Media Ecology is the main focus of this week’s lectures and readings and admittedly it’s been a very confusing experience. I’ve found that all of these authors are throwing definitions and terms into the air and getting my head around them has been something of a challenge. It was nice to see then an excerpt from Neil Postman (LINK) that acted as a key to unlocking what the whole point of media ecology actually is: “the study of media as environments”. Many authors have come to this same conclusion of media being considered an environment of interrelations involving but not limited to “rhythms, codes, politics, capacities, predispositions and drives” (Fuller, P.2). These environmental interrelations are constantly informing and influencing each other, perhaps especially so, in the intangibility of the digital age. During this process we’re seeing the development of culture through the creation of new relationships and meanings across what is now predominantly a digital landscape. Interestingly, Matthew Fuller suggests that this is why the word ecology is explicitly used to describe the phenomena, because it is the only word with a history and association with dynamic interrelations on a major scale (an ecology brings to mind something big after all).

Felix Guattari wrote some really interesting stuff on ecologies of media. Impressively he died before the web was even created so his response and theories were based mostly upon the traditional media of print, radio and television. Guattari speaks of an “ecologically informed variant of anarchism” where goals are negotiated as a collective rather than decided by the richest or the one with the most influence (LINK). Guattari was apparently very critical of television for this reason, it is a one way platform controlled by the content creators and gatekeepers of information. The evolved ecological landscape that the internet has brought about is really exciting for just the reason exactly it has the potential to avoid many of the gatekeepers of content and information. One area that really interests me in regards to this is piracy and the accessibility of film content. There was a time you had to wait for TV to air the movie you want to see, now bootlegging ‘thieves’ are sharing the films online while they’re still in cinemas. It’s seen this whole political movement open up online about access to content, with a lot of young people pining for copy-protection free media to do as they like, whenever they like with their video content rather than have their habits dictated by ‘the man’.

Now to change topics a little I just want to mention Bateson who talks a bit about the metacommunicative qualities of language and communication practices. Milberry writes about how “symbol systems and technologies…play an integral role in how we create and understand reality” a fact which Bateson’s writing expands upon by adding a bit of depth. “A message of whatever kind” he says “does not consist of those objects it denotes” (P.180). I felt like this is something we’re already aware of but it was interesting to sort of start thinking about explicitly. The phrase ’words are to objects as a map is to territory’ (Bateson’s words not mine) really help to start breaking down what it is to create meaning, especially in an increasingly immediate and digital age. The main thing however is that i feel like i’ve started to get my head around this whole ecology thing. Who knew writing all this stuff down and talking about it would help make sense of the whole thing? Learning in action folks.

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The ‘authoritative’ intermediary in its traditional sense has been slowly disappearing throughout all of the major publishing industries. The ‘authoritative’ intermediaries are the privately owned publishers who had been tightly regulated in comparison to the freedom the digital space offers. Previosuly film studios operated a more tightly regulated distribution process than any other publishing industry. As recently as the early 20th century studios owned even the theatres their film played in, keeping all profits in house. At what point did the studio start going into decline though? Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press is probably the most likely starting point. The printing press initiated a hunger for knowledge and a revolution almost equal to that of the development of the highly connected ‘Web 2.0’ internet of today (Rusbridger, 2010). Through the replacement of slow scribes, the equivalent to today’s publishers, with the far quicker method of printing authors were able to open a direct dialogue with their audience. An audience that was now considerably wider than before.

Moving forward to today film studios, are undergoing a similar transition. As a result the role of films, and the way viewers interact with them and their television counterparts is changing. The internet and social media have brought about an increasingly open and free platform for sharing media content making piracy a bigger concern. Yet, the internet has also allowed the studios and especially independent filmmakers to embrace new platforms of distribution that bypass traditional cinematic releases in favour of direct distribution to the home. Fans have also become a part of the film’s production process itself, by providing funding and generating their own content. They are now on a considerably more equal playing field to the content owners, no longer does there exist a singular top down flow of information that Rusbridger described as “transmission” (2010). Film content is shared, transplanted and communicated universally with publishers and audience members acting as equally weighted ‘nodes’ in the process.

TORRENTING

Torrenting and the illegal file-sharing of content has been a concern of publishers of all forms throughout the Web 2.0 era. Piracy has existed in the film industry since the start, with film reels being stolen and played in theatres in which they weren’t permitted or taken home by dishonest projectionists (Segrave, 2003). Piracy represents the breakdown between distinctions of the commercial and the private (Karaganis, 2012). People are sharing copyrighted content that they have bought or not bought with others who have not paid for that content.  It’s an ethically contested activity that as a result of its ease and moral justifications like ‘sharing with friends’ has become “an entirely normalised practice for 18-29 year-olds” (Karaganis, 2012).

