Question #1 “From Postman, to Jenkins, to Benkler, we have a lengthy discussion and argument about what is happening with our culture both creative and political. Trace this argument out, seeing where they agree, disagree, and reinforce each other, and differ. In the end, give a quick summary of where you fall.”
Postman discusses preindustrial society at length in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He develops a well-rounded historical argument by discussing the events leading up to his “Age of Exposition” and the dominance of typography.
The preindustrial society was dominated by oral tradition first and slowly transferred to typography. The American culture was very much stimulated by books imported from Britain. It is important to note that during this time frame the church primarily owned the original printing presses and controlled the distribution of literature for quite some time. The original printings were replications of the Gutenberg bible. The oral dominance of our creative and political culture was complete until the first printing press in America was opened at Harvard University in 1638. After that the majority of printed materials in the American colonies were newsletters. The first newspaper was started in 1690 but was banned after the first issue. However, the primary reason for the lack of typography was lack of an abundance of paper available and thus primarily our culture both creative and political was based on oral tradition in preindustrial America.
In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman describes oral tradition in terms of greater truth being granted to the person who knows the most colloquial anecdotes or proverbs by which to pass judgment on the situations at hand. This meant that a man’s intelligence was solely based on his ability to memorize massive amounts of data. It is quite feasible that in terms of creativity we have lost much works from this time period in the American colonies as these works were never written down.
Postman discusses a term called “resonance” that he borrows from Northrop Frye in relation to cultural significance. Resonance is the idea that a particular context acquires a universal significance. However, the idea of resonance symbolizes the fact that something can transcend its original context to absorb a larger meaning such as the phrase “the grapes of wrath.”
The political elements during this time frame were strongly based on oral rhetoric. In this period of time it was acceptable to pause or even break before responding to an opponent’s argument. In our time it is considered a sign of weakness or even incompetence to not have an immediate retort prepared. This is very different from the world today, or even industrial America.
Benkler discusses, in his Wealth of Networks, this time period in short references he notes that throughout history that technology have made human actions harder or easier to perform. He notes that having a technology does not necessarily equal an emergence in social constructs. He mentions for an example the idea of ocean navigation only being heavily important when land empire ambitions are hindered by strong neighboring countries. The technology was available and possibly understood by most cultures but was only adopted on-demand. He only states this because he believes that it is important to note that society does not always adopt a new technology on the basis of its existence.
Benkler also mentions that in political culture that there was a changing to liberalism from the “divine right of kings” and established religion conventions. John Locke was also noted building the political foundations of modern liberalism.
The first continuous periodical newspaper was started in 1704, in 1730 there were seven, and by 1800 there were more than 180 published newspapers. The change from pre-industrial oral traditions had quickly given way to typography. “The Age of Exposition” has come to pass, according to Postman. The “Age of Exposition” was signified by a central focus on typography as the primary source of cultural and creative discourse. It was a considered to be a thought process, a means of expression, and a method of learning. Postman clearly values the “Age of Exposition” above any other period of time in the history of the Americas.
Postman discusses the similarities between oral rhetoric and written word in this time period which he called “The Age of Exposition.” The political ramification of the “Age of Exposition” was the fact that most public figures were known by their written works and not by their pictures or paintings.
It was evident that political speeches were prepared well in advance and so were responses. The careful precision of wording and length of sentences suggested a heavily written preparation prior to speech delivery. Postman specifically discusses the Lincoln-Douglass debates and how a given candidate would talk for 3-4 hours and it not be uncommon. However, during this “Age of Exposition” the average man could easily endure this and be attentive the whole time and comprehend these presentations of oral dictation. This is in stark contrast to the average attention span of 15 seconds for the modern human.
The creative culture of American society was affected by the typographic mind according to Postman. Postman believed that print encouraged rational and objective utilization of thought to interpret the positions of authors and artists. The rationalization of typography as a mode of communication lead to beautifully constructed prose and well-thought out lyrics and verse. Something that Postman believes is lacking in the post-industrial society.
Benkler notes that since the industrial society mass media communications have required ever increasing amounts of capital to conduct their business. Benkler also mentions that from a creative aspect that in the 19th century music was something that was done with friends not something that was purchased. Benkler nor Jenkins spends a great deal of time talking about the past more focused on the current trends with brief references to the past.
