Children are very often a reason to moral panic; what examples do we set for our children? All this talk about obesity and being healthy, how might it influence the thinking of a child? I believe mainstream media is a source of moral panic, and so is social media. In mainstream media there are “experts” telling us what and why, and they know how to push the right buttons to get us worried (as well as to listen to their solutions to the problems, aka advertising), and in addition to that we actively debate and share the same news on twitter and facebook. Are we not creating our own panic doing that? I would say at least we are contributing.

We also need to use our common sense. We do not seem to question what the media tells us or why it tells us the stories that it does, we just accept everything. Isn’t it funny how their stories might differ from day to day? Are we worrying about obesity or eating disorders? One day I hear that we are to busy with our careers so we only serve our children McDonalds and the other day I get the impression that “no carbs” are the only option on the menu! Somehow we do not seem to notice, but we discuss obesity and “too skinny models” over the same dinner without noticing, and after dinner we still run to the gym in panic not to keep in shape. Contributing? Yes.

We are the ones who sets examples to our children, not the media. We decide what we serve for dinner at home, not the media. There might be bad role models presented in the media, but we have the opportunity to teach them different, in the end it is us who decides if there is a reason for moral panic, not the media.

Reference:

Turnbull, S 2012, BCM110 “Media Issues, Moral Panics and Assignments”, lecture notes, accessed 22/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Are geeks becoming chic? Or are they just experiencing their 15 minutes of fame? It seems to me that during the last years being nerdy is a style that has been adopted by not only the regular man in the street, but also by musicians, politicians, actors, TV represents and more. What I wonder is; has “nerdom” really come to stay or is it just the latest fashion?

I must admit that when I think of a nerd I picture the stereotyped geek from movies or TV shows, like this guy:

Napoleon is my ultimate geek “look-wise”, but he is not really smart enough to qualify is he (he doesn’t have any computer-hacking-skills!) But if he is not good enough, Steve Urkel is!

So are these guys chic? Are they what we all want to be? Suddenly everyone is confessing to be nerds! I agree that “nerdom” is taking a huge part of the entertainment-market these days, but I am not sure it means that it is “cool to be geeky”. Fashion is a funny phenomenon and has yet again transformed something epic into something trendy. It is not the first time this happens, not long ago we all wanted to be hippies. We all had “old” clothes, braided long hair with hair bands!

Fashion is also a lot of things, it is not only clothing! Fashion goes hand in hand with what is trending, and today technology is definitely trending! I think that this is the answer to the rise of the nerds. The rapid developments within technology have signed us all up to “nerdshipness”.

What used to be the geeks’ playground of games, comics, hardware and software has now become the world’s biggest playground of smart-phones, pads, tabs and apps! It is no longer just geeks who like to fiddle with their brand new technology, now we all spend a lot of time figuring out our last new toy; what ringtone do I want? Any cool new apps? Have I got all my facebook, twitter and social media accounts synched into my phone? Oh! I need live wallpaper!

As some things become popular, other industries tries the same coolness, it is like the snowball-effect. Seeing that everyone today are becoming technical geniuses the fashion industry follows it up and makes us look like nerds as well. Like they did with Justin Timerlake.

It is not only clothing, but also the movie industry, gaming industry, musicians, they all follow up and guides us into an era of “nerdification”.

But I would say that there is a divide between Steve Urkel and Justin Timberlake. There is a clear difference to what is geeky and what is fashionable-geeky. The fashion industry’s way of adapting to “nerdom” is by using accessories like glasses, bow-ties, and t-shirts saying “nerd”, but they cannot change the personalities of people. Even if I suddenly wear glasses, I do not change into a total geek with a PhD in technology.

I think the judgmental attitude towards geeks has eased. We do not see much of the “Can’t buy me love”-scenarios anymore where it is the popular versus the geek, but I believe that there is a gap between actual nerds and wannabe-nerds. Today the culture of “nerdom” is cool, but the ideology or assumption of a typical nerd is not.

It is funny with the public sphere. It is supposed to be a “space” or “place” where everyone are free to say their opinions and express themselves, somewhere where we all can debate on issues that are of concern to us and make the rest of the world conscious of our concerns. That is the ideal public sphere.

Where is this place? Is there really one such place where everyone is heard? Obviously there is no physical place in the world called the public sphere but our intentional sphere is in the media. Mainstream media are supposed to act as a news channel that listens to the public and share our views with the rest of the world. Is it really the case though? Do the media pick up on everyone’s concerns? Is everyone really being heard? I find that mainstream media fails as a public sphere. Rather than bringing other people’s messages across borders the mainstream media is promoting tailored and nicely packaged world views to us. Instead of informing us, they are teaching us, turning our public sphere into a monologue rather than a dialog.

When The Invisible Children released the KONY2012 video a lot of questions were raised in the world. There were different reactions to the video, its message, its content and the whole world wanted to discuss their concerns. The western media served us a mixed tape of news playing specialists opinions about money, facts and intentions. It took a whole week before they picked up on Al Jazeera’s view about the Ugandan people, empathy and real experiences. So the mainstream media is not doing a good job serving the public sphere, it basically fails to pick up concerns outside the western world.

Luckily, thanks to the internet and social media, we now have an opportunity to shape a new public sphere. By using Twitter, Facebook, blogging and vlogging members of the public sphere can take the responsibility in their own hands and share their concerns with the rest of the world instantly. There are no filters, no gatekeepers, only the voices of the public sphere. I find this sphere much more enlightening and informative. I believe that with social media our voices are stronger and more clear to the rest of the world. There is still a problem in this public sphere though; Digital divides. The picture below is meant to demonstrate the interest in the Kony-issue by region and date, but can it also be a demonstration of the digital divide in the world?

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Not all citizens in the public sphere have digital access, some people lack digital skills and others lack money to access the digital world. We must struggle to find a way to solve this digital divide. I think having a citizenship in the world of social media gives us a strong voice and helps us having a true public sphere.