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Archive for July, 2011

Kicking Cans: Extending Material Through Time

July 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Though inked over five-hundred years ago, the work of William Shakespeare continues to entertain audiences and draw income for those who perform the “ancient texts.” Shakespeare’s work is a masterful body of work but is this the only reason we continue to perform and observe performances of Shakespeare? Why do certain authors and works continue to hold cultural sway from generation to generation?

As all cultures do, our world is undergoing a major shift in human interaction. In our current evolution we are coming to terms with powerful tools that revolutionize the way we interact with each other. Part of this evolution is the transfer of our culture into these new forms. We find the printed work being replaced with digital formats and the complicated adjustments that come from this process. No longer will we utilize a large store to gain access to the written word; instead, great novels will come in the form of digital downloads.

In such states of transition the process of human recommendation takes on a greater power. Just as one human recommending a work to another extends the work from one to two, a culture recommends work that determines our culture’s canon of great work. Shakespeare gained access to the canon simply by the number of human beings who, after experiencing Shakespeare, sought to convince others of the work’s value. Gradually these recommendations expanded and Shakespeare’s power was born. A similar process occurs across all mediums.

How will the new medium of technology alter the way we develop our canon? The technological formats we now utilize are different from the printed form. Likewise, the readers who utilize these tools are different and can utilize the technological devices to advance their interaction with the text. A reader now is not limited to the printed copy of a form. In-device technologies can assist a reader’s understanding, provide access for social interaction with other readers and even create a situation where the reader can access updated or corrected form of a text.

I often wonder if certain forms of art will fail to transfer to the new formats. Is there a reason to worry that poetry will not have a dynamic existence in the digital revolution? Do weakened forms of art eventually die out to be replaced by new, stronger forms? Poetry is not dead of course, but the ancient form of art has a far weaker audience than in previous generations. There are multiple reasons for this and technology is only a minor part but as we move into a world where a new class of readers take control will we discard this ancient art? At what point does a form of art become too complicated or simply ill-suited to a new form.

All art depends on human recommendation to exist. From the single work to the entire form of art, it is the individual’s suggestion of a title that forms the life blood of an art. As technology continues to expand and alter the ways readers interact with text we may find that some forms of art are ill-suited for these new forms. These transitions may have profound effects on our culture but we have little control over what occurs. Fearing the disappearance of a certain work or even type of art is a frivolous activity. After all, all art is a reflection of the culture from which it stems and the death of an art form reveals that the culture does not need it and the art has in some way failed to establish itself as a tool for the generation.

All art must function as a tool for a generation. Tools vary just as generations and with each new dawning the process of tool acceptance or rejection creates a system where some tools remain and some disappear. We may find that just as our retail, social and political worlds are altered the world of art will be dramatically different as our culture evolves. Such is the nature of social evolution, though one must feel anxious that with such alterations come great loss.

Affects and Effects: Unintended Consequences

July 26, 2011 Leave a comment

One could distort a common phrase and suggest for every action there are reactions beyond all expectation. Terrorism is the most powerful example and most profound demonstration of actions expanding with our interpretation. A terrorist attack is an action of limitation: an “actor” creates a state of havoc in a designated location at a designated time. The terrorist attack is limited in scope: its effect cannot expand beyond the location, time and population of that specific spot. Though devastating, the greatest amount of power comes from our response to the attack. Therein lies the true powerful effect of a terrorist attack: the response.

Great power can be defined as the ability to create major effects with small actions. In order to be powerful, the individual must overcome the inherent limitations of individual existence and connect on a large scale. The individual is limited in means but counters these limitations through the use of emotional responses. Humans are herd like and respond when emotionally prompted. Arouse emotions and the individual becomes a powerful figure. When one utilizes these emotions the “small pebble” individual drops into society’s pond and sets off a tsunami.

When a terrorist act takes place the effect of the action extends far beyond the location. Human fear enters the picture and a single action takes on psychological and social importance. Humans change the way they act, alter the perceptions with which they interpret the world and truly alter the way a society functions. As devastating as the attacks of September 11th were, the more profound effects came in the reactions that followed the attacks. America’s natural psychological response in which we contextualize the horror became an adjustment to the zeitgeist.

We may never know the profound effects of the constant barrage of terrorist threat. Though the chance of being attacked remains small, each individual within a society holds the notion that it could happen. Such preparedness creates a mindset of reaction. Distorted as we are, these altered perceptions of reality become significant in our day-to-day reactions. Perhaps our cultural existence is less about what we experience in culture and day-to-day life but by the events that could be. Are we victims of the what-could-be? Are we crippled by the potential hazards that may befall us no matter the statistical proof that such notions are highly unlikely?

