Before I forget, I wanted to make one comment about Convergence Culture that I never got around to in class. When Jenkins described the divergence of hardware, I found myself wondering about implications for the digital divide. We are seeing a bunch of new devices that do substantially the same tasks, at a variety of price points. We already know that the expanding market for smartphones means that people who may not be able to afford a computer or internet connection can at least get some access to the internet. If we continue to see new devices that perform a variety of tasks and they can be more easily purchased, perhaps the digital divide can narrow. I think that the hardware has to change for this to be really feasible, and the iPad and the other upcoming tablets that are getting a lot of press right now are one of the keys to enabling more people to get on the internet. But what price point is low enough for the market to really change? Maybe the cell phone model of purchasing hardware at a discount or free along with a contract would be the best way to get the devices in people’s hands.
I found Kirsten Foot’s “Web Sphere Analysis and Cybercultural Studies” really fascinating, primarily as a librarian, but also in terms of what it says about the perception of permanence/impermanence and the internet. One of the main problems I’ve found when doing research on something that is internet-based is the danger that it won’t be there when I go back to look for it. I’m used to recording TV shows (which feel similarly impermanent) but there is always the sense that I can get an episode I need from someone, somewhere (usually the internet.) But web pages have the feeling of being simultaneously static and ephemeral, which makes research difficult. Another problem is the sense that there is always more information out there, which isn’t being linked to. I appreciated Foot’s breakdown of the methodology for building the archive, but when she notes that they identified “nearly twenty-nine thousand sites” (92) my first thought was that there had to be more sites saying interesting things about September 11. Not to mention the non-Webpage internet resources that probably couldn’t be accessed. Reading the chapter, I kept thinking of how opaque the internet can be, and how it can be almost impossible to find what you’re looking for if you don’t know where or how to search for it.
Web sphere analysis seems like such an intuitive way to go about building an archive, but I did have some concerns about it. Namely, 1) what are the boundaries of the sphere, and 2) is it applicable to smaller events/non-event related phenomena. As far as boundaries go, I assume this could be defined by the archivist, but it brought up questions for me of how useful links are in this instance. I have no clue how often fivethirtyeight.com and redstate.com link to each other, but I don’t know that I could build an archive about the 2008 US presidential elections without including both of them. The second concern is how the methodology could be adapted to phenomena that are not based around a specific event. I think of sites like Know Your Meme, which I find really useful as a way to track internet culture and see what escapes to the wider world, but what gets tracked there isn’t going to bubble up to the surface in a Google search and archivists aren’t going to find it by looking at major, high traffic sites (at least not “respectable” ones.)
Looking at Haraway’s essay in terms of the issues around gender and race we were discussing a few weeks ago, I wonder if she can offer a way to look at some of the problems of identities that we brought up. Haraway argues that much of the problem with radical feminist theory is that it is totalizing, while identities are polyvalent and contested. If we extrapolate Haraway’s approach to this, and think about identities online as made up of both the social reality of the lived experience of the user and the social reality of the experience online, it might offer a way to explain the simultaneous feeling of making your own identity and being bound by the social rules that seem to belong to an offline world.
Nakamura covers some of this ground, but the part of Haraway that I find interesting in this context is the concept of boundaries and the way in which these identities are always existing in multiple places, as multiple things. It might be interesting to think of having a female gender identity both offline and online not as an integrated whole, but two identities that are related but have different properties, and thereby expose the constructedness of both identities.
First off, because we mentioned it a couple of times in class, I found the Pew report on teens and text-speak really interesting. Apparently 64% of teenagers have used “informal styles from their text-based communications” in their course writing. Interestingly, the teenagers also overwhelmingly said that they don’t consider their text-based communication real writing, so it’s clear they see a difference, but they still let one bleed into the other.
The other topic I was interested in was sparked by a tiny controversy a few weeks ago when a blog wrote a post entitled “Facebook Wants to Be Your One True Login.” It came up on Google at the top of the search results, and people flooded the blog’s comments, complaining that they couldn’t login. They had mistaken the blog for Facebook because it came up high in the Google search results for the search “facebook login.”
I looked at Pew’s work on search engines, which primarily seems to be about searching for health information, but I did find one media mention, where a researcher noted that, “When you turn on a tap you expect clean water to come out, and when you do a search you expect good information to come out.” There was an article about the problems of Google ads and the issues in keywords leading to the wrong result, which the article implies will be solved by the development of the semantic web. But the semantic web probably won’t solve the problem of the Facebook Login issue, because people were looking for information on Facebook and logging in, and the search result was ranked higher because Google placed it high in its news results. The problem here is maneuvering around the fact that people only learn enough about the technology to use it for their ends, and Googling a search then clicking on the first link gets people where they want to go most of the time. The real leap may be in training the people to use the technology better, rather than trying to improve the technology.
