Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Misuse of New Media and Technological Determinism

revised version posted June 15, 2010

Opening Statement

In Chapter 1.6 of New Media: A Critical Introduction, Lister et al. invite us to ask if technology actually has the power to change us in itself. This question is based in the philosophies of two of the most influential writers on new media, Marshall McLuhan, who said that big cultural shifts can come about through new media technologies, and Raymond Williams, who said that we are the ones who decide how we use the medium, and thus create this change (Lister et al., ch 1.6).

In general, Williams' perspective is important in that it invites us to investigate why we use a medium as we do, however it seems to imply that we are in total control over its use. If Williams was right, a medium's use and effects on us would only lie within a fairly logical model, however that does not seem to be the case. Through this research, I hope to find that there are very basic psychological, often illogical, tendencies that we have which dictate how we use a new technology, and that the pull towards these tendencies is so powerful that we will accept or welcome most of the change that comes with acting them out through a new medium. This argument, while it uses Williams' theory in its analysis, leans away from it in emphasizing that in a way there is something inherent in how we use a medium and thus the medium does have the potential to change us.

This paper is not meant to say that we are not conscientious at all of the ways that we use new media or technology, but focuses rather on the uses of new media that we seem to be drawn to without concern for productivity or well-being, since I believe that this research will prove that they have a large role in the end uses for new media. Ultimately, I do believe that the responsibility for how a medium is used lies in our hands, however it seems to be a mistake to talk about how we impact new media without having humility and understanding where our own control over it starts to slip away.

Defining Theory

McLuhan and Technology As Extensions of Ourselves

Marshal McLuhan talked about the idea originating with Aristotle that technology is an extension of ourselves (Lister et al, ch 1.6.4). While new media can be extensions of our eyes and ears, in general it is possible to say that all technology is an extension of our will. As technology becomes better and better, we get closer and closer to doing that which we have always wanted to do. This means that technology is able to create change simply by enabling. In this essay I am stating that we have always wanted to do certain things, and technology is merely an agent towards achieving this.

Finding the Perfect Form

From a similar perspective, once we start thinking of each new medium as an enabler, it is also beneficial to start to look at Plato's idea of the difference between the intellectual and visible world, presented in "The Divided Line" (Book VI). In the Divided Line, Plato states that there is a perfect intellectual form, which we can only strive to achieve in physical reality. In terms of technology, the true form of communication could be considered to simply send your thoughts from one person to the other as inclined to do so. Technological limitations have always held us back from achieving this, although we have tried to through various mediums. As time goes on, however, we are becoming less bound by technology, and we are continuing to progress in the direction of realizing this true form through "brain-neurological engineering," discussed in chapter 1.4.1 by Lister et al. It could be said that with this new technology we are closing the gap between the physical and the perfect form.

Defining Concepts

What Do We Mean By New Media?

In discussing new media, the first important step is to define what we are considering a "medium" and the differences between a "new" medium and an "old" medium. A fitting definition of "medium" for this paper comes from the Merriam-Webser online dictionary: "a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment." This definition can still be overly inclusive, as a rock can be a medium for communicating that there was a volcano near by at some point in time. In order to narrow down the scope of this paper we will only be discussing objects or technologies within their ability to communicate or store information as a medium, and only those that are considered to have enough aptitude for such that they are described by Lister et al. in New Media, a Critical Introduction. This definition also helps separate a technology from a medium, as when technology beings to be considered in reference to a medium it is only in its state that it is being used for "communication, information, or entertainment".

Separating "new" media from "old" media is also difficult. Lister et al. outline some of the main characteristics of new media to be: "digital, interactive, hypertexual, virtual, networked, and simulated" (1.2). They progress to outline all of these terms further (Lister et al. ch 1.2.1-1.2.7) and discuss their histories (Lister et al. ch 1.3), and in doing so make it clear that there is not a true dividing line between new media and old media. For the purpose of this paper, the main difference between new and old media is in the ease of access and the lifting of the limitations presented by old media, including centralization, linearity, and others that come with an analogue medium and its distribution. The personal computer with the internet generally embodies all of these principles of new media, and encompasses other forms of new media including video games and social networking, and is primarily discussed in this paper, along with other forms of new and old media, including television and video games (not necessarily those just played on personal computers).

What is "Loss of Control"?

How much control we really have over our lives, or free will, is a very complex topic. In their paper on determinism, Ogletree and Oberle (99) quote Velman in discussing that even our conscious decisions are "the result of preconscious processing in the mind/brain." According to this, that means that every conscious decision is predetermined by our subconscious to an extent.

Loss of control can go deeper than this though. To a point we do not even have conscious control, or "phenomenological free will" (Ogletree, Oberle 98) over the way we use new media. Phenomenological free will is "the person's own perception of intentionally choosing, rather than whether or not that choice is 'free' or 'determined'"(Ogletree, Oberle 98). Pertaining specifically to the loss of control around how we use the internet, Thatcher et al. use the term "problematic internet use" in their paper, describing it as related to the inability to self-regulate one's internet use at times (section 1.1).

For this paper, however, we will fully adopt the idea of "problematic internet use" by Thatcher et al. which additionally includes Bead and Wolf's notion of "use of the internet that creates psychological, social, school, and/or work difficulties in a person's life" (section 1.1). This means that even if people are consciously making the decision to use the medium as they do, we will still discuss it if it is acknowledged as creating problems. "Difficulties in a person's life" are also somewhat relative to the culture that someone lives in or the amount of self-awareness or external pressures that people have, however when viewed in the context of the cultural and psychological norms of the United States "difficulties" can be viewed slightly more objectively.

We will also extend the term "problematic internet use" to "problematic use" of new media in general. This takes into consideration lack of self-regulation as well as uses of all forms of all new media that create problems in a person's life.