Michel Bauwens best explains why torrenting is a difficult prospect for the publishers like movie studios to reconcile with. The market for products is based entirely on supply and demand. When something is available for free, legally (and illegally) the product is in abundance and thus becomes more difficult to sell (Bauwens, 2010). Bauwens is here referring to the creative commons and the legal distribution of content that is shared and/or copyright free, however those that partake in file sharing and torrenting subscribe to similar social beliefs regarding freedom of content and information. Websites such as TorrentFreak compile the latest news items concerning the implementation of copyright law, as well as promoting the ‘Top 10’ pirated films and television shows of the week. Sebastian Anthony wrote an opinion piece for ExtremeTech explaining an explicit view of the pirate, centring on the desire to own the content and not be dictated to by a publisher regarding how or when it is used (2012).  Piracy presents to us an example of how ‘authoritative’ intermediaries are in decline because of their inability to provide a product that matches the connected consumer’s desires regarding price and availability of content.

The question remains though, is there a quantifiable amount by which the studios are losing their ‘authoritative’ status to piracy? Studios at various times have claimed that piracy has consistently cost them something. Robert Levine argues that the internet has enabled “technology companies to evade responsibility for their business models” and as a result “have created a broken market” by not protecting the content of copyright holders (2011). These comments ring hollow when Box Office analysts espouse the record breaking billion dollar grosses of Iron Man 3 and The Dark Knight Rises or the record 5 million plus viewers for the finale of Game of Thrones Series 3. Despite (or perhaps because of) these records these films and TV shows are pirated more than any other. TorrentFreak lists Game of Thrones as the most pirated television show in the world, with millions downloading via torrent. With revenue still reaching record highs, studios are in actual fact lamenting the loss of their once authoritative distribution systems, rather than the loss of power as authoritative film providers. Power over their content has shifted to the masses with piracy, the process of inter-connected sharing, regardless of its legality removes the content providers from the process, and thus changes the power-structures of who is in control of the content.

NETFLIX AND VOD

One way film production studios large, and especially small, are trying to navigate around piracy is with video-on-demand services like Netflix and iTunes. The process of video-on-demand distribution has shaken up the power structures in the film industry with the creation of new online distributers or ‘middle-men’ for content.  Film publishers, by partnering with these companies have understood the potential to regain some control over the ways in which their content is provided. Independent production studios have sprung into existence because of the new environment, often sharing their films directly to on-demand services before It reaches (if it even goes to) cinemas. Danah Boyd claims that there is a misconception that the digital space has provided a sudden and equal democratisation of distribution (Guillaud, 2010). But in the case of film, it doesn’t need to be equal to be successful. Magnet Releasing for instance found great success distributing their low-budget horror film V/H/S on demand, and it was successful precisely because it was low budget and did not need a revenue stream equal to a Hollywood blockbuster to be profitable.

Power lies with the ones who can provide the content (Guillaud, 2010), and so through this system of partnership studios have created a new structure, where old forms of distribution like DVD rental and retail chains are being replaced with new kinds of digital intermediaries or “information brokers” (Guillaud, 2010). These “information brokers” are the ways in which film studios can get their content to the top of the ‘pile’ in terms of viewership in an era where attention is an increasingly difficult thing to get a hold of. Traditionally, studios would sell their films and tv shows to theatres or tv stations that had a “known destination” for their content in the form of limited theatre engagements or prime-time television slots (Guillaud, 2010). With the disappearance of the authoritative structure for distribution, prime-time becomes any time as viewers schedule their viewing habits as best suits them.

Video-on-demand services have an organisational effect on our media intake. Stowe Boyd suggests that as attention lacking audiences, technological developments are utilised by publishers to make us believe we need a better way of organising our interest and attention (2010). Despite this sort of cynical view Boyd does clarify that our negotiations with attention and the resulting technological developments make for “richer and more complex societies” (2010). This is definitely true of what the studios have done by starting to embrace video-on-demand services. By beginning to reconstruct their flow of output to one that can be influenced by our own schedules and senses of personal time studios are turning their traditional means of transmission in to something that resembles a dialogue between audience and content provider.