Emerging Post-Industrial Society
Postman’s thoughts on this are referenced by what he calls the “Age of Show Business.” Postman notes that transition to images and video from text which he holds in higher regard. Postman tells the story of a doctorate student who argued with a review board about the relevancy of interview data that had not been published in an academic journal. The board retorted that despite having witnesses that written work is considered to be more truthful and accurate as it is assumed the author has read and re-read, edited, and had it reviewed before publishing their works. That speech is simply an off-hand delivery and it’s easy to utter something completely inaccurate verbally. They further pointed out that the student would prefer a written account of his passing this verbal exam as opposed to their word which would be regarded as a rumor. This is his way of vocalizing his argument and substantial evidence that typography is held in higher respect and truth than image, video, or speech.
The advent of television is where Postman’s understanding of post-industrial society ends. It could be argued that we could easily apply these principles forward to the internet which is quickly taking the place of television in our lives for news, entertainment, and connectedness.
Postman goes on to discuss Post-Industrial society and claims the signpost for the change is the invention of the telegraph. Postman believed that the irrelevancy of news from Maine transmitted to Texas was simply the beginning of a greater travesty of irrelevant information sharing. He points out his argument by asking a simple question. How often do you change your plans on the basis of the news? Withholding the weather, typically the news blasted to our ears is irrelevant. Even as I write this the recent fiasco of useless un-news was Tiger Woods alleged affairs with multiple women. Is this truly relevant? What “resonance” does this hold?
Postman discusses the political culture and the changes created by the “Age of Show Business.” Postman states that politicians, who in the “Age of Exposition” were known for their relevancy and ability to mesh words together intelligently, are now known for their looks and how they fit into stereotypes. He points out that he truly believes that Nixon simply lost the battles in his career because he looked like a liar. With constituents now able to see their potential candidates via television, this is why you rarely see candidates of displeasing nature or overweight candidates. Potential candidates who could do wonderful things in office are now subjected to the prejudices of their outward appearances.
Postman mentions that the creative culture of our society has turned towards a series of short blurbs and television is the primary source of entertainment. As his book is a little dated, I apply his concepts to the internet as well. If you notice the creative culture of our society has become more social shared through the internet via mediums like MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook. These concepts once broadcast on television with the same three stations are now bombarded to the world in an on-demand lifestyle via the World Wide Web.
Postman mentions that education is altered as well with advent of entertaining education. The problem with this is that now students don’t want to learn if the subject matter is not entertaining, which leads to subjective students. This mentality is leading to a world dominated by humans with on-demand knowledge, now Google this.
Jenkins, in his Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, discusses in great detail the creative culture created by a participatory intelligence of its users. I’ll discuss a few examples from the book.
Jenkins discusses spoiling Survivor where groups of people collectively work together online in order to determine the outcome of the show before the final episode is aired. The users of this forum were very active until an unknown user ruined the fun by taking away the challenge by releasing what could be determined as fairly accurate data to the online community.
Jenkins also talks about the transmedia storytelling utilized by the Matrix franchise. The Matrix story was spread out across video games, websites, and four movies. The ultimate goal was the effective of a greater feeling of participation and understanding of the world of the Matrix.
Jenkins discusses fan fiction, fan art, and fan movies. He covers Star Wars fans who adapt the stories to their own whims. They are separate from the Star Wars movies but the entitlement felt by George Lucas and Lucas Arts caused a generous amount of fear about the loss of intellectual property. This is something that Benkler discusses at length. Jenkins also mentions “The Daily Prophet” a fan site set up for the authoring of fan fiction for the Harry Potter universe. The owners to the royalty distribution for Harry Potter were extremely displeased because the fan fiction “threatened” their intellectual property and crossed their idea of plagiarism. What if one of their new books or movies borrowed an idea from fan fiction, even unintentionally?
Jenkins discusses the political culture of the emerging post industrial age by stating that consumers of popular culture have influenced the ways in which politicians campaign for voters. Jenkins notes that the new media allows access, participation, reciprocity, and a connectedness with peers that the current system is not used to. The recent presidential election shows the utilization of such faculties by the questions posed to candidates on YouTube and the web campaigns hosted by Obama. The online world as well hosted their own campaigns and jokes about Obama and the other candidates. There was a website dedicated simply to making fun of Sarah Palin that was updated daily with clickable features and jokes design to illicit laughs about her campaign comments.
