‘Riffed’ Off

What do these three groups and individuals have in common?

What do these three groups and individuals have in common?

What do The Beatles, U2 and Bob Marley have in common? Even for those of you who are as musically ignorant as me, flabbergasted to discover that classical composer Bach was elegantly pronounced like the wood of a tree as opposed to the very Australian BATCH, you would immediately recognise the previously named groups and individuals as popular musicians. Artists of the medium of silence and sound that provides the background melody to our lives.

Whilst you may idolise each band for their individual talents- perhaps Bob Marley for his reggae rhythm and U2 for their rocking riffs-you may not be aware that many of their most popular hits, and in fact almost ALL of the greatest hits of the past 40 years, are based on the same four chords. Take a listen.

Welcome to remix culture.  A world of “combing and editing existing materials to provide something new”. A world that lives by the French concept of ‘detournement’- changing the direction of a previous media work until meanings are subverted and  ‘re-contextualised’. Facilitated by an explosion of technologies created for modifying and distributing these media works, Lawrence Lessig explains that we have shifted from a Read/Only culture, in which we passively consume media content such as music, to a Read/Write culture in which consumers can actively “re-create the culture around them”.

In a previous blog I discussed the benefits of a collaborative approach towards creativity. We see further by “standing on the shoulders of giants” as Isaac Newton stated. If we relate this idea to the remix culture of music it is easier to understand the necessity of “borrowing” from previous works. Music is an unpredictable industry in which commercial success is not guaranteed. Exploratory works risk failure, whilst remixing previous songs provides an insurance policy- if it worked before, it will work again. The Amen Break and the 4 Chord progression are only two examples of riffs that have been continually remixed by various artists over the years due to their ongoing success in pop-culture. Furthermore, amateur musicians such as Justin Bieber take their first shaky steps towards fame by producing covers of songs, by COPYING.

So while many may argue that U2 ‘riffed off’ the Beatles, Bob Marley, or vice versa, the truth is that this process has been happening on all levels of the music industry since the days of Bach. It is essential to its evolution. Audiences are comfortable with the familiar; we like what we know and, like spoilt children, are hesitant to try something new. Only by building on the success of other artists can musicians guarantee the ongoing popularity of modern compositions.

Pictures sourced from:

http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/the-beatles/images/10561045/title/beatles-wallpaper

http://www.last.fm/music/Bob+Marley

http://tekstovi-pesama.com/u2/0/43596/

Heralding a New Dawn-Out with the Old, In with the New(s)

Are newspapers becoming extinct?

Are newspapers facing extinction?

For many years my father routinely perused a freshly printed copy of Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald with his breakfast. Recently the traditional broad sheet has been replaced by the Sydney Morning Herald App on a shiny new iPad. Unwittingly, my father is playing an integral part in the journalism revolution. As we immerse ourselves deeper in the ocean of digital content, legacy media such as newspapers have been forced to reconsider traditional methods of delivery to readers.

Journalism is considered a profession in crisis. The internet is contesting the status of newspapers as the major institution of journalism by offering greater efficiency in meeting demand and supply.  Rupert Murdoch clarified this fundamental shift in a tweet in August 2012. “Simple equation: free, open, uncontrollable internet versus shackled newspapers equals no newspapers.”  Advancements in technology have also led to the rise of citizen journalism. Unrestrained by authority and capturing news as it happens with an assortment of common recording devices, citizen journalists are “filling the void that mainstream media cannot fully cover”, as Nadine Jurrat explores in Mapping Digital Media. Providing ubiquitous connectivity to global reports via a constant stream of online content, the evolution of this new brand of journalists has led to the rise of collective intelligence as everyday citizens are able to create, collaborate and contribute to the ever-deepening pool of information available on the internet.

Alan Kohler summarises this shift to online content delivery in the ABC report below, explaining that readers are moving to engage more with digital information.

However, as Kohler points out, this change does not herald the extinction of journalism in the future so much as NEWSPAPERS.  Journalism is simply evolving to suit the demands of a migratory audience. This means a dramatic modification in how traditional media organisations deliver their content. By exploring the Sydney Morning Herald’s Know No Boundaries Site, this process of evolution is clear. Digital subscriptions, blogs and more effective applications for mobile and tablet devices are all on the cards for SMH in 2013, clearly displaying the attempt of a traditional journalistic medium to change with the times.  The recent change to tabloid format in late 2012 was also made in response to “the flight of paying readers and advertisers from the paper to other, so-far free, digital sources of news.”

What will be interesting to see is how these platforms fund their work in a traditionally free digital environment.  Perhaps the evolution of ‘subscription based models’, like the one proposed by SMH will lead to further loss of readership and eventually the ultimate extinction of such media. Only time will tell.