CROWDFUNDING AND FAN INVOLVEMENT

Legendary film director Francis Ford Coppola spoke recently of how “Cinema is escaping being controlled by the financier” and described it as a wonderful thing. While this is great news for the creative people of the industry, the studios themselves have to reconcile the fact that their systems of production and distribution are changing because of it. Using Callon and Latour’s Actor Network Theory, we can understand the production and distribution process as it is today as a series of “material–semiotic networks [that] come together to act as a whole [with] the clusters of actors involved in creating meaning are both material and semiotic” (Wikipedia, 2013). The film production, distribution and viewing process involves so many sub-networks and processes working out, and yet the viewer at the end point experiences a ‘punctualisation’ of all of these material-semiotic networks. When you’re watching a film, for instance, you’re not acutely aware you’re watching a film that has been constructed by other people; you’re usually fully immersed in the storyline (Wikipedia, 2013). Kickstarter and crowdfunded filmmaking opportunities break down the punctuality by making the film goer a part of the production process.

By putting their own money into the filmmaking process, the audience becomes part of the production and thus we see a further breaking down of the ‘authoritative’ publisher. Studios and film makers now have to answer to a wider variety of people who have a say. While technically, the producer could take the money and run, there is in actual fact tremendous social pressure to deliver on the initial promises of the production. The film production process becomes what Rusbridger described as a dialogue of communication rather than the simple transmission of the completed product (2010). But the creators don’t always have to answer their critics, or their backers. Actor Zack Braff recently funded his film under controversial circumstances with crowdfunding and studio support (Marks, 2013). The creator of the project still has the ‘authoritative’ power in the production, utilising it perhaps as a bizzare form of advertisement for their film. Danah Boyd mentions that “Advertisement is about capturing attention” (Guillaud, 2010), well perhaps the studios have discovered the best way to capture attention is to make the audience a part of the process of delivery.

The ‘authoritative’ intermediary in film is dying. With the rise of piracy, video-on-demand services and crowd funding, the idea that a major media studio or conglomerate is entirely in control of every aspect from production to distribution is absurd. People want to be more involved in aspects of production and distribution, whilst the every way in which we consume films changes as we schedule them around our availability, not that of the providers. The studios are attempting to be a part of the changes though, and as the bankrollers of the production, will never entirely shift from the top of the flow of power, film just doesn’t have the cross platform ability or ‘emulatability’ of things like journalism and music for them to ever truly lose that grasp.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Actor-Network Theory, Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopaedia, Wiki Page, 16th May 2013, accessed 12th June 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor-network_theory>

Anthony, S. 2012. ‘Why I Pirate’, ExtremeTech, Blog Post, January 18th 2012, accessed 12th June 2013. <http://www.extremetech.com/computing/114493-why-i-pirate>

Bauwens, M. 2010. ‘From Open Business Models to an economy of the Commons’, Robin Good, August 19th 2010, accessed June 12th 2013. <http://www.masternewmedia.org/from-open-business-models-to-an-economy-of-the-commons/>

Boyd, S. 2010. ‘The False Question of Attention Economics’, Stowe Boyd, Blog Post, 10th January 2010, accessed 12th June 2013. <http://stoweboyd.com/post/764818419/the-false-question-of-attention-economics>

Guillaud, H. 2010. ‘What is implied by living in a world of flow?’, Truthout, review of a conference by Danah Boyd, 6th January 2010, accessed 12th  June 2013. <http://archive.truthout.org/what-implied-living-a-world-flow56203>

Karaganis. 2012. ‘Unauthorised File Sharing: IS it Wrong?’, The American Assembly, Columbia University, 4th October 2012, accessed 12th June 2013. <http://piracy.americanassembly.org/file-sharing-is-it-wrong/>

Levine, R. 2011. ‘How the internet has all but destroyed the market for films, music and newspapers’, The Guardian, Blog Post, 14th August 2011, accessed 12th June 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/aug/14/robert-levine-digital-free-ride>

Marks, L. 2013. ‘Is it OK for multimillionaires like Zack braff to panhandle for money on Kickstarter?’ The Guardian, 27th April 2013, accessed 12th June 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2013/apr/26/zack-braff-panhandle-money-kickstarter>

Rusbridger, A. 2010. ‘The Splintering of the Fourth Estate’, The Guardian, 19th November 2010, accessed 11th June 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/19/open-collaborative-future-journalism>

Segrave, K. 2003. Piracy in the Motion Picture Industry, McFarland. USA. Accessed 12th June 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/film_and_history/v034/34.1broderick.html>

Ernesto. 2013. ‘Game of Thrones Season Finale Sets New Piracy Record’, Torrent Freak, June 10th 2013, accessed June 12th 2013. <http://torrentfreak.com/games-of-thrones-season-finale-sets-new-piracy-record-130610/>

Dispersing things through space, to anyone or to specific people. The act of publishing, when you sit down and dwell on it is a pretty incredible process. Distribution though, has become increasingly linked and tangled up with each other, especially with the rise of the internet. Video, sound, text and the bajillion other methods of publishing are all finding new ways to inter-relate. THe internet has allowed for extensive multi-media interactions that aggregate and distribute all these elements at once. However, in terms of my favourite form of publishing and aggregation I’d like to bring it back to a little bit more of an archaic platform: the physical disc. Specifically Blu-Ray Movies.