Relative Experiences

July 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Though we often design experiences to be individual in nature, we can never avoid the outside influences that force us to recalibrate our perceptions. We crave the private moment, in many cases actually strive to find a place or a moment in which we can focus on a personal need. Do these places really exist? No human being can truly be alone.

Notions of a “private space” grow increasingly delusional as devices and expectations more tightly bind the world with every waking moment. A constant need to function in a state of awareness creates a situation in which the individual cannot break away. Once we give into the desire to be constantly aware there comes a refusal to break away and with it the inability to alter course and hide away in the private space.

Try as we might, ventures into potential private spaces create moments of disappointment. A walk in the woods designed to allow for reflection becomes a moment of public performance as we find others with similar desires. One may be quick to compare his or her experiences with these common peace seekers. Suddenly the afternoon walk is a sign of inherent laziness as others jog and bike by at an increased intensity.

All experiences are relative when a private space does not exist. When the private space has been eliminated the individual must function in a constant state of comparison. How do I relate to another performing a similar behavior at this similar time and location? When one considers his or her relation in comparison to the rest of the world a state of confusion may reign. The private space should be protected but for many the desire for constant awareness may lead to the elimination of this crucial human escape.

Localization of Importance: “Head” Quarters

July 20, 2011 Leave a comment

How do we distinguish the important people in society? Often we distinguish our leaders with language, gracing them with special titles like Governor or Presidents; Chief Executive Officers or Managers. Though mere titles, these titles and associated roles are symbols of heightened responsibility and skill. Figures who hold these titles bear more pressure and earn higher levels of compensation in response. Beyond these personal benefits; though, these figures of power are given additional distinction in the form of their literal placement within society. Big titles are not enough: people of importance need special locations and physical shelter that distinguishes them from less important people in society.

A company’s “headquarters” is where we quarter the heads or house the great minds of a company in a collective location. In such a building the “great minds” determined to be essential to the success of the group are collected in function. Beyond the corporate level we also distinguish these figures with finer homes and offices.

Important figures in society exist in dwellings that act as symbols of power and importance. Ironically, these structures often function to separate them from the figures determined to be under the tutelage of the important figures. Is it strange that once we designate certain figures as worthy of increased trust that we gift them with more responsibility but then gift them with dwellings far distanced from the general populace. A strange feature of great leadership is a distancing from the general populace. The White House is a special building, the Governor’s Mansion stands in separation from the residences of the people. These are special buildings designed for special people but how do such distinctions function to sabotage the more important role of community connection and establish a system of rewards that work against our base desires.

Hiding in The Network

July 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Members of an extensive network, whether digital, corporate or social, benefit from an ability to duck within the network’s complexity and dodge personal responsibility. When functioning in such networks the dependence on the system as a whole creates an excuse wherein the individual can point to other components as explanation for an error. A motor vehicle is a useful analogy here: imagine a magical vehicle driven entirely by mechanical components. When this vehicle smashes into a tree can one accurately pin point the source of error? Do not all members of a system bear responsibility for the failure? Surely applying all blame on brake pads that failed to engage fast enough is an inaccurate assessment of the situation.

Beyond this ability to avoid individual responsibility, we see a dispersal of punishment to the entire system that leads to minimal punishment at the individual level. In essence, the larger the network the smaller the personal risks associated with systemic failure. One can not only deny personal responsibility for the error but also avoid the painful punishment when the system fails. When a large company fails the individual employee exits to join a new network. A lethal connection to failure cannot exist when the system as a whole is disconnected from the individual.

The British cell-phone hacking controversy is an example of these “network benefits.” Even authority figures are able to duck into a network and blame others within a network for failure. Even the head of a company, the sole leader and historical beacon of the company’s development and success possesses the cushion of “not knowing” those who failed. As the network expands personal connections disappear and responsibility is dispersed throughout the network. If individual responsibility disperses as a network expands does the network become a Trojan Horse? At what point does a network expand to a level where the individuals are not responsible for the actions and failure of the network?

Confidence and Awareness

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

If economic success is dependent on consumer confidence, does constant awareness beneficial or detrimental. I argue that a system that provides constant awareness sways to a pessimistic attitude and leads to a reduction in consumer confidence. Trending in this way, our economic success which, according to so-called experts and scholars is dependent on consumer confidence can never recover.