Problematic use under these definitions is actually a fairly encompassing term when we consider that it can be a temporary state of being. The "inability to self-regulate one's [new media] use at times" (Thatcher et al. section 1.1) can include any sort of impulsivity, such as getting distracted by, or even spending more time than you know you probably should engaged in the behavior. In this paper, when referring to our "loss of control" around the way we use new media or a "illogical" use it is based primarily on the idea of problematic use. Other definitions for loss of control could fit into this discussion as well, such as addiction or hard determinism, however problematic use seems to fit the scope of this theory well.

Discovering How We Use New Media

Since we have defined the concepts of new media and loss of control as discussed in this paper, as well as established new media as an enabler, we can now look to the uses of new media and ask what exactly they are enabling us to do? This will help us uncover the inherent uses or the perfect form of each media. What trends are there throughout different mediums?

In chapter 4.3.1 of New Media: A Critical Introduction, Lister et al. discuss that when people invested in home computers for their families there were doing so in order for the kids to do homework, but in reality, the internet would be used for play on the parts of the children. To Williams, the inability for parents to see this end use might have seemed to indicate that there is nothing inherent in the medium that dictates how we use it, however if we consider the history of how people have used recent other mediums and how their brains work, it should become clear that this use could have been anticipated. When we look at our brain chemistry, and the things we are naturally drawn to, it is easy to see that the people who foresaw the home computer being used mostly for productivity were simply looking in the wrong place.

How and Why We Use a New Medium

So, what exactly do people do with various media technologies? According to Jane McGonigal, three billion hours are spent weekly playing online games online, and the average amount of time spent playing games in countries with a "strong gaming culture" by the time a child is twenty-one is nearly equivalent to the amount of time spent in school between fifth grade and high school graduation. When internet use at home first became popular, it was rumored that one of its first uses were for pornography.

Today, according to in March 2010, people spent more time on Facebook than any other website. These are all very prominent uses of the home computer and are normally more associated with entertainment than any sort of productivity. In fact, they are commonly referenced in association with addiction, with the exact term "social networking addiction" generating 409,000 search engine results, and the exact term "game addiction" generating 209,000 results (via Google in June 2010).

While the things people do with home computers are uses in themselves, it is possible to "enframe" them further, and establish more underlying uses of the computer and media in general (or meta-uses). One good example of assessing these meta-uses for a medium is to examine them from the perspective of "uses and gratifications." Chandler reiterates a typology of "common reasons for media use" from McQuail, which can be seen as some of the deeper reasons why we watch television. McQuail groups the purposes for watching television into four main categories: "Information", "Personal Identity," "Integration and Social Interaction," and "Entertainment" (Chandler). Each category has a list of more specific uses beneath it. For the full typology see

When we look at it, McQuail's typology actually seems to be relevant to most forms of media, although to a slightly different extent with each. Using this model to describe the common uses of the home computer discussed thus far in this paper, it is possible to say that originally, the home computer was purchased for informative purposes but was actually used for entertainment purposes. As more people had access to the world-wide web and the medium grew there was an increasing draw towards social interaction and personal identity that is shown through the growth of social networking. In a sense, however, it can be said that through social networking this typology has reemerged itself, as people seek information about other peoples lives, develop their identity by expressing themselves to their friends, play games with their friends, and in general are constantly interacting socially. The the fact that the home computer is used for such similar purposes to television makes our drive towards these uses more apparent since the home computer has so much productive potential.

A Biological Model for New Media Uses

Addictive and pleasurable behaviors are often linked to dopamine, endorphins, and generally to the reward centers of the brain (McGronigal) (Koepp et al. 266) (Zull 61). Dopamine release during video games has been proven (Koepp et al. 266), and logically, it makes sense that getting a "like" on facebook, a new text message, or leveling up in a video game also active activate these parts of the brain, as would "productive" behaviors, such as finishing a homework assignment, or getting a good grade. What seems to be different between "productive" behaviors and video games or Facebook is the constant feedback cycle which is telling us when we are doing good or bad (Schell) (McGronigal).

So, how would this reward theory work with television? The powerful connection between the actions being viewed on television and the viewer is made clear in the research done by Giacomo Rizzolatti, Vittorio Gallese, and Leonard Fogassi in their study of mirror neurons. These neurons fire when we do something ourselves, as well as when we view it being done by someone else, helping us to mediate understanding (Rizzolatti et al.). On TV, there are more rewards for greater activities for the characters we are watching, and we have an amazing ability to relate to all of this excitement and drama as if it were happening to us.

A good question to explore further, however, is why something is perceived as a reward. There are some sources of pleasure, which seem pretty hardwired into the brain. Berridge, Kent, and Kringelbach note these to be the basic pleasures associated with survival and procreation, such as sex and food, as well as social pleasures (459). Logically, it makes sense that text messaging, or getting a "like" on facebook fulfills a social desire, but in general exactly how we go about fulfilling this social desire and to how powerful this desire is seems to vary based on biological, psychological, and social factors. This seems to be the point at which Williams' reasoning would be helpful.

Returning to Loss of Control

Returning to McQuail's typology of the reasons we use new media the way we do, which I referred to earlier as "meta uses," it is clear that many of these lend themselves to addiction. Some specific uses included in McQuail's typology are "escaping, or being diverted, from problems," as well as other uses that can promote feelings of power and confidence such as "identifying with valued other (in the media)" or "gaining a sense of security through knowledge." Similar uses are addressed by Peele (1985) as being common motivators for developing addictive behavior, specifically: "reduction of pain, tension, and awareness (i.e., escape); enhanced sense of control, power, and self-esteem (i.e., compensation); and the simplification, predictability, and immediacy of experience (i.e., ritual)" (Horvath, p379)." This means that television can easily be used to meet the ends that lead to addiction, as can things like social networking, gaming, or looking at online pornography if we agree that they can also be used to those ends.

As an middle-class American, I often times see myself and others around me using the internet or television problematically. Personally, I can attest to frequently feeling as if I have a hard time resisting the distractions of Facebook, or obsessive Googling. I have seen many of my roommates as well as my family, including my parents, getting "sucked in" to the television and video games when they intended to be doing other things.