In the simplest form, Blu-Rays are a medium by which the big movie studios choose to distribute their films. They’re marketed on their higher quality compared to DVD and stuff but lately their biggest marketing factor is the inclusion of digital copies and Ultraviolet copies with the discs. I buy the blu-rays for the picture quality, because I’m a movie geek but the digital copy presents new ways for studios to distribute and for people to aggregate the content that they own.

So Ultraviolet. When I initially heard about it I thought it sounded a bit crap to be honest. It’s built on the idea that you buy a regular DVD/Blu-Ray and then with it you receive a code for a digital copy of the film. Where it differentiates from standard old digital copies of the film (that typically just gave you an iTunes code) is that your digital copies are stored in a cloud for you to take off and use on any device you’d like, while also being able to watch them on the cloud. Theoretically, your movie collection is wherever you are (as long as you have an internet connection). It’s all about making movie access suit your circumstance while also aggregating your data in a fashion that is pleasing (people like to have big movie collections) and useful (people cannot normally access their huge collection of blu-rays when they’re out of town). It’s a shame in some ways though, like Dodson says, data is now trending towards low value ubiquity. The leaders of content creation are merging with the followers by trying to use the distribution methods that are most popular with them.

Realistically, the studios this method isn’t enough for the studios, they need to adapt better, faster have freer standards on the ways they distribute and aggregate their content. Ultimately they have the opportunity to aggregate culture, encourage the creativity of individuals and simply make more money. Danah Boyd in her talk at the Web 2.0 expo mentions how those who control the content hold the most power in the digital space. Digital aggregation is the future of distribution for the studios, as long as they maintain control over the content.

So you’re sitting there reading that quote going, “What the hell Freud??? Why are you trying to confuse me at like 6:00 am on the train?” (This could be a scenario specific to me though, insert your own as required). In reality, the more times you read it, the more it reveals its relatively simple idea relating to representation reveals itself. Media productions and things of that nature often have a certain ubiquity about them. They allow you to be in multiple locations at once – even though you’re not – by representing those locations or generating their own social spaces. This is largely because modern ‘assemblages’ or interactions between people are built around aggregation. We take things from all over and construct, from data and what have you.

Danah Boyd’s little speech about Web 2.0 and media flows highlights one of the most exciting platforms for representing the social and aggregating information. Twitter. Tonnes of people use twitter to interact with their friends and share articles and content they like with each other. It’s quick, it’s kept succinct with its 140 character limit and its available on multiple platforms. The coolest advantage though is the embracement of twitter by celebrities and other content creators. They have shrunk the boundaries of the social to nothing in that they essentially put themselves in your room everytime they say something, and they can see what you say. This takes you, a random guy from the South Coast of Australia to places and people you never could have imagined interacting with 20 years ago. When you talk to Patton Oswalt, it’s as good as being in LA with him.

David Gauntlett in this video talks about how content platforms allow us to forge a sense of identity too. Heres this online identity, aggregated out of all your sharing and interactions with others. There’s an online version of you, with its own space, its own existence. It is both you and not you at the same time, because its created by you, and it can be anywhere, anytime.

So it’s pretty well established that as humans, with our fickle little memories, we’re obsessed with archiving our data. Most of the time we think of archives we think of books or words, pictures too, but they’re separate elements – saved as separate pictures. Well Visualisation as its put in academia is actually just a visual extension/version of the archive, an image that expresses data in a certain way. It usually makes it more easily digestible and accessible to an audience that has no interest in searching for that information themselves. As Edward Tufte suggests, they’re not perfect and extensive, because of the risks of oversimplification. A picture may speak a thousand words, but it’s not the whole story.