In a system where confidence is essential we are dependent on a significant level of delusion. A perspective must be crafted that not only allows but encourages risk. Who is to create this environment? Politicians are the experts we look to and our President is essential in this task. The public desires simplicity and the President is less a policy maker and more a taste maker whose perspectives on reality become the zeitgeist for those who pay attention. These figures, whose interest in the culture of constant awareness, become the second-tier of experts who those uninterested in constant awareness look to for guidance.

Our current economic issues ultimately rest on the issue of consumer confidence. If we fail to create an environment that encourages risk we do not spend money and the economic wheels freeze. If the wheels are freezing or, as some say, frozen already we risk only greater damage in failing to recognize the environment in which we exist. When the zeitgeist is one in which constant awareness is at play we need leaders who function to encourage risk and buttress consumer confidence via delusion and disregard. Its dangerous but essential in complex systems such as the American economy.

Subjective Time, or The Value of My Minutes

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Are all minutes equal? If one is to utilize the sixty seconds of a minute for entertainment, they are certainly lot. Though the time is objective, the pursuit of filling these sixty seconds varies greatly. Do you aim to fill those sixty seconds with music? A movie or a television program? One can purchase a song for a dollar, rent a DVD for three dollars or skip the charge for both and just download them. What we pay to fill our seconds is wildly unset, but as consumers of media we need not worry about these variations. Our payment for media should be the concern of those who produce this media: consumers exist in a world where paying for content is optional.

In an economic situation where payment is optional, the only power acting against thoughtless consumption is ethics. We all know we should pay, but do we have to pay? If we skip the payment and just download the file, will anyone know? Swaying our decision further is the gross inequality of these opposing views: Yes, we can pay for one movie or one song or we can download an entire season, or, if so inclined the entire professional portfolio of a creator on a whim. We face the decision of paying for a single bite or freely collecting a slew of meals we may never even consider consuming. Such a situation holds only the thin sheet of ethical obligation as protection for those who create content.

Content creators need to recognize this situation and act accordingly. A creator needs to consider the value of an opposing forms. To make this comparison more balanced we must begin by considering the form of stimulation a consumer wants. Where is the predominant stimulation? Is it visual, such as a film or television program? Is it auditory in the form of a song or is it tactile in the form of a baseball game or meal? Considering a single piece of content in these categories helps content creators create logical price points. If a song writer creates a song, he or she must consider the cost or another form of auditory stimulation when setting the cost. Similarly, a creator of a film needs to consider the cost a consumer faces if he or she is interested in visual stimulation. A content creator who makes a visual piece of content is making a gross error if charging five dollars when a different visual item costs three dollars.

Costs of production will weigh into the issue, but consumers recognize the value of high production and will award creators accordingly. Such awards are based on merit and if one finds high cost content failing to garner a return there is an error in thinking- the value of high cost content does not necessarily mean impressive special effects. Interestingly, many of the high-cost features of high-cost productions are of little interest to consumers who desires for entertainment are often more simple than many producers believe. Ironically, a focus on these high-cost item often leads to a failure in creating interesting content or, even worse, an unsatisfactory use of these high-cost items may botch the entire creation. Consider the high-budget action movie so chock full of bad CGI that, while far-reaching and expensive, becomes more parody than valuable entertainment. Creators need to recognize the audience as intelligent creatures, not fools easily mesmerized by loud sounds and bright colors.

Time is not equal. Creators of content need to consider the competing sources of entertainment when creating and marketing content. Failure to do so risks destroying an industry and fails to provide a hungry public with quality content. Consumers exist in an economy where free content is easily accessible on a cost-free basis.

100 Posts/ The Limits of Human Interpretation

July 7, 2011 Leave a comment

This being my one hundredth post, its appropriate that I’m thinking on the limits of human interpretation. After watching part one of Larry Lessig’s “Good Soul Corruption” presentation and dealing with the endless barrage of “Trial Coverage”, I’m sensing the huge impact that our limited perspectives have on making decisions and acting rationally. I suppose that this is an obvious point, that the limitations of human abilities are famously denied, but to a certain extent these limitations have a level of “meta” that interests me- paradoxically our limited perspectives play a game of multi-layered denial in which we both accept our limited perspectives but move forward and act with limited awareness of these limitations. In short, our imperfections become distortions in themselves and justify our errors with greater leaps of judgment.

This is, it seems, another venture into the world of absolute truth. One wonders whether the denial of “absolute truth” is neither optimistic or pessimistic, as some would argue, and more a realistic awareness of the futile desire for such certainties to exist. We want rock solid knowledge upon which to hang our reasoning on; though, despite immense power of influence, intelligence and interest we are minor actors in a game beyond our control.