I really appreciated Miller’s discussion of the implications of reading the internet as a frontier and all that implies, but I think she is ignoring the ways in which gendered dynamics are reproduced online. Acknowledging this is not saying that biology is destiny and we’re all going to reproduce the exact same gender issues that we deal with in the offline world, but there is a chance of going so far as to ignore how women who identify themselves as women on the internet can be subject to both obvious and subtle sexism. Many prominent female bloggers learn how to deal with trolls threatening them with rape. The idea that “there are no girls on the internet” has become an internet meme at this point. And Google “mansplaining” sometime for examples of how, even in situations where it seems that there is civil, equal discourse, gendered hierarchies can still exist.
Miller discusses the fact that women don’t need to be protected from the world, and that women are often aggressive and bombastic. As an aggressive and bombastic woman, I’ve chosen to have an extremely tailored internet experience, where I’m pretty sure that I can get into a ridiculous flame war if I want, and still not have to worry about someone throwing out something misogynist, racist, or homophobic in the middle of it, because the communities I frequent frown on it and ostracize or ban people who transgress those values. Miller seems a little too tied into the idea of the internet as free from the constraints of inequalities based on physical identities. But those identities are based on cultural factors and performance of behaviors, and only tangentially tied to physical realities, so I think it’s kind of inevitable that they’ll be reproduced in an environment that lacks the physical.
Reading “The Long Tail,” I was reminded of the current conversation around Netflix’s Watch Instantly service and HBO’s new HBO Go streaming service.
The problem in Netflix’s use of the Long Tail is that it’s dependent upon content providers working with the company. Some content providers give access to older titles, but not new releases, which, going on Anderson’s argument, could lead to Netflix having problems keeping consumers if studios have their own streaming services that do offer access to those titles. Consumers have gotten used to the availability of everything all the time, first with the ubiquity of Amazon and Netflix’s mail delivery service, and then with online music and TV services. Being able to access everything without ever leaving your house is becoming something that people expect.
The problem is that you have to work with a lot of people to offer everything, and you have to continually lay out a large amount of money to license everything.
It makes me wonder what the actual cost of distributing movies and TV shows through streaming services is, and if people would actually pay more for it than they do now. Netflix doesn’t charge extra for its streaming service and it is commercial free, which raises the question of how they are paying for it and if that could possibly continue even if they didn’t have to eventually renegotiate streaming rights with studios. If Netflix had another revenue stream to support the service, I could see them negotiating with studios to pay more for content and still operating Watch Instantly at a loss (like lala.com will hopefully continue to do now that it has been acquired by Apple), and there is the advantage of having the widest variety of content in one place, which studio-specific streaming services like HBO Go wouldn’t be able to offer. But it still feels like, where Amazon and iTunes have found a way to make money using a Long Tail approach, streaming video services will have a harder time finding a way to make a profit while offering the hits people want.
With the death of Geocities, the site is only available on the Wayback Machine, but you can still get the gist of it. I recommend reading the story in NMR first (it’s marginally less confusing that way), but you may want to just jump in and explore.
Hypertext Garden of Forking Paths
The one thing I was most struck by in the readings was Janet Murray’s deceptively simple statement in “Inventing the Medium”: “Fire warms and fire burns” (New Media Reader 8). I am one of those annoying people who insists on seeing most technology as essentially morally neutral, and this encapsulated my feelings on the subject very well, acknowledging that the same media that offers us wonderful new avenues for advancement can also be abused. But this statement also made me wonder if the right questions are being asked, because so many people seem to be stuck at the point of figuring out if they are going to condemn the medium or praise it.
Looking at both Manovich readings, he touches on the ways in which new media 1) have been around for a while, and 2) are doing some things that so-called old media also do. I particularly liked his discussion of the way that classical and modern art is interactive and film can encourage the viewer to look one way or another (Manovich 56). He does delineate clearly the ways in which new media are different, but there is enough bleed between the categories to make me wonder what purpose those categories serve and how we can interrogate them, especially in light of Lister’s definitions which seem to be a lot looser.
If we accept Manovich’s assertion that old media do some of the same things new media do and Murray’s argument that people are bound to predict doom whenever something new comes along, I’m left wondering what questions we should be asking. If entertainment media that is digital is consumed in much the same way as analog media, should we study it as new media? Should we take the doomsayers seriously, or just assume that there will always be people who are reluctant to adopt new technologies? How much of this is actually new?