Testaments to people struggling with problematic internet use are around us all the time today. One example might be the tablet PC, particularly the kindle, with its emphasis on unitasking. Another might be websites like Lifehacker, a popular productivity blog, which has a #distractions tag with a plethora of tips on how to try to resist the many distractions the home computer has to offer.

Our Loss of Control Over Ourselves

Returning to the philosophy of technology as an enabler, and our quest for the perfect form, it is possible to say that we are not adept at having such easy access to that which we desire. A free society is largely based on the idea that people are capable of acting on what's "best" for them. In a society with limited access to pleasurable things it is much easier for the average person to do this. We grow accustomed to having control over our lives within the boundaries that technology has placed on us, however once those boundaries are lifted this becomes more difficult. What will be the eventual result for our society if we keep spending our time watching television or on Facebook?

Technology Changing Us

Since we have now established that there is a strong drive to use technology in the manner that best fulfills certain ends, this means that we are largely subject to whatever changes come from using that medium. For example, with television and computers we have largely accepted a more sedentary lifestyle. Although people often times want to fight against it, the rise in obesity seems to indicate that they have not been that successful.

To what extent is this true, however? Williams uses the example of the written medium, and the fact that whether or not people are literate is a complex issue. In order to use the written medium, people must become literate (assuming that they were not already). An interesting perspective that can be taken in response to Williams' to state that the medium itself is different based on accessibility, and thus people's background knowledge is actually part of the way that the medium itself can be defined, or even can be categorized as part of the technology around the medium. This is the case for distribution as well. Writing is not really a medium if people can not read it. The internet is not the same medium with five versus five million people.

Williams and Causation

In making this argument it is again important to think of what Williams might say. Williams stated that "technology on its own is incapable of producing change...there are rational and manipulative interests at work driving the technology in particular directions and it is to these that we should primarily direct our attention" (Lister et al. ch. 1.6). It seems like Williams might say that it is because of our current excess of down time that we are able to be unproductive, and that if we were starving we would be able to put our quest for hunger above our urge to check our facebooks. While this argument makes sense, to an extent our desire for pleasure can also take the place of our desire for food at certain times, as McGonigal makes clear when she speaks about a culture who played games during times of hunger in order to keep their mind off of their lack of food. Also, while it may be true that extreme hunger in most cases would trump spending time on facebook, as we have made clear anything bellow that, things which people would have considered important, and placed above "down time" in the past, such as hygiene, physical health, and education clearly have moved over to an extent.

Making Productivity "Pleasurable"

As people are discovering that we are predisposed towards using a medium in ways that stimulate our pleasure centers, they are attempting to utilize this in order to promote healthy and productive activities. Jane McGronigal works for an institute that designs games that are aimed at teaching people how to help solve the world's problems. Shell discusses a future where reward systems give us live feedback about our activities in order to promote a healthy lifestyle and education. Thatcher et al. discuss the concept of "flow" which has very similar characteristics of problematic internet use, however is normally discussed in terms of productive activities (section 1.3). "Csikszentmihalyi listed eight components of flow; a clear goal, challenges that match an individual's skills, control over the task, immediate and efficient feedback, concentration and focus, loss of self-consciousness, loss of a sense of time, and an activity that becomes autotelic [i.e. a task is perceived worthy for its own sake" (Thatcher et al. section 1.3). McGronigal lists very similar components to flow as what happens to us when we are playing video games. Knowing that these factors are what make certain things so appealing can lead to adaptations in the way we are productive. When looking at all of these ways that productive behaviors can be integrated with what we are drawn to naturally it is possible to see using these psychological motivators to our advantage.


It seems as if our desire to play and receive rewards are largely guiding factors that determine how we will use a new medium, and we will find ways to best utilize a medium in order to achieve these desires. This is emphasized by the idea of problematic usage. Even as what gives us pleasure changes, if we start to become less responsive to the reward systems present in games or social networking for example, at any given point there is still a certain formula for the way that people will interact with a new medium once it is put in front of them,. At the same time, knowing our own "formula" can also help us find pleasure in other aspects of life, and technology has served to "enframe," asHeideggerwould have put it, or reveal this to us (Godzinski).


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Friday, April 30, 2010

The External Identity of the New Media User

When we try to think of a user of new media, what do they look like? Online, every day, we build our own virtual identities, but we can also see the intertwining of our identities with computers reflected back on us from other mediums, as being a computer user takes on new meaning. We embrace these meanings (or at least the positive ones), which in turn help us embrace ourselves as users of new media. This discussion is less relevant to new media than the more common discussion of the way we express ourselves through new media, however it seems relevant from the standpoint that these new meanings are largely encouraged by the old media of television and movies, they reflect the social commentary on the new medium, and provide a "remediation of the self" as well (Lister et. al, ch 3.19) .

Psychology on the "Outer-Focused Aspect" and Myth

The foundation for this discussion returns us to the study of the myth in conjunction with some study on identity.

The highly influential psychologist, Erikson's, theory on ego identity is discussed by Thomas in his book on child development in which he identities the "outer-focused aspect" of developing ego identity as "the recognition of and identification with the ideals and essential pattern of one's culture; it includes sharing 'some kind of essential character with others' (Erikson, 1968, p. 104)" (Thomas, p. 87). This means that it is natural for us to want to share with the ideals of the masses, and while a television character or archetype might not actually be like everyone else, being liked in a movie or on TV means that what this character embodies is socially acceptable. This means that it is possible for the television to dictate social stereotypes and archetypes associated with different characters, and that generally we will want to relate to the most socially acceptable one.

Even more influential on this discussion, however, is Carl Jung, who is primarily known for his work on dreams but also set a basis for writings on myth and archetype. In general, Carl Jung believed that every person has their own story (Daniels, np). He also said that there were underlying themes apparent in people's dreams and in myths called archetypes, which were engrained in our psyche and could also be influential from the outside through stories (Stenudd, section 6).