Lately in the online film blogging scene, visualisations have taken people by storm. Movies that have specific fan cultures around them, cultures craving new ‘factoids’ about their favourite films, are having all these different visualisations made for them. They’re referred to as infographics they can show some pretty interesting things, in a visually pleasing way. For instance one popular infographic was based around the Friday the 13th film series and the ways in which the main villain Jason killed people. It shows individual body silhouettes arranged in the order they’re killed on the page, it also shows how they’re killed. Its kinda gross, but its definitely cool. The problem is though, that infographics tend to be amalgamations of data that are interesting in only a cursory way – they’re actually made more interesting by the way they’re presented. That’s the brilliance of the infographic though, its presented using universal shapes and lines that could be taken as anything, but in the context they’re used they have meaning for their audience. Timo talks about this in different terms, referring to dotted lines specifically, and their power to create three dimensionality and meaning. It’s the same principle though.

Also of interest are the visualisations of Facebook and Friends Lists. They show our interactions all over the globe and each other – in a broad way though often. These big arcing lines travelling across continents. It’s quite beautiful and born from the human urge to know our place in the world. Visualisations are showing us what we want to know and who we are in a way that’s filtered and a ‘approximation’ of the actual, but beautifully simplistic and easily shared and understood.

The idea of “commons” is extremely interesting. Cultural, physical and social resources that are ideally available to anybody, anywhere would be an extremely powerful thing. Indeed it IS an extremely powerful thing, because in this information age the means are finally catching up with the ideals of modern information sharing.

Of interest to me quite specifically is piracy, and the distribution of material that’s copyrighted into the public space for free. The peer to peer foundation’s website defines many of the elements of the “commons” idea, particularly outlining the whole ‘opposition to capitalism’ elements to it. This opposition to capitalism is pretty much where the entirety of film pirate’s logic derives from. In the piracy scene there’s a “fuck Hollywood” logic that rails against the capitalistic and business based tendencies of film production for money. Most would probably realise that this is just an excuse used to justify pirate activities, but it still does reflect an increased inclination in the public to not want to pay for content, but share it and experience it together. P2P filesharing, for better or worse, allowed millions and probably billions of people free access to art and culture. And not all of it illegal, just most of it probably – I think the exact number is around 90%.

Jay Walljasper’s article at nicely consolidates how the public mood is shifting in regards to things like piracy and the sharing of information freely. He talks about how people are everywhere yearning for a world that’s more sustainable and economical in terms of physical items. Everyone for instance cares or at least pretends to care about our impact on the future, past and each other. Most importantly though Walljasper’s article highlights the deep desire for satisfaction. Wikipedia, the large knowledge compendium made by the people for the people, is exactly satisfying because it is made by people and despite what some may say, its mostly accurate. Well it was accurate enough to put Encarta and friends out of business. The satisfaction of sharing a torrent is much the same, its illegal and technically stealing, but you’re contributing access to something that could mean quite a lot to you, you’re gonna only ‘seed’ movies and shows you like. By doing so, you share your greatest likes or loves with the world. You could easily say, as the P2P foundation does the film studios are fostering exclusion with their capitalistic practices, those crazy pirates are instead replacing this with good old fashioned inclusion. Everyone gets to join in on the fun.

Archives. As humans they’re basically the greatest thing we could have. We can circumvent our own sometimes faulty memories to store bounds of information and histories. We desire a system that is flawless and cannot let us down, like our brains sometimes do. Maybe that’s why I leave post it notes everywhere like some kind of amnesiac.

As a film fan, one of my favourite websites is the Internet Movie Database. Owned by Amazon, the IMDB is the most powerful tool for basically objective movie knowledge. There are forums and other ‘sub archives’ containing opinions but ultimately I feel like it’s a shining beacon of the factual. Any individual movie page contains things like genre, parental guidance rating, duration, who’s in the movie or whatever stuff like that. I don’t know about other people but I feel like it’s definitely a joy to scroll on through the database, learning facts you never knew and so on. I guess that’s a kind of archive fever, the desire to scrawl and learn whatever knowledge you choose.

The technology of individual sites or archival systems controls how we access the content and thus understand it according to Jacques Derrida’s Archive Theory. In the case of IMDB a site contributed to by external authorities it’s pretty straight forward, the data is arranged on the page from the most important facts that people would want to know about movies at the top, down to trivia, soundtrack details and extra stuff left at the bottom.  A site like Facebook or Twitter however relies on its content from mostly personal sources. These sites are all about archiving our personal histories, in fact trawl through Facebook usingthe recently added timeline feature and you’ll find that you have a complete picture of yours or someone else’s life over the past however many years they’ve had facebook.

In this way, everyone on social media has Archive Fever, we’re obsessed with storing and accumulating data and an identity for ourselves using mechanisms in the digital space. I think in the short term it’s a great way of getting a sense of who we are. Long term, who knows though? IS too much of us published?