Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do-It-Yourself, “Take Power Back”

If you haven’t realized that we are moving towards a do-it-yourself (DIY) culture, wake up. Step outside and you will know what I am talking about. Within a few blocks from our homes, many of us are likely to run into the gigantic warehouse that America knows well, The Home Depot. Ikea may not be far away either. The purchase of a toolbox or a build-it-yourself bookshelf makes us part of a community of people who believe in self-sufficiency, and personal empowerment. Also, around your neighborhood, you will probably encounter a group of teenage boys equipped with video cameras, listening to punk rock on their iPods, shooting footage of their friends performing tricks on their skateboards. This raw, amateur footage will be edited, and uploaded on YouTube using a high-speed broadband connection and a Macbook Pro. By creating such content and distributing it free of cost, this group of dedicated teens has contributed to a movement of do-it-yourselfers who believe in an open, decentralized economy marked by a collaborative work ethic. These media savvy folks seek to break down the barriers created by centralized hierarchical organizations of professionals and creative labor in order to create an inviting economy of socially, and politically active citizens who are both producers and consumers of content. But despite the growing popularity of this DIY culture, there remains a strong presence and widespread viewer-ship of traditional media in societies today. DIY and traditional media function simultaneously, overlapping in some ways, and diverging in others. This paper presents a comparison between these two phenomenons, thus illuminating the ways in which this coexistence plays out in modern societies.

For decades, creation of content exclusively by professionals had dominated the media market. Now, however, recently conceived, flourishing new business models that use the DIY ideology cannot go unnoticed. The growth of broadband, and the cost of hardware, which is reaching critical price, has allowed more people to produce their own content. It has enabled people to serve as givers and takers, consumers and producers of content in a heavily networked global system. Online retail outlets like eBay, Amazon and Craigslist have given amateurs the ability to become entrepreneurs sitting at home. As explained by Danial Roth in his article The Amazing Rise of the Do-It-Yourself Economy, “do-it-yourselfers aren't deluding themselves with oversized visions of what they might achieve. Instead, they're simply finding a way--in this mass-produced, Wal-Mart world--to take power back, prove that they can make the products that they want to consume, have fun doing so, and, just maybe, and make a few dollars.” Online communities and DIY channels have made user generated content more accessible and have provided a platform for anyone to showcase his/her work and deal directly with prospective buyers of the product, thereby eliminating retailer profits, allowing the artist or content creator to maximize profits.
Despite the open source, user generated structure of virtual worlds like Second Life, a certain set of rules, checks and balances are provided by the creators, Linden Labs, to prevent the economic system in Second Life from collapsing. Although virtual economic models are becoming increasingly secure and popular, there are still many loopholes that allow hackers, cyber criminals and disloyal participants to abuse the system and weaken the community. Most commonly the decentralized nature of this model allows false users to create malicious content and get away with it without being subjected to any code of law. Such incidents often discourage participation as members loose their faith in the system. Thus it is necessary that traditional media models and walled communities exist in order to monitor distribution and ensure that the consumer is getting what he/she paid for. Similarly, systems like Craigslist can easily be misused, weakening the foundations of the DIY economy and emphasizing the need for traditional media conglomerates.
The DIY phenomenon is also being extensively used for social and cultural interactions. People in different corners of the world are using chat-rooms, blogs and social networks like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube to share thoughts and their responses to material disseminated by traditional media. Unlike traditional newspapers and journals that rely on scholars and professional journalists, DIY culture allows for a more diverse, global perspective on issues and current affairs. There are open discussion forums, comments and ratings that allow for more active participation and indulgence on the part of the reader. While blogs and social networks give people freedom to express their views and ideas, with this freedom must also come responsibility. The DIY culture assumes that every individual who contributes to it will do so responsibly and with good intentions. However, we have seen that this is not the case. For example, pornographic and explicit material has been promoted on Second Life while Facebook and YouTube have time and again been misused to disseminate rumors and false propaganda. Professional journalists worry about the credibility of material being posted on blogs and online journals. People too, are aware of this kind of misuse, and therefore continue to trust the word of trained, professional sources within the traditional media as their main source of information.
Democratic societies are supposed to be “for the people, by the people.” DIY’s carry us one step closer to bringing this phrase to life. The sheer power of do-it-yourselfers to organize and mobilize the masses in novel ways keeps governments and corporations on their toes. For example, in the recent Pakistani elections, videos of rigging by a certain political party as well as blogs about people’s voting experiences were online within 48 hours after ballots were cast. In countries where the media is independent, it has become extremely difficult for politicians to hide their dealings. Between traditional media and DIY’s almost everything is out in the open sooner or later.
Also, for the first time in history, American political candidates have used DIY applications to mobilize people in their election campaigns. Each political candidate for example, has created his/her own YouTube community through which speeches are delivered on specific issues. DIY culture is now allowing politicians a simple, effective channel to communicate with a mass audience and maintain a close connection with citizens and supporters.
The limits of DIY culture as a political, socio-cultural and economic tool, however, are still unclear. Although user-created content and opportunities to share it continue to increase in the DIY world, it is unlikely that this new culture will completely replace traditional media in the near future. Instead, we seem to be moving towards a culture where professionals and amateurs compliment each other in a positive way. Old school professionals and creative labor are beginning to embrace the shift and traditional media conglomerates are modifying their structures to function in a more open source economy. It remains to be seen how the boundaries between these two phenomenon are blurred, and where lines are drawn in the coming years.