While archetypes are supposed to be timeless and biological, it seems that as time goes on we change the way that these archetypes are acted out. It can be said that stereotypes are created in the way we embody the archetype. While the archetype is supposed to be ancient, the stereotype, or symbology, changes with the society. For example, in the past the hero might be a big, male soldier. Today it might be a female police officer. The way that we chose to embody these archetypes can say a lot about our society, and influence our identities as people.

Applying Archetypes to New Media Users

In the section "Archetypes" of Stenudd's essay, "The Psychoanalysis of Myth," He compiles a list of archetypes mentioned by Jung and his colleagues. This section looks at how use of new media has symbolized various archetypes.

In the past it seems that computer users have commonly fallen into the archetypes of the scapegoat, and the fool, resulting in the idea of computer usage being socially less acceptable on a large scale. I say "fool" in the sense that geeks are often portrayed as having very poor social skills. While in truth they fit more in with the archetype of the sage, the fool aspect is what is frequently emphasized. This makes them the scapegoat as well. In 1999, however, when the Matrix was released, it gave hackers and computer users a new identity, as the hero, and provided a depth to the identity relation to Neo. I remember when I was growing up spending late nights in front of the computer and relating to the character, where as before that I am not entirely sure who I would have.

Another example of play with social acceptance and archetypes is when the opposite happens. People change to fit the rest of the symbology of the archetype, to complete the package. When MySpace first came out, it took internet use to a more popular level, forcing people to integrate their current identities into that of a computer user, at which people who would not have traditionally been considered "geeks" began wearing thick black glasses, and other clothing items associated with the stereotype, and embracing "geek chic."

Today, however, being a user of new media is still applied as a symbol for the scapegoat and the fool archetypes, however mostly in terms of video game users. Players of World of Warcraft are good examples of this, and as a former player I can relate to feeling like it not socially acceptable. One of the best examples of this, and the geek in general today, is on the television show, The Big Bang Theory: In addition, even the image that the Matrix brought to computer users has been poked fun at in this clip from the film Grandma's Boy.

These take away from the perception of depth in new media uses.

The real way, however, to view the impact of the symbol of new media use applied to an archetype is in today's youth. While anything having to do with computers had a geeky tint to it ten years ago, it today has been given a whole different value. The television show iCarly has made it clear that today, the social media user is considered popular, fitting in most likely with the hero archetype, or even the god. This new turn in the direction of computer use is mocked in the the recent episode of Southpark, "You Have 0 Friends," where facebook is portrayed as a popularity contest:

Donna Haraway's Cyborg

The cyborg, in Donna Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto, fits into many different archetypes, almost creating a whole new one. Going back to "Archetypes" of Stenudd's essay, "The Psychoanalysis of Myth," we could say that the cyborg (which we are increasingly becoming) is almost emphasized primarily by what it is not. In that "the boundary between human and animal is thoroughly breached" (Haraway, 151), all the organic aspects of the character are removed. Haraway seems to see the cyborg as an opportunity to fulfill things which are currently unrealized, and in this way the cyborg is a the god or the tree, what she has put her expectations into. This philosophical, magical being that Haraway has brought into life is far different than any basic stereotypes we see in popular culture, but is still an attempt to add identity and depth to the computer user.


It is interesting how people build pictures of the new media user. In the future, however, as we continue to move away from centralized mediums, the ability for anything to tell us what is social acceptable will fade, and instead we will have circles of validation in every different nook and cranny online.


Ehrlich, B. "'South Park' Facebook Episode Shows Us Who Our Real Friends Are." Mashable. 2009. Accessed from on April 30, 2010.

Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature(New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Internet Piracy and New Media

The topic of internet piracy is complex, and is guided to a large degree by economic and technical factors. Internet piracy and new media are very much interwoven, however, as the internet and digitization of content is what has enabled this content to separate from its more material form making it less easy to secure. This is the case with broadcast as well, however with digital media the non analogue form also makes it easy to reproduce this content an relive it whenever you chose. In 1994, Steve Jones accurately predicted that the internet will "ensnarl difficult legal matters concerning piracy, copyright and ethics." Everything about the internet leads to distributing content, however how far can it go? Now that content know no bounds, should they be allowed to roam free or is it possible to keep them boxed in? This article attempts to dissect some of these issues, on a theoretical, historical, and practical level.

What's New About Internet Piracy?

A good way to think about the history of illegal replication of content is terms of the distribution or exhibition medium and technology and the reproduction medium and technology. All of these factors have come together currently with the internet like never before to create the perfect environment for freely replicating content. However, content always been able to be unsecured and reproduced. Essentially, the difference in ease of replication lies in how complex the construction of the content, how easy it is to access a copy of the content to be reproduced, and how malleable and accurate the reproduction medium and technology are.

Prior to the age of mechanical reproduction it was possible to knock-off works of art, although with much more difficulty. At this time very few copies were ever made so coming across one to replicate was very difficult, and each replication took an immense amount of time and skill. One can imagine, however, that this would have still always disturbed those who are responsible for the original works.

Since the age of mechanical reproduction, this has only grown easier and easier. In the example of the printing press, the reproduction technology was very expensive and complex and thus centralized. At the same time, however, content could be accessed by most people. The same is true with broadcast up until the invention of tape recording.

The tape recorder allowed people to fairly accurately and easily replicate content, however the amount of hassle involved and the loss in quality still made a large market for the original content. In the case of movies and full albums of music, it was still necessary to rent, buy, or borrow a physical copy of the work, meaning that the person had to be closer to the original. This threat was still enough to cause the recording industry to panic, however. Quoted as number 24 on KFUPM Blog's Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions.. was “Home Taping Is Killing Music," which was a "1980s campaign by the BPI, claiming that people recording music off the radio onto cassette would destroy the music industry".

Clearly, illegally replicating content is not a new issue. Today, however, the content is able to be distributed without a noticeable amount of quality loss from one single copy around the world through a peer-to-peer network. Each replication is as easy as a mouse click in many cases, and it is difficult to imagine the quality getting any better. Essentially, with the current technology today it is very difficult to come up with reasons for anyone purchasing music other than the obvious moral ones.