Picture sourced from: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/o/online_newspaper.asp 

Opening the Door to a Party of Paradoxes

Imagine a world in which everyone has the right to speak, act and think as they want without restraint. The ultimate democracy. No filtration, no control, no authority to deny opinion. Welcome to the World (Wide Web).

All content disseminated through the media was once subject to comprehensive filtration by “gatekeepers” (including publishers, mainstream media and government censors). Only information considered well informed and appropriate was allowed into public circulation. While many non-democratic countries such as China maintain strict filtering laws today, the transition to a digital media environment and the rise of the internet in many western cultures has wrenched the door of censorship off its hinges, allowing the free flow of content and expression. But what are the implications of this new media landscape – a world without gatekeepers, without regulation?

Empowering users through the freedom of expression.

The positive repercussions are numerous. A free media environment empowers users, allowing open discussion of opinions. Clay Shirky explains in How Cellphones, Twitter, Facebook Can Make History that this freedom of expression has led to the rise of active, engaged consumers (or prosumers) and a dialogic landscape “where audiences can talk back and to each other”. For example, during the 2011 American presidential campaign, Barak Obama created the website mybo.com as a public forum for discussion of his policies, encouraging citizens to collaborate and converse in an open environment. Participants were given a voice to actively contribute to the campaign. Political empowerment is just one major advantage of a world without gatekeepers.

The risk of misinformation in a free media environment.

The risk of misinformation in a free media environment.

However, lack of regulation can also have negative consequences. For example, Duncan Gere describes in his article in Wired UK how an image of battle tanks and soldiers in camouflage was circulated on Twitter during the London Riots of 2011, causing the public to claim that the army was assembling in the suburb of Bank. This picture turned out to be from the Egyptian protests earlier in the year. Twitter became a “swirling maelstrom of fear, uncertainty and doubt, punctuated by moments of absolute nonsense”. As can be seen, when there is no implicit filter and no cost of entry in a free environment, the value of the message can diminish and result in the spread of misinformation. But without filters or gatekeepers, how do we judge the credibility of these sources? The internet is increasingly becoming a tangled web of multiple truths. So who do we believe?

A paradox has been created. While we all desire free expression and total transparency of the media, we also require a certain level of filtration to decipher the vast amount of available content. We must seriously consider whether we need to maintain gatekeepers and, if so, in what capacity.

Picture One Sourced from: http://www.blueglass.com/blog/people-power/

Picture Two sourced from: http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/m/misinformation.asp

Snap, Click and Share- A Drop in the Ocean of Content

A pang of nostalgia is felt when one considers the evolution of the camera. Gone are the days where a jar of hard-earned pennies was cracked open to buy ONE precious Evolution of the Cameraroll of camera film. The ensuing months were defined by a harsh selection process, only those golden moments were admitted to the red carpet roll, an exclusive VIP list devoted to the ‘top shots’. The result? Memories, locked in time, to be placed in a photo album and left to collect dust as the years progressed.

One of the greatest ongoing evolutions of today’s convergent society is the shift from locked to generative platforms. Locked platforms, just like the cameras that used film, could be compared to an autocratic system. Producers dictated how, where, and when the platform could be used and with what limitations.

When we consider the capabilities of modern cameras, it’s easy to see the dramatic change in this ideology.

Smart cameras, just like the smart phone, have evolved to be “bigger than the sum of their parts”, facilitating instant editing and global sharing of those ‘Kodak moments’.  The camera has become a generative platform, empowering users by allowing active engagement.

Furthermore, a democratic technological society has been created as consumers are able to mould the platform to suit their individual needs.

For example, Twitter’s original purpose was to simply share “the momentous and the mundane”, as Evan William’s (co-founder) points out in Ted Talks. Unforseen were its further uses in business, politics and news broadcasting that evolved in reaction to consumer needs. Users also shaped their own way of replying to each other, inventing the integral @ symbol.  In the same way Pinterest, initially an image sharing social network, now accommodates marketing, educational, political and charitable practices as consumers ‘pin’ relevant material from around the web to form boards tailored to their personal needs.

These new generative platforms are flexible and adaptable, allowing individual personalisation and, as seen with smart cameras, constant connectivity.

However, constant connectivity has transported the image from an exclusive red carpet into a sweatshop of mass production. As Clay Shirky points out in an interview on The Communicators, we are “constantly online”- 3, 000 photos are uploaded to Facebook every second. Has the shift to generative platforms reduced the overall quality of content or just made it harder to find? Perhaps it is this vast increase in content that has catalysed the creation of platforms such as Pinterest in an attempt to navigate the chaos of the internet.  Within this chaos, the nostalgic simplicity of the old camera can be oddly comforting.

Picture sourced from http://blog.lafraise.com/en/tag/the-evolution-of-camera/