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November 17, 2007




boy novice

I went to college way back in the 1990's and it seems only the surrounding bullshit of the subject of "communications" has changed.

Thank God I don't have to write term papers on the earth-shattering perils of YouTube and Facebook and so on. We were charged with analyzing the deregulation of the radio and television airwaves, something that has truly destroyed the country.

Alas, YouTube and "web v. 2.0" could very well be the final nails in the coffin.


boy novice:

Why do you assume students would be directed to write on the "perils" of Facebook and YouTube----rather than on the range of effects (positive, negative, undetermined) such new media might be having on such values as participatory democracy, independent thought, and cultural pluralism?

boy novice

Mainly because it is just a fad. Remember Alta Vista? That was destined to be THE search engine to beat all search engines. Now it is but a footnote in wikipedia, if that.

I get soooo tired of people talking about myspace (even though as a musician, it is basically obligatory) are shaping society. Give it two more years and there will be another new kid on the block that will have taken their place and myspace or youtube will be as dated as those "distressed" jeans in my closet. The trouble is, computer applications like those don't come back into fashion, unlike my distressed jeans (although myspace is decidedly old-skool in appearance, interface and general irritability).

When myspace first started making waves, and someone asked if our band had a myspace page, I took a look at it and it looks like some 1st time web page by a teenager back in 1995, what with all the flashing icons, totally overflowing with different fonts and design. In terms of usability and design, it's like Bill Gates' learning disabled, color blind love child was charged with making a "social networking site." It is just butt-ugly and mostly used to self promote. Personally, I think myspace and those sites (very cleverly, I might add) turned everyday "social networkers" into the biggest spam generating machine to date.

So I guess you college kids can write about the good parts, but for me I don't like those kinds of sites, despite the painful fact they are a necessity for musicians these days (people will just not find your indie site on their own).

I suppose I was just projecting, and for that I apologize.




Thanks. I do think you are missing the big picture. Whether "MySpace" as a particular entity survives is not the point. It is part of a broader shift in the basic way we understand and experience what "communication"---especially electronic communication---is. Mosaic died, Netscape went under, but that hardly negates the massive fact of the web as we know it and the browser as the basic mode of navigation through it. AOL is a dinosaur with, perhaps, no future, but it was one of the key gateways through which the web became an integral part of world culture.

This is why my students will be situating their investigations within a much larger context---the entire history of technologically-aided communication, from cave paintings to YouTube. They will learn some of the basic facts concerning different communication "eras" and read and discuss theories about the relations that obtained between the technology and social reality. Then, I hope, they will be in a better position to assess current phenomena within a broader context.

Thanks for your thoughts. Keep them coming!


I make the following proposition based on Boy's observations. The medium of communication has a lot less relevance to the content than the sensitivity of the feedback from that medium. That is to say, each new medium allows the distributer of content much more information for gauging what content consumers are interested in consuming. The content then becomes a much better mirror to the true nature of the consumer doing the consumption.

We wrongly perceive that things are getting increasingly crude, when in fact all that is changing is that more and more people are correctly being gauged and fed the thing they most desire. As the old Zen aphorism goes, "When a monkey stares into a mirror, no saint stares back out".

The capitalist system has been so successful because at it's root it this basic idea, that the best selling thing is the thing the most people want. It's a perfect genie. And we get exactly what we ( as a whole ) wish for.

So, for example, you may not like McDonalds, or Clear Channel, but a majority of your neighbors do. And so it pushes out all other competitors. Evolution in action.



Good point. This is exactly the type of analysis I'm looking for. It would seem sometimes that the development of electronic media beyond the "broadcast" model into the insanely-splintered micro-pluralism of niche-marketing logic has the odd effect of producing--on the average-- just as much (or more) apathey, quietism and acceptance of the status quo than the old broadcast model did. Is this because it has been figured out that sophisticated use of feedback, demographics, and interactivity to deliver the monkey's gaze back to him is the greatest strengthener possible of the basic premise of consumer capitalism---the individual consumer is king, that nothing really matters beyond the satisfaction of his immediate desires, which are now largely accessible instantly, 24-7 by the infantile action of pointing at the object of desire with a mouse pointer?