Jenkins discusses blogging and the ability of participatory culture to keep up with the goings on of a feed of a particular political candidate, organization, or other such entity is generating. However, this form of print is not edited as an academic article would be. It becomes a question of what is truth once again. Jenkins refers to monitorial citizens who survey the landscape of the web and are better informed that the average human but it’s unclear on whether they can act on all the bits of knowledge they contain. The internet provides access to the information needed for understanding the political landscape but there is so much data that no one person could ever monitor it all. The informed and ill-informed become participants in a global construct of information sharing that is end result of social networking.
Jenkins talks about YouTube and one of the functions of YouTube these days is also to capture speeches or the mistakes candidates make. In the not so distant past, if someone made a mistake on television and you missed it, you were never quite sure if it happened or not. However, in the age of YouTube the world will forever know exactly what was said. However, as Postman might argue in an age of Photoshop and video splicing how true are the images we see?
Jenkins touches on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” where entertainment crosses over into the realm of news delivery. One wonders how Postman would feel about this, would this represent his fears of “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”
Benkler discusses an emerging “Networked Information Economy”(NIE) in which participants have improved capacity to do more by and for themselves, to do more in loose commonality to each other, and improves their capacity to do more in formal organizations that operate outside the standard market sphere. Benkler states that the current system of intellectual property is failing and is actually an inhibitor for the advancement of ideas and market within the collective human intelligence.
Benkler from a creative culture standpoint sees that the Internet allows people to contribute in various ways and not overwhelming amounts of time. The modularity of contribution is increased. The cost of computational devices has dramatically decreased enabling many individuals to utilize their own knowledge and backgrounds in a variety of ways to share and collaborate over greater distances than previously possible. Through the NIE we are able to create and learn much faster by association with others who share similar ties; much as academics would on a research project in a local region we can now do globally.
Benkler states that the idea of a commons based system has already proven successful in such ventures as open source software. These commons based developments don’t necessarily preclude financial gain; they simply work towards the bettering of the information and its entities. These commons systems are the results of many individuals working autonomously. The advances in open-source software outpace Windows and Mac OS by leaps and bounds due to a continuous effort to improve the existing code. If Microsoft where to release their iron grip on the source code for Windows to the world to be edited upon they could still generate a revenue from selling the open source, maybe not nearly as much as they charge now. However, the end result could be a greater experience for the end user. This “commons” style development would serve the possibility that not all individuals are created equal and would lead to a strong product or operating system.
Benkler implies that the networked information economy removes a majority of the manipulation possibilities by those who control the information distribution. This allows individuals to become the creators of cultural information and without distortion from an editor. These unedited ideas are not necessarily met with no resistance, but these voices can be heard when they might otherwise hit the cutting room floor. The implications of this are definitively evident within the political culture of our emerging society.
Postman argues specifically that the world is heading down a terrible path. That ultimately our continued deviation from typography as an ultimate truth will lead to our subjugation by government. He believes that Aldus Huxley’s vision of a Brave New World is the ultimate direction in which our world is headed. He argues that because images can be altered and video being live is capable of being retracted before it becomes common knowledge. Part of his argument has become invalid with the invention of on-demand television and digital video recorders but the concept is still valid. Images can be altered to suit our needs. There are many cases of this throughout the years not to mention the wide adoption of Photoshop-ing as a common term for doctoring photographs.
Jenkins argues that contemporary media is shaped by contradictory trends, that cyberspace has displaced traditional gatekeepers of data and now subdues the power that old media once had. He believes that if we focus on the technology and not on the political, cultural, and social aspects of the message we will undoubtedly be lost before we’ve started. He believes that most people utilize the information available to them in an effort to be defense in reference to politics rather than proactive, that these monitorial citizens are better informed but do not know how to do with it. Jenkins mentions from a political standpoint that candidates and parties have lost control of the political process and networks have been ambiguous in defining exactly what constitutes their campaigns. Jenkins believes that in order to bridge the gap between red and blue that there needs to be a participatory culture in which they can learn and grow from interacting with one another and create a collective intelligence where we deliberate together to solve our problems. Jenkins states that convergence encourages participation and collective intelligence, and he believes that participation is an extremely important political right.