The Economics of Piracy and Open Access

Having this extreme decrease in incentive for purchasing digital content is clearly alarming to the people that are producing the content, but it might not be as bad as they think. There is no question that internet piracy (and the shift to digital content in general) has and will continue to change the industry, however everything pertaining to the way we receive and distribute content has gone through massive changes in the last hundred years and along with it the industries responsible for that content.

There are advantages to internet piracy in terms of promotion, however will these make up for the losses that the industry experiences? In the music industry, there has definitely been a significant decline in music sales (PBI via TIME Labs). Although there are many different factors influencing this decline is it fair to assume that internet piracy has played a part (Jassens et al., p 83). However, according to TIME Labs, there has also been an increase in revenue from concert sales, and a small increase in PRS revenues (from when artists' music is played in public), which make up for the lost record sales. This extra money primarily goes to promoters and artists, and thus the record companies are making far less.

This leans in the direction that the ultimate fear of the artists getting hurt by piracy will not be realized. The statistics among different types of artists, however, would probably show varying results. These statistics are only in terms of the recording industry as well, and not for other types of digital content which might have to search further for outside opportunities to make up for lost sales.

A few theoretical questions arise from the idea that piracy is not hurting artists. Right now, the lost jobs in the music industry is being emphasized, and if this is the case, is it better to keep people employed or move on to a method that makes the artists more money and makes more people happy? Is it OK to pirate material against the producers or the artists wishes if we are are not actually hurting their profits?

Putting And End To Piracy

Despite the fact that piracy and open access might be good for artists themselves, the entertainment industry and some artists are not happy about people being able to download their music without their permission, and are doing their best to stop it from happening.

The UK Digital Economy Bill, passed March 16, 2010, was a big step in this direction. It is unclear what the eventual impact of the bill will be, but it is already starting to drive file sharing technology further in attempts to get around the law (Brandon, 2010). This is similar to the rise of BitTorrents after the case against Napster discussed by Lister et al. in Ch. 3.12 of New Media: a Critical Introduction.

Other measures have been taken to protect content through other forms of DRM, or digital rights management. While some content has managed to stay relatively protected (such as Kindle books), there are ways of getting around DRMs for DVD's and CD's. It only takes one person with the knowledge in how to remove this protection to publish a torrent and distribute it to the online masses. DRM also places restrictions on where and how people can use this inherently less limited content, which people are highly critical of.

Limitations on content are not new, however. Kristin R. Escheufelder points out that are "non-technological use restrictions" as well, such as restricting access to archival information (Kasprowski, 50). In terms of commercial content, I would add to that all the past material restrictions the content was bound by until the time of file sharing and CD burning at home. The internet age does seem to have made us feel a bit entitled.

DRM, however, is probably so frustrating to most in that it is an example of "impeding the very gains that new technology was assumed to provide," as Lister, et al. discuss in ch. 3.12. People are very resistant to most DRM measures, and only in cases such as the Kindle ebooks have they remained able to protect content. In general, it seems like securing digital content tends to alienate users and has largely been ineffective in the past. This can always change, however, and if Kindle is able to be successful in keeping the content secure and in providing satisfactory accessibility for its customers this might shift the direction that the industry goes.

Adapting to Open Access

Another approach is being taken that goes with, as opposed to against the current of open access. Many companies have been trying to offer free, legal alternatives to internet piracy. For music and television shows, this model normally looks similar to that which has been used in the past for free broadcasting. Normally, accessing these shows or music through a legal site is much easier than downloading it illegally, and people seem more than willing to watch commercials in exchange (Newman, np). Promoters get the benefits of additional statistics and easier access for consumers to their products through linking. There are many question, however, that arise from this model as it becomes pushed on content which was not traditionally supported this way. It makes sense to think that DVDs, upon release, might go straight to streaming online with advertising revenue as opposed to having them downloaded for free without any revenue at all. How will this content adapt to being based on advertising revenue? Will it be able to support it? How much can advertising be a part of people's lives before they grow tired of it?

Additional Ideas on Open Access, Piracy, and Digital Content

Another interesting topic is where the limits on digital content will end. If we were to develop a completely open access model, the internet would be funded by things that can still be limited by materials, ie are not reproducible easily, and advertising revenues. What if one day we have the easy ability to reproduce more material goods at home? In a way this is already happening with the online DIY communities, however is still very inaccessible to many. If we look to science fiction we can see food and objects materializing themselves. If this were to happen, with the technology available to many, that would essentially make everything digital, and thus free. If this happens, will everything be supported by advertising? How exactly would it work?

Also, as things become digital, what happens with the "aura" of the content? The idea of people wanting to be close to the artistic original is discussed by Dowdell in "How to Protect Digital Content," as well as Walter Benjamin in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (p. 4). Currently, this (in the form of concert revenues) is what is supporting the music industry. I would also wonder about this in terms of the future of collecting, and if it will grow more popular or if we will let the aura that used to surround going to the record store and buying albums or movies fade away.


There are many different paths the distribution of digital content can take. The final one is going to be based on the technology at hand as well as social and economic factors. Only the future will tell exactly how we will receive content in ten years.


Boyce, Brandon. "Anonymizer services grow with UK piracy bill." 21 April 2010. Accessed from Web. 25 Apr. 2010

Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." 1935.

Dowdell, John. "How to Protect Digital Content." (no date). Accessed from on April 21, 2010.

Janssens, Jelle, Stijn Vandaele, and Tom Vander Beken. "The Music Industry on (the) Line? Surviving Music Piracy in a Digital Era." European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law & Criminal Justice 17.2 (2009): 77-96. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 18 Apr. 2010.

Kasprowski, Rafal. "Perspectives on DRM: Between Digital Rights Management and Digital Restrictions Management." Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science & Technology 36.3 (2010): 49-54. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 25 Apr. 2010.

Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

NEWMAN, ANDREW ADAM. "With Ads, Music Downloads Will Be Singing a New Tune." New York Times 30 Dec. 2009: 3. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 25 Apr. 2010.

Unknown. "Radiohead genertaion believes music is free." 07 Oct. 2007. Accessed from on April 28, 2010.

Uknown. "Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions." KFUPM Blog. Accessed from on April 28, 2010.

Unknown. "Do music artists fare better in a world with illegal file-sharing?" Times Labs Blog. 12 Nov. 2009. Accessed from on April 28, 2010.'

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Media Research Proposal

Purpose of Research

At what point do our uses of a medium start slipping out of our control, and which psychological factors (or needs) lead it to do such? I propose that "slipping out of our control" includes actually compulsive behaviors, in addition to things we simply know we should not do but do anyhow. "Blind" behaviors may be taken into consideration as well, however that may be beyond the scope of this research. It is possible to argue that when we find a use for a medium that has such an impact on us, the true power and potential of that medium has been discovered.

I am conducting this research because it seems that the way we use a medium is not always within our own logical control. This research is aimed to support looking at new media from the perspective of technological determination, and is against Williams theory that "there is nothing inherent in a medium that dictates how we will use it" (Lister et al., ch 1.4.2). The idea that there are psychological factors that dictate the way we use a medium indicates that once the medium is created, it is only a matter of realizing the best way to fulfill these psychological factors before we discover the inherent purpose of the medium. The illogical aspects of its use further emphasize the power of discovering this inherent nature, and the absence of our own ability to determine how we will use a medium ourselves.

Specifically, this research is aimed at advocating for two points: One, that there is something inherent in the medium that dictates the way we use it, and two, that in many ways once this inherent use is discovered we start to lose control over our own usage of the medium.

Many things can be accomplished by this research. It can help us to prevent compulsive and self-destructive uses of a new medium, to predict the uses of a new medium, and to find ways to use the power behind these driving psychological factors in a productive manor.

Some questions that may be helpful to think about in this discussion and research are:

  • The basic question of the most popular uses of new media? What are trends among these uses? Which of these uses do we see as ourselves using counter productively, or without control?
    • Are there societal differences in these things? If so how extensive.
    • What is it about these uses that make them problematic, or take away our control?
    • How does the medium itself promote these uses?
    • How does the medium itself transform these uses (an essential question in this debate).
    • How content specific are these uses?
  • Are there historical ties to these uses? If yes, were these historical ties as consuming or counter productive? Why or why not?
  • Gossip, social hierarchy, attention and Facebook
    • Porn and ancient art
    • Drugs/alcohol
      • Legality and censorship
    • Fascination with the new and novel
  • Social factors which influence addictive use
    • How do people make money off of these behaviors? Is greed the ultimate enabler of these activities?
    • Would these activities be as consuming if we had less time on our hands?
  • How we can take control back? How does taking control back fit in with technological determinism?

Answering these questions also helps to tie the research back to the theories that this research is aimed at supporting.

Opening Statement

Chapter 1.6 of New Media: A Critical Introduction, Lister et al. invite us to ask if technology actually has the power to change us in itself. This question is based in the philosophies of two of the most influential writers on new media, Marshall McLuhan, who said that big cultural shifts can come about through new media technologies, and Raymond Williams, who said that we are the ones who decide how we use the medium, and thus create this change (Lister et al., ch 1.6).

In general, Williams' perspective is important in that it invites us to investigate why we use the medium as we do, however it seems to imply that we are in total control over its use. If Williams was right, a medium's use and effects on us would only lie within a fairly logical model, however that does not seem to be the case. Through this research, I hope to find that there are very basic psychological, often illogical, tendencies that we have which dictate how we use a new technology, and that the pull towards these tendencies is so powerful that we will accept or welcome most of the change that comes with acting them out through a new medium. This argument, while it uses Williams' theory in its analysis, leans away from it in emphasizing that in in a way there is something inherent in the way that we use the medium and thus the medium does have the potential to change us.

While there are many intelligent people shaping new media, I am focusing on on the mindless consumers of new media, since I believe that this research will prove that they have a very large role in the end uses for new media. Ultimately, I do believe that the responsibility for how a medium is used lies in our hands, however I believe that it is a mistake to talk about how we impact new media without having humility and understanding where our own cognitive control starts to slip away.

Expected Outcomes

I am expecting to see that people are capable of using new media in ways similar to drugs, alcohol, and other compulsive and/or self destructive behaviors. I am also expecting to be able to generate a list of specific factors that contribute to these types of uses, and that these use have exhibited themselves in similar ways and to different extents throughout history. I also am expecting to be able to illustrate how these findings help to validate the purpose in examining new media from the perspective of technological determinism by illustrating that there is something inherent in a medium that dictates how we will use it.

Summary of Internet Sources

Carbonell, Xavier, et al. "A bibliometric analysis of the scientific literature on Internet, video games, and cell phone addiction." Journal of the Medical Library Association 97.2 (2009): 102-107. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 10 Apr. 2010.

O'Keefe, Alice. "Goodbye telly, hello boredom." New Statesman 135.4789 (2006): 15. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 11 Apr. 2010.

Horvath, Cary W. "Measuring Television Addiction." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 48.3 (2004): 378-398. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 11 Apr. 2010.

Schell, Jesse. "Design Outside the Box." DICE 2010. Lecture. Web. 11 Apr. 2010 from

McGonigal, Jane. "Gaming can make a better world." TED Conference. Feb. 2010. Lecture. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. TED, March 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2010.

Paskowski, Marianne. "CONFESSIONS OF A '24' JUNKIE." Television Week 29 May 2006: 8. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 11 Apr. 2010.

