Tag Archives: culture

Remix culture as a re-claiming of the invisible past

Posted in response to an interesting question from a student about remix culture:

Very thought provoking questions. I think it’s helpful to keep the first part of your argument in mind – the interdependence of creation and use. To a certain extent everything that is ‘made’ is made with an intended purpose. What’s fascinating is how adding people to that mix can muddle the original purpose and, in the process, come up with an unexpected outcome.

That said, it’s important to also remember that everything is to some extent or another derivative – it all comes from somewhere and is layered on to our histories at every turn. Novelty is rarely truly ‘new’ but always a ‘re-imagining’ in light of shifting contexts.

Context is something that we haven’t really explored much, or at least enough, in this class but is a necessary thing to consider. Culture, it can be argued, is a context – a structure or set of rules for interpreting things. Contexts change and so then does the way we look at and use things. 

Now if we take a look at the examples you bring up about analog-like interfaces for digital interaction – moving away from joysticks and toward physical interfaces – I’ve been thinking about that myself. I find it interesting (and am writing about that elsewhere on my research blog) that we tend to forget that ‘digital technology’ was first intended to replace the analog but now is moving full speed toward replicating it. Web 3.0 is a movement toward ‘intuitive searching’ where your computer will need to learn what you mean rather than just what you ask – after all, computers are only as smart as the people who program them.

Remixing is an interesting thing to me insofar as it is not a new phenomenon but rather a re-birth of how we survived for centuries. When you watch an Antiques show you often hear about how surprising it is that a piece of furniture or art survived untouched when most of its brethren were stripped and used again for another purpose. Remixing was a way in which to ‘reuse’ long before recycling recognized that our society was moving too far toward consuming the new and discarding the old. Reuse was a way of life and remix culture, to my mind, is a way of returning to our roots of self-reflection and creative salvaging rather than always assuming that ‘new’ is ‘better’ or that ‘old’ is ‘useless.’

The digitalnormative

I still have to write up my take in how ‘effects’ in the media sense should be thought of as a framework of invisibility but today I’ve been thinking about something else.

To the extent that contemporary globalNorth societies can be thought of as digital, the analog poses a peculiar problem. If I want to do my banking or get my bills by postal mail I now have to pay. Environmentally this makes sense but it also represents a particular digitalnormativity within our culture. To my mind the analog is represented as a disruption, replaced instead by digital efficiencies and a rhetoric of transformation.

Ironically, despite the growing ubiquity of digital technologies, most hardware and software producers are working harder by the day to replicate the embodied analog experiences that they once sought to replace.

In the face of the alienations of a supposed digital culture I wonder if digitalnormativity is not just an emergent state of invisibility. Through a closer examination we may well find that we do not live in a digital culture after all, just in cultures in which digitalnormativity is but a context of practice.

This is worth repeating. It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology is not enough. It’s tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities. Nowhere is that more true than in the post-PC products. Our competitors are looking at this like it’s the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC, more intuitive. The hardware and software need to intertwine more than they do on a PC. We think we’re on the right path with this.

Steve Jobs, CEO Apple Inc.
(iPad 2 announcement, March 2, 2011)

Invisible Technology

For some time now I’ve been arguing that (media) technologies are becoming increasingly invisible. On the surface this might seem counter intuitive given the current global obsession with defining and thus creating a ‘digital future’ but I still think it’s true.

Take for instance the fortunes of the fastest growing segments of the technology market: mobile devices (I hasten to call them ‘phones’) and (mobile) computers. Most of the worlds largest manufacturers of these hardware spend and make billions on selling objects not because of the objects themselves but because of how well these objects will connect us with our ‘digital stuff.’ 

Apple recognized long ago that content is king and, it seems, so too now does everyone else. Samsung, Motorola, RIM and many others have started to recognize that it’s not the box that people are buying (i.e. the physical technology) but a gateway to the content they want. And they expect that the content they want will work when they want it, where, and how.

You can see this in the ad posted below. You can also see this in a few seemingly inevitable imperatives built in to most new technology offerings: there is a presumed dominance of convergence over specialization; content is built to be platform independent so proprietary standards, though remarkably too common, are less well respected over free flow platform independence; integration across technology offerings must appear seamless or else the technology fails (in a market sense).

People don’t flock to new devices because they are new, they do so because of the promise of greater, smoother, sleeker access to their (digital) stuff and the technology, the box itself, grows increasingly invisible.

One need only look to cloud computers, Internet protocols, the weeding out of codecs, the number of inputs on flat screen TVs (which are rarely JUST or EVEN for TV anymore), to realize that people want what they want and the technology they choose to access it, as it becomes integrated into their lives and seems indispensable, is virtually irrelevant; invisible.

How did Apple grow its market share so much and so well? Because they recognized earlier than most that content integration and ease of use is where the money is. Good technology is not about sophistication of the object but about the closest replication of ‘perfect analog’ experiences as possible.