Benkler believes that our current beliefs about economics and society do not have to be as they are. He blatantly hates the idea of intellectual property and patent based market systems. He believes the further that intellectual property tries to expand to incorporate more control over the content the more the collective creativity of society will be hindered. He believes that ever decreasing costs of computational technology is leading to increased adoption and participation throughout society. He also shows many examples of how peer production is not only effective but is an excellent method for market production. He does point out that peer production only makes sense as it is the internet equivalent of an assembly line. He mentions that in terms of democratic discourse that the networked information economy allows a reorganization of the public sphere away from mass media enterprises. He acknowledges that the networked information economy will result in restructuring of money and power from businesses that had previously had a large market share to a new mixture of individuals and groups that have adapted their businesses to the climate change. There is a danger of the old model staying in place which would greatly inhibit our ability to grow and it is important to Benkler that we attempt to defeat the corporations now that are trying to retain the idea of intellectual property.
Postman’s believes that the truth of anything creative or political culture being lost is a valid concern; this is true as well to Jenkins. Jenkins mentions this in his chapter “Photoshopping for Democracy” it is a concern in a world dominated by the ability to modify pictures to suit your needs to be wary of possibilities.
Postman’s fear of the masses being subdued by entertainment and overabundance of data is somewhat supported in Benkler’s discussions of intellectual property and the hindrance of the advancement of mankind.
Jenkins and Benkler both support a common claim that the current structure of intellectual property this is a huge issue for creative culture today because it isn’t working and needs to be revisited. Benkler points out that even if you removed the copyright from a newspaper it would lose virtually no revenue dollars.
Jenkins and Benkler have commented on the effectiveness on participatory culture in both creative and political functions. Benkler notes open source software which as a form of peer produced creation utilizes a Networked Information Economy to produce itself and Jenkins mentions online communities such as “The Daily Prophet” where creation of new storylines, characters, and adventures keep the imagination alive. From a political standpoint as well, Jenkins discusses blogging and monitorial citizens.
Jenkins and Benkler both touch on the idea of individual autonomy contributing to the larger collective through contributions both political and creative in nature. This is also indicated by open source software and the fan fiction websites as well as political blogging.
Obviously each author had a different agenda and objective in mind when writing their books. One of them is quite dated in the scheme of things even if some of the potential ideas remain true. There are some contrasts between them which I will now discuss.
Postman was a doom-sayer, he believed the world was going to end in mindless subjugation of the masses by the political things that would be. He also believes there was an overwhelming breakdown of the creative culture. This isn’t entirely inaccurate however it’s safe to say that participatory culture have allowed some of us to remain mindful of our surroundings. Neither Jenkins nor Benkler really support this allegation.
Jenkins and Benkler although two separate styles of writing pretty much agreed with each other, other than Jenkins never made a strong conviction that the current system of intellectual property was wrong, only that it was questionable. Jenkins strongly supported creative culture and it seemed to me that Benkler simply suggested an alternative means of revenue for it.
Benkler strongly focuses on the economics surrounding the situation and wisely so, as money makes the world go round. However, neither Postman nor Jenkins addresses the monetary nature of the cultural and political sides of the emerging post industrial age.
Where I stand?
I believe as Postman did that the over-abundance of useless data that passes as creative culture is a danger to society. I do not however believe that I will be subjugated by the political powers that be as long as I have the faculties to think for myself. I also believe that Jenkins is right about convergence cultures and how they contribute to the greater creative culture of society. I also whole-heartedly agree that the current system of intellectual property is terrible; I do not believe however that Benkler is correct in believing we should dump it completely. I believe that artists and authors should be paid for their creations.
Question #2 Groundswell, Jenkins, and Benkler all discuss how changes brought about by networked economy are affecting businesses. Discuss this. In what ways have businesses responded? How should businesses adapt? Are some businesses destined to be harmed no matter what?
Businesses are impacted by these changes in different ways. The first and foremost is fear. Many businesses are afraid of the changes if they have not been subjected to them yet. The collective intelligence of their customers now challenges their abilities to control information about their firm and products. There have been a number of scandals and nightmares over the past few years when information is leaked into the world without the consent of the proprietary owners of the information. However these incidents are not entirely limited to truthful information leaks.
A second change is the collective consciousness of the internet users; they share details and give reviews on products. The internet provides consumers the ability to unite and share information in a collective consciousness one that is aware of your problems as a company and is not shy about vocalizing complaints or praises for these items. It’s entirely possible that many businesses have an unapproved online presence that they’re not even aware of currently. This unapproved presence can definitely hinder a business especially if the business does not react well to this.