Monday, November 24, 2008

An Evening with Salman Ahmad

On November 6, 2008 I attended a performance by Salman Ahmad, the founder of Junoon, one of South Asia’s biggest and most successful rock bands. The event was organized by The Office of Religious Life and was attended by many USC students, staff and faculty with diverse and varied ethnic backgrounds.

Salman Ahmad, a peace activist and a U.N Goodwill Ambassador believes that music’s universal appeal has the power to bring not only people but also nations together. Salman’s genre of music commonly known as “Sufi Rock” is a combination of two seemingly discrete genres of music. While performing for a live and energetic crowd, he frequently translated and explained the meaning of his songs reminding the audience of the overarching message of his music; a message of peace and harmony. Many of the songs were based on traditional Sufi poetry while others were written and composed by Salman himself. Sufi music much like other forms of religious music often deals with themes of oneness between an artist, his/her music and the Divine power. Salman Ahmad although not a Sufi himself, is an ardent believer of the Sufi ideology.

Salman Ahmad’s views on music are closely in line with Simon Frith’s views about music and identity. For example, while some may argue that Salman’s music merely borrows from two consolidated genres of music, he would argue that the merger of these genres creates meaning and social dialogue.

Overall, Salman Ahmad’s performance at the Bovard Auditorium was definitely a night to remember. With increasing crowd participation and energy as the night progressed it was evident that Salman’s message of peace and love was reaching out to the audience. Events such as this one truly reflect the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity that the University of Southern California prides itself on.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

CNN takes charge...

I have been extremely excited after yesterdays elections for a couple of reasons. As an ardent supporter of Barack Obama I am extremely happy that he was elected in such a sensational fashion.

Moreover, I was in awe after watching CNN's coverage of the elections and the new technology that they showcased. I don't know if you got a chance to watch the coverage but I think the way CNN used new media technology and visualizations to cover this important election was phenomenal. They used amazing touch panels, conducted virtual interviews using hologram technology and created a virtual capital hill building. It reminded me of star wars.

Also CNN's viewership yesterday hit a record 12.3 million.

I think CNN's coverage is a great example of how new media and the internet can in incorporated into the traditional new structure to produce GREAT results and ratings....The success of the coverage in my view is the start of a new era of TV news programming.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Games as political and cultural avant-garde!

Recently I came across the works of artist Joseph DeLappe. He uses a unique way of using a game space as an environment to initiate social, and political change. DeLappe in 2006 began using the US Army's own game server to protest the war in Iraq. Using the "Dead in Iraq" for his avatar, he logged onto the US Army simulation game servers and began entering names and dates of U.S troops killed in the war. When describing this project he says "It's really a multi-faceted gesture to (protest) what's in the game and the hyper-reality, the disconnect that game has. I'm trying to make a direct link with the game and with what's going on in reality."

The official website about Delappe's project is http://www.unr.edu/art/DELAPPE/Gaming/Dead_In_Iraq/dead_in_iraq%20JPEGS.html

GamePolitics also interviewed Delappe asking him about game spaces and the use of mediums like games to protest and reflect upon reality and social change.

Where do Virtual Corpses go?

The following is a great article written by Brody Codon about visual art and it's implications. Brody's work’s aim is to create new and disorienting experiences for gamers, specifically designed to deconstruct modern games and in term reconstruct a more critical piece of art that represent new ideas in terms of form and content and another reality. In the conclusion of his paper, he summarizes the ideas presented through his work stating “I have invested myself in the creation of alternative possibilities for game development technology beyond the commercial sphere. Each piece is a meditation on a different manifestation of dysfunction and its relationship to a contemporary culture that is becoming dependent on interactive screen based representations of its environment.”


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

We Are The World

A short commentry on war and peace

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

NMC CampusTour

One of Second Life’s main strengths is that it provides a virtual space for academic research and discourse. Many communities rather islands on Second Life have been built specially for these purposes and have been specifically designed for new media research. The New Media Consortium is one such experimental community that supports academic research and collaborative learning.

The amphitheater located at the heart of the Island is one such structure used for group discussions and lectures.

The Aho Museum showcases, contemporary digital art, a medium that is becoming increasing popular and changing the way we view art and how it should be exhibited.

Another useful resource found at NMC is a virtual library that provides up to date information of recent developments in new media technology.