Sources Cited

Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Disguising The Medium

In New Media: A Critical Introduction, Lister et al. (ch. 2.7.1, 2009) quote Bolter and Grusin, who stated that "if the medium really disappeared, as is the apparent goal of the logic of transparency, the viewer would not be amazed because she would not know of the medium's presence" (1999). After growing up on science fiction movies, the present seems far less consumed by technology than I would have anticipated, and I believe that this "transparency" of the medium is why. While the actuality of technology is definitely different than what science fiction writers anticipated, as in no flying cars or armies of human clones, it has actually far extended some writers' visions in terms of what we are able to do with computers. Today we have the ability to relay digital content from across the globe in seconds from something that is able to fit into our pockets. Technology is a huge part of our lives, so why does it feel so natural? It seems that one of the ways that we have made technology fit into our lives is by disguising it as other things, thus making the medium "disappear."

Science fiction draws attention to the technology. The writers' goal is to make sure that the viewer is amazed by it. They celebrate the steel buildings, and purposely make them look like nothing we have ever seen before. The computers that they envisioned for 2019 in Blade Runner (1982) look like computers from the time the movie was made, which are closer to gigantic calculators, clearly mechanical and largely unfamiliar. The writers probably did not think to disguise the computer, and probably would not have wanted to. They embraced the technology and made no effort to hide it. This is the general case, and the result is that few sci-fi depictions of the future look very natural or comfortable, but we are amazed by the technology.

What might make our world feel so much less consumed by technology than in science fiction, despite the impact that technology has on our lives, is our tendency to divert our attention from it. One way that we do this is by balancing out the inorganic with the organic. As I write this, I sit at my laptop, and stare out at the grazing buffalo in Yellowstone National Park -- as my desktop background, of course. I suppose I could instead have picked a background of circuitry, to remind myself of the masterful machine I am using, but the green rolling hills instead remind me of a window to the natural world. This disguises the medium, creating, in fact, a sort of virtual natural environment, with the result of making me less aware of the technology I am using and creating the illusion that technology is less a factor in my life than it really is.

Balancing out the inorganic with the organic is just one way that we try to disguise technology and make it easier for us to adapt to. In general, we seem to migrate between technologies and media by making them simulate environments we are already familiar with. Instead of us adapting to "computing environments" we make the computers adapt to ours. Not only does this make us more comfortable, but it also seems to aid in accessibility and decrease the device's learning curve. So, instead of having a computer that acts like something that processes words and numbers, zeros and ones, I have a computer that simulates a desktop, making it not actually look like a computer and thus making the medium itself less apparent. Of course, as we get used to computers they will start to develop more and more of their own conventions that are unlike anything else, but it was this disguising of the medium that made most people comfortable with using them in the first place.

Of course, the other side of this coin is the obvious effort to emphasis the "new" in every new medium and new technology, however in many ways it is the "new" itself that is doing the hiding of the medium. The end result is actually a seamless integration with the medium and the content. In another quote, while discussing the excitement that surrounds the prospects of new gadgets and technology, Brian Lam states in the Gizmodo article "Shine On, You Crazy Gadgets" that "the best tech, as it approaches a zenith of purpose and polish, becomes invisible. It gets out of the way of the user, and becomes just a portal to...stuff"(2010). How true this is! While I am talking on facebook, I do not sit and think "Wow! Today I am able to sit down and, through the magic of the world wide web, communicate with my friend across the world in real time." Instead, I just sit down, and talk to my friend. After a short time the novelty wears off and it feels completely normal.

Lam finishes off his article by making the very important point, that "It's not shiny things that captivate me anymore; it's what they shine"(2010). So, while the novelty of the medium might wear off, what the medium convey will be the ultimate message. The opening quote of this post was taken from a discussion on CG. In most CG heavy movies, I am in awe of the fact that we have the technology to create these effects, however once this awe wears off there still remains the thrill of being able to experience the content that I would not have been able to without CG (the medium), and as far as I am concerned this is pretty amazing on its own in many cases. So, all in all, I guess McLuhan lost out in this round.

Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Lam. "Shine On, You Crazy Gadget." Gizmodo. Jan 1, 2010. Web. March 17, 2010.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Technological Determinism: McLuhan and Williams: Do We Control the Media or Does the Media Control Us?

The end of first part of the New Media: A Critical Introduction is spent examining the philosophies of two of the most influential philosophers of new media: Raymond Williams and Marshall McLuhan (ch 1.6 - 1.6.6). Both men have impacted the philosophy and studies of new media and are deemed relevant, however their differing philosophies have created somewhat conflicting ways of looking at new media. Essentially, McLuahn writes about the impact that media has on us, while Williams says that since we determine how we use the media we are the ones who decide the media's effect (Lister et al. 1.6.1). So, which way of the two men is correct?

In general, I can understand Williams' frustration with McLuahn's way of thinking. While reading about Baudrillard, and post-modernist perspectives of new media (Lister et al., ch 1.2.6) stemming from McLuhan's philosophies (Lister et al. 1.6.4), I also felt like media and technology were taken out of the context of our intended uses for them, which seems to, in reality, be a largely limiting factor. This might be a little bit more obvious to me after having witnessed a future that hardly resembles that which science fiction writers of the past had predicted. In general, social factors have gotten in the way of allowing media and technology to consume our lives to the extent that it might have been predicted earlier, and it seems fair to say that our society has influenced technology at least as much as technology has influenced society in response. While for me it was apparent that we, ourselves, are controlling what type of an impact technology has on our lives, Williams, more accurately and importantly, notes that existing power structures limit how technologies impact our lives whether most people want them to or not (as is the case with the medium of writing and illiteracy discussed by Lister et al. in case study 1.9).

I do think, however, that the theories spawned from McLuhan's perspective on the power of media and technological determination are very important as well. I state "the theories spawned from," because from the reading it seemed that followers of McLuhan, such as Baudrillard (Lister et al. 1.6.4), were stronger proponents of technological determinism than he might even have been. Anyhow, if we did not decide to use media the way we do, there would be no reason for McLuhan to even be writing about it, so it seems that he is already one step head of Williams in a sense. So, assuming that we decide to, and the existing power structures enable us to use the medium, how does us using the medium in turn effect us?