A third change is how much harder it’s becoming to protect an intellectual property in a world where fans take control by borrowing from the source and creating their own ideas and stories from them. This is mentioned by both Jenkins and in some ways by Benkler.
Depending on the business the changes brought about by this can be severe or simply an integration of a new web presence strategy. For the most part businesses have to rethink their strategies due to backlashes from the internet. A good example of this would be Digg.com’s decision to allow their users to post the HD-DVD code, the users would not allow this to be buried and continued to post until the owner of digg.com formally released a statement that they would no longer control the content.
For some businesses this has been excellent. In the book Groundswell by Bernoff and Li discuss methods in which businesses can adapt to the overwhelming world of web 2.0. Bernoff and Li suggest that embracing the groundswell is the best thing they can do. They give methods for designing and implementing a plan to not only gain an understanding of your company’s image on the web but to react to it in a way that is constructive and fulfilling for both the company and their consumers.
For other businesses this has been extremely unsuccessful. The music industry continued to lash out at the people who were sharing their music for free. The laws of copyright got tighter and tighter with no absolution to the problem in sight. The harder the clamped the further they infuriated their fans. Now, stealing music is commonplace and accepted by almost everyone I know. The music industry’s current system is eventually going to collapse on their kneejerk reactions to piracy. The proprietary strategies that Benkler speaks at length about need to change of these businesses are to survive the changes brought on by the Groundswell or Networked Information Economy.
Benkler contends that the further expansions of rights to intellectual property like songs and movies act as a tax on the nonproprietary methods of creation. What constitutes improper usage of a song? At what point is it illegal to backup your own music or record songs from the radio? These questions could be applied to any object that any business provides as a product or service.
Some businesses will undoubtedly grow under this wave of changes. If a business embraces the idea of peer production of for example software and generates a form of payment for a completed project in a non-proprietary environment which is the case in some current communities. There are also communities where artists and developers can bid for jobs in a competitive environment.
Businesses should ultimately adapt by first listening to what is going on in the groundswell/NIE. Listening is the first step to understanding. The next step is to develop a strategy for integration. Bernoff and Li suggest the POST method for deployment. POST stands for people, objectives, strategy, and technology respectively. The people are the human units that a business will be communicating with or utilizing to communicate on behalf of a business. Objectives need to be clear and understood from the start. This will serve to prevent as best as possible any miscommunications by way of misunderstandings. Strategy in how a business will implement integration. Technology is the software and hardware components that you will need for deployment of these new strategies.
In the effort of a more complete answer, I will further discuss the POST strategy over the next few paragraphs to give a better understanding of how businesses should implement changes to their web 2.0 strategy. The people aspect of POST is the contributors, critics, and spokespeople for your business. The people a business chooses to use to represent it should be carefully chosen with a clear agenda in mind. The person or people from the company should be willing to listen closely to what the consumers are saying and respond quickly and effectively. It is critical to also understand the rebels and critics within the global community as they might well be a company’s best advocates if handled appropriately.
The business should come up with clear objectives and definitely not wander around blindly. What image is the company trying to portray? What image already exists out there unapproved? How should that be addressed without attacking the consumers who buy their products? These thoughts should be at the front of the mind of any executive planning the venture into the groundswell and networked information economy.
This strategy should reflect the objectives and develop and grow as the company’s web 2.0 presence grows and fosters as well. Readdress the strategy if the desired results are not being accomplished but businesses should understand they will have to adapt to the needs of their consumers not the other way around.
Technology is entirely dependent on the needs of the business. Some businesses can get by with a simple blog, some need an entire community started. It really differs from business to business and should be addressed to the needs of each business. This technology comes in the form of websites, blogs, communities, helpdesk utilities, and other ways for the consumer to make contact with the business. This also includes the physical hardware necessary for a presence on the web.
Some businesses will be harmed no matter what happens with the changes to the groundswell or Networked Information Economy. The companies that have embraced the NIE may well find themselves subjected to lawsuits if copyright laws are passed in favor of the gluttons of intellectual property. This could ultimately result in a crash of these companies not unlike the dot.com crashes of the 90s. However, if the economy continues to go forward into the Networked Information Economy and production of information is taken away from royalties driven businesses then the royalty driven business without change will undoubtedly fail. In some cases, it simply doesn’t matter one way or another. Benkler points out that if newspapers gave up their copyright they would virtually lose almost no money from their overall revenue.