If one accepts the fact that human awareness is inherently limited and subjectivity rules all human function, how do we act. Accepting this there is no objectivity in the world- all human work is tainted with the personal needs and perspectives of those involved. Involved parties will always insert their own perspective. Only raw data exists in the objective state but such data exists in an ethereal place beyond human influence. As soon as the data is gathered, considered or even known to exist by humans it is distorted. There is nothing wrong with this, we need only recognize this state as reality and employ a filter when considering all messages. As some say, “trust, but verify.”

Performative Roles

July 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Is the contemporary politician’s skills as a leader best evaluated by his or her ability to maintain order while under media scrutiny? Certainly if a politician cannot avoid a media scandal at the outset his or her ability to face down global conflict must come into question. The contemporary politician must undergo a test of media awareness before actually dealing with the issues of a country. In some sense a politician running for election functions initially to create a media persona. Once established this persona must be maintained and adapted to meet the situations that arise post-creation. New news stores, gossip and global factors require that the initial image be adjusted to respond to new data. Media savvy figures keenly understand one’s presentation of personal evolution as the essential behavior while under media scrutiny.

The contemporary American politician is a testament to this role and success in the early stages of an election is now best evaluated on one’s ability to maintain dynamism while under scrutiny. No longer is a politician’s beliefs on a subject the essential factor in earning public trust. The 1960 documentary Primary provides an excellent preview of the the ways the media would alter the ways in which a politician related to the general public. As the film makes clear in scene after scene, the media savvy politician utilized the media in order to create a demeanor, establish message and maintain a personal connection with the public. Kennedy is seen as a master of the new medium while his his competitor, Hubert Humphrey, stays true to older forms of person-to-person connections and appears cold before the cameras.

In comparing the 1960 media presented in the film and the 2011 media presented daily, it becomes evident that a major power shift has occurred. No longer does the politician utilize the media; instead, it is the media that utilizes the politician to establish its message, characterization and rhetorical perspective. The media is in charge now and as curators of knowledge it functions as gateway to public connection and consideration. The media long ago abandoned the innocuous role of media provider. The contemporary media is now master curator and media savvy politicians are the only politicians who attain power. One cannot control the media; instead the successful politician is the individual whose awareness of its power avoids major embarrassment and provides it with the sound bits and ideas that it demands. The media is the power source today.

The Pitfalls of Awareness

July 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Constant awareness should be beneficial. Given the ability to constantly consider, question and muse, a decision maker’s process of reaching success should be nearly automatic. We live in a society that allows us to approach this state: 24/7 media, the internet and a culture rich in publication medium creates a foundation wherein the individual can explore a topic to depths beyond previous fantasy. If we’re interested in something we find limitation not in resources but in our ability to absorb the plethora of material available.

These limitations in absorption have created a culture of rapid publication. Politicians speak in sound blips, broadcasters tweet and written publications feature articles of far shorter word counts than publications of the past. Carr’s The Shallows argues this culture has affected our brain and created a circle where short attention spans crave short works which likewise feed the need. In many ways our culture is the disease to the cure for which it professes to be.

If this is the state of our culture, how do assess our ability to deal with conflict. If our attention span is so reduced are we still able to deal with long-term issues? How do we relate to conflicts that extend far into the future? Does a situation with an unknown date of conclusion or unclear outcome extend to a state beyond our concern? Certainly the United States of America possesses minds strong enough to deal with long-term conflicts, but what of the public? In a system where the opinion of the whole is more important than the opinions of the few, how does a culture of short attention spans deal with long-term drama?

The pitfalls of constant awareness are an inability to act with long-term interests in mind. One may recognize the potential for long-term gain via short-term loss but can he or she convince a public to accept this state? Faced with this decision many leaders are placed in a situation where personal sacrifice is the cost for these types of gains. A key feature of leadership is an awareness of what is needed for the group in mass. Often a leader must sacrifice his or her own status for the benefit of the group. I often wonder whether our elected leadership is capable of making these sacrifices?

In a culture of short-attention spans and constant awareness we must carve a niche for deeper consideration. Focus will allow us to understand what needs to be done in the short-term to achieve long-term success. An obsession with now creates a system obsessed with immediate pleasure. Focusing on the moment leaves us unable to see the dangers ahead. We are the driver staring only at the steering wheel. The importance of broad awareness cannot be understated. Our tools to constant awareness are wonderful but if we lose track of what lies ahead and choose instead to bask in the pleasures of the present we harbor a delusion. There is great danger in disregarding variables and if left unchecked we may find ourselves careening into hazards that we never knew existed but were always placed and waiting- stalled right before our eyes.

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