One of the ways of conceiving this transition from domination through "massification" and the logic of centrally-controlled broadcast technology to domination through the endless dispersion of egocentric technologies of pleasure is the 1984/Brave New World comparison that Postman uses to open "Amusing Ourselves to Death":

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another-slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision ... people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.


Final thought: The big questions about "Web 2.0" sees to me to be these: 1) who will really control it? 2) will the logic of data-neutrality be preserved? 3) will the logic of "open source" be embraced? 4) will interactivity do more than produce sophisticated feedback mechanisms for reinforcing the isolated consumerist ego, or will it lead to discovery, encounter, negotiation, and nwe forms of participatory politics?

boy novice

I turned 15 in 1984, and was a fanatical doomsday-pink-floyd-final-cut-orwellian-huxley-ite and when none of it came true, and it turned out that Reagan was "right," I kind of lost the plot, stopped reading, thinking and was basically relieved that armageddon had not happened.

Please keep in mind that Orwell's 1984 was based on his abject fear of Communism, not what we call today "Patriotism," or "Freedom," what with the Patriot Act, waterboarding and government-sponsored, unwarranted wire-tapping.

Fatherflot, you are so right that both (fear) hate AND pleasure (consumer gluttony?) will be the downfall of this once-great nation.

Cheers from an expat in Finland, where school shootings are now a staple of the high school curriculum!


Orwell was a reactionary; Huxley was a visionary.

Orwell saw firsthand what the 20th century could produce by way of social control mechanisms, and extrapolated, not realizing that such a structure could not persist or even really be successfully implemented over a global population ( few such places exist today, North Korea being perhaps the largest and most influential, if such a thing can be said of such a failed state ).

Huxley, OTOH, was asked and did deliver a vision of the 21st century. His genius was proved to me some Thanksgiving past when I help Bill Talen take away the soma rations from the Gammas at Times Square on Black Friday. I watched the stunned looks on the Gammas faces, the phalanx of police arrive, and a handcuffed Bill being hauled off to the tombs. No sanctuary island for this sinner though, just back to the isle of Manhattan for some heel cooling.

The thing is, freedom is a difficult and uncomfortable thing. Few choose it, most will readily part with it for a few creature comforts and whatever distractions are at hand. This is not a new thing, as the Romans so deftly demonstrated.

As regards Flot's other comments; why not bone up on some evolutionary theory? Your media ecology is just that. It starts with a great profundity of choices; as time progresses natural selection winnows down the possibilities to the most successful. The great balkanization you see on the internet today is a temporary phase, soon enough it will be more or less like television is now. Two or three choices, spread out over a few hundred channels. Finally, when heat death approaches, the meteor strike happens and the earth is flattened, leaving the new forms space to grow. We have seen this happen with internet replacing television, and no doubt it will happen again, but with what? Perhaps a mechanism to connect our minds directly.

All that said, Myspace really is a piece of shaggy ass. It's like geocities, only crappier. I tip my hat to the gents who thought it up. I never would have. That's why they're rich, and I'm not.


Have you checked out the clips of the BBC doc "Century of the Self"? It's a series about the connection between the rise of modern clinical psychology and the American PR industry. Fascinating and at times disturbing. The entire series can be seen on Google video, and YouTube has various clips of it, many of them relating to uses of media.


Thanks Nick! I'll go look. -- ff


We will start with the proposition that "the very cognitive structure of the individual human being and the formal patterns of human social relations are intimately linked to the forms of systems of communication that are predominant in given eras."

I like the idea of the cognative structures of humans being linked to forms of communication. Are all of our cognitive structures as humans basically the same? Would this make actions such as tuning a radio or surfing the internet universally logical.
I wonder how cognative structures mirror the forms of communication we have created and vice versa. Do we design these forms of communication by taking the way we think as our template? (What other way would there be?) Or do the forms of communication we deal with everyday (I'm thinking the basic organization of channels on a televsion or the idea of links on a website) help shape the way we conceptualize data?

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