While it seems to me that the vast majority of the effect of these new media are due to the content, this puts the discussion back in the realm of Williams, in that it seems easier for us to be in control of the content than the effects of the medium as a whole, and as McLuhan makes clear, he is focused on the media itself as the message (Lister et al., 1.6.2) which is a much better grounds for making a point of technological determinism.

What strikes me as part of the problem with Williams is that he seems to assume people as all knowing, which in turn means that by allowing the medium into our lives we ourselves have invited its effects. However people are not all knowing and we can not necessarily predict the full spectrum of the effect that using a new medium will have on us. We are not always capable of determining exactly what the impact of a new medium is going to be, and thus we are not completely in control of it. For example, while we might have wanted TV to be a part of our lives initially since we thought of it as a great thing for its ability to engage our visual and auditory senses as McLuhan did (Lister et al., 1.6.2), we might not have perceived the more subtle effects of the medium that we did not intend to expose ourselves to.

In addition, there is also the question of addiction and temptation. While the medium is to blame for this as much as chocolate is for being too tasty, there remains the fact that if this medium was never introduced people might have had more rational control over their lives. I do believe, that to an extent, we do not watch TV, but TV makes us watch it. What seems to click and feel good about a medium is sometimes beyond our logical intention for it, and I would argue to an extent that if there is something inherent in a medium that directs how we use it, that thing would be its capacity for giving us the most pleasure and sense of power. While what gives us pleasure and a sense of power are partially social constructs, they are also in a large part biological constructs, and in that sense are more set in stone by our genetics, getting us into the question of an even larger determinism. Ultimately I would say that when a new medium is able to find the key to making us feel these things, its use starts to slip out of our logical control.

In general, however, the most obvious answer the question of "whether or not a media technology has the power to transform a culture (Lister et al. ch 1.6) " might be found when we just think of a new media in terms of enabling. While we might have wanted to communicate something, it simply is not possible without a medium capable of it. So, yes, the medium itself is a crucial step in transforming the culture, and thus the medium itself seems to have the power to create change. The response to this seems to be: "but an object is inanimate, it is not doing it, we are doing it with it," so then I guess it is possible to answer Lister et al.'s question in ch 1.6 only if we change the wording a bit. What we want to and are now able to accomplish through new media has the power to change a culture. This empowers us and dictates our responsibility while also stating the importance and the potential for change that having a new media creates.

Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Media and Nature

I know I talked about Avatar last week, but this week I want to talk about another thing the movie brought up for me. Just to put it out there I'm definitely not Avatar obsessed, but I think that the movie is worth writing about since it has relationships to new media on so many different levels.

Anyhow, one of the things that got me thinking the most about in the movie was our relationship to nature, as one of the main themes in the movies is connection to the living world, while at the same time the movie as a whole was about and encouraged us to disconnect from the real world. In general, the movie did the strange thing of celebrating something that is more organic than than the truly organic. The whole thing struck me as a little bit off, but in general, I guess that after contemplating these conflicting ideas I ended up thinking more about how I should be embracing the natural world, and in general made me worried about how new media could be increasing the gap between it and myself.

Anxieties about new media are brought up by Lister, et al. in chapter 1.5.3 of New Media: A Critical Introduction, which got me thing about this. People have always had worries about new technology. I remember reading something along the line of that when writing was introduced to ancient Greece, people were worried about its impact on oral tradition and people's memories. In general, it seems obvious that people who enjoy the current situation are always going to be afraid of change.

In general though, new media didn't create this gap between us and the organic world, it has been growing some time. In America, jobs on farms started to be displaced by jobs in factories over a hundred years ago. It seems like now, there is actually an emphasis being put on having greener workplaces, so in certain ways the situation might even be getting better. In Blade Runner and other science fiction movies, they portray a future with our world covered in metal with everything as having been in some way engineered by man. I believe that in many ways society is fighting against this post-modernist image of the future, and I generally don't see it happening, but my fear is that new media does encourage us to lose touch with our natural surroundings. I think that generally, most people feel the need to get outside and to have organic things around them, however I know that I can lose touch with that need pretty easily and I think it might be that way for some other adults. When I was a kid, growing up with the internet and TV, I didn't even see the importance of spending time outside at all, and I would say many kids today are probably the same way.

It was in my late teens I think when really started to see what may have been more obvious for others, which is the benefit of connecting with the natural world. While the excitement in the outdoors might not be as in your face as movies or video games, it is free, it is your own (in the sense you that you find it for yourself), it is awe inspiringly complex, awe inspiringly simple, and the connection is much more intense and feels better than anything I believe new media can offer. It also seems to be able to offer answers to quite a few questions if you look for them. It seems like especially since the Enlightenment, as people move away from religion, it has become more important to find a sort of spiritual fulfillment else where, and nature seems is an obvious places for this. As the type of person who gets so caught up in doing work that I can go for days with only a few hours outdoors, keeping this in mind is especially important.

Then come in nature documentaries. To me they seem to serve as a cheap nature fix. While these do help me to appreciate the outside world, and teach me things that I wouldn't have learned from just "being outdoors" I can not help but feel a little bit strange that my I spend most of my time experiencing the outside world from my couch. I feel like new media generally encourages us to live a synthetic connection with the natural world, but to what point is it real? I know it can definitely feel real sometimes, and according to my New Media teacher, Nicola Martinez, it really does feel like we are actually there, but does it have the same spiritual benefits? For some reason, Avatar made the connection feel incredibly hollow to me.

Of course, there is a beauty and a spiritual quality in exploring the depths of our imagination and feeling the emotions that we can feel through new media and media in general. This is essentially what keeps me coming back.

The the discussion of the relationship between technology, entertainment, and the natural world is definitely not a new one, however I feel like I have not heard it talked about very much recently. Anyhow, I guess I wrote this for myself as a reminder that as a new media artist, while I strive to create exciting new worlds it is also important to look at the world that is here around me.

Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Martinez, Nicola. "History and Theory of New Media Week 4" Google Wave with author, quote from PhD Dissertation. Feb 16, 2010.