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Posts Tagged ‘Media’

“TV bad”, TV says.

December 29, 2014 4 comments

When we watch “Beavis and Butthead” we mirror the characters. We sit in front of a screen and watch two young men staring at a screen. This mirroring is unique: many books feature characters reading and songs will often reference music and its power to influence. The “ars poetica” is a form of poetry specifically focused on the art of poetry writing. Meta-thinking is reflective on the act of thinking.

In some forms of this “meta-art”, the art comments on itself. A dystopian television show like the UK’S “Black Mirror” warns us of technology’s development despite being the product of a complicated network of technology devices. Film and television often feature dystopian narratives that warn us of our interactions with film and television. Such “finger wagging” warnings urge we caution further development by casting narratives that suggest the dangers of “what could be”.

Are such critiques limited to film and TV? Do books exist that warn the reader of reading? Have songs been heard that warn the user of listening to music? One struggles to find examples. Film and TV are unique in their use of the medium to criticize the medium.

The Misuse is the Feature: Cognitive Tech & Action

December 29, 2014 1 comment

Technology can be categorized into two distinct categories: “cognitive” and “non-cognitive”. In the “cognitive” camp I place items like Facebook and Twitter, which prompt the user to interact with its features. A user of these sites is asked to share their thoughts. One is capable of sharing every thought, desire and idea on the site and it works to encourage the user to do so. The user must choose the level of interaction and one could very easily (and many often do) over-share or over-interact with the site. One could very easily destroy a reputation by publishing every thought on Facebook. To fully interact with the site means to respond to its prompting to share fully. Every half-thought idea, emotional impulse and desire becomes fodder for its prompting and if shared material for public consumption.

In the other category, which I call “non-cognitive”, I group items like cars, cooking equipment and material we often see as tools. These items do not prompt us for their use. The microwave does not display a text encouraging you to use it and the car doesn’t honk to encourage you to travel. Among these devices is an in-built limitation that leaves the user to determine interaction. Though one can very easily do damage to a reputation with these tools (for example a car driven dangerously) the level of hazard is lower than the items in the “cognitive” tools category because the user is less influenced by the actual technology.

My suggestion is that the “cognitive” tools are dangerous because their development outpaces our psychological ability to understand the correct way to use them. One must learn to use Facebook correctly. This learning includes an increased awareness of the material suitable for public consumption and the boundaries therein. One should not share secrets or security information like passwords, bank codes, etc.. on these mediums. We learn just what to share.

Such learning though is not automatic and many do not develop these skills or choose not to use them. Commenters make rash and vile commentaries on the internet but in public maintain a calm, cool demeanor. Would these commenters act the same if viewing the video in a public theater? The user chooses the level of interaction. Wisdom comes in learning how to use the technology and gaining the skills for correct use. Many will not gain this info or will choose to disregard these skills.

This disregard for proper use is common with all technology. An ancient technology like alcohol or sugar continues to be misused despite centuries of use and consideration. One can incorrectly drive and destroy a home with the technology of fire. This challenge of learning proper use is common to all technologies. The distinction remains; however, with the “cognitive” versus “non-cognitive” technology: prompted by “cognitive” technology we are forced to develop skills in spite of its asking. This technology form doesn’t want us to filter our interactions. Perhaps the evidence of our struggles with this form are in the constant slew of comment boards and “over-sharing” where a user misuses the technology. Cognitive technology is dangerous because it battles our development of skills.

Ethical Generic?

July 14, 2014 2 comments

A scientist who toils towards progress works with intellectual property rights by her side. Knowing that her great discovery will be protected so that the organization she works for can profit and further fund discoveries allows her to absorb additional costs. In essence, greater risk allows for greater reward if a major breakthrough is found. Medical companies often cite these protections as essential components to their work: by profiting from a drug like Viagra, Pfizer can work towards medications for highly puzzling yet unknown diseases. Is the road towards the cure for cancer paved in prescriptions for Viagra or Botox?

These controls over intellectual property are not eternal. Depending on the industry the law declares a certain amount of time for protection to exist. Once extinguished the “secret sauce” is revealed and other companies can create their own forms of the drug. This gives way to the wave of generic forms that are far more affordable. And yet despite the benefits of more people having access to these medications one wonders whether longer extensions of protections might give way to faster discoveries of solution to our most horrible conditions.

Might eternal patent protection be better? Is it unethical to buy generic because in doing so we deny the “creator’s work” from receiving compensation? On strays away from this conclusion when details of profit are considered. Pharmaceutical companies are far from destitute and continue to discover important medications in spite of the loss of protection.

In the end, its humanity that charges forward. Despite the global spread of workers dedicated to finding solutions for a multitude of companies each works towards the common goal of fixing human ills. No matter the politics or legal details the scientists who toil towards progress do so not for their companies well being but for the unending war against our ills. Each battles for a better tomorrow and despite the details that come between progress and profit a greater tomorrow comes only by the grace of the brains and brawn of those concerned.

Ready Player One

April 30, 2014 Leave a comment

In this 2013 podcast, Douglas Rushkoff makes a poignant observation on how media companies curate content and present stories. He suggests that “comic relief” stories are presented to maintain a “cultural wave” of interest. He suggests that sad stories like natural disasters or other mass casualty events create a need for lighter fare. Do we follow plane crash stories with the comments of racist farmer avoiding taxes? Might a secret recording of a racist NBA team owner satiate a public drained from foreign diplomacy or missing boats?

Rushkoff suggests there is a “cultural wave” of attention that must be contained. The visual suggested is a mass of moving water that the media stirs and quells to maintain power. Maintain the water’s height and our attention is kept piqued. Bore us and the water falls and the ocean wave is smooth as silk: peaceful yes, but a bored public is a public not interested in viewing. For the media company to maintain our attention we must be engaged: emotion is attention.

This seems to suggest our society can be unified by media. Do we unite in sharing the news? How do news stories function to create a sense of shared suffering and experience. Though only a select group of people directly experienced the Boston Marathon bombings, millions of others watched the video, considered media analysis and worked to track down suspects.

Rushkoff is a keen observer of the media and our relationship with it. He urges us to be “less consumers” and more educated users of technology. He argues that we must recognize the utility of technology and steer clear of hazardous uses. His sense of consumer use of technology is one in which the user acts as brainless cog in the machine. One wonders how these skills will be developed in future generations. As newer generations use technology their relationship with these plastic tools will be very different from generations of the past. Might we worry less in the future when less experienced users of technology are fewer?

No matter our experience, one’s list of essential skills for an educated citizen has to include digital literacy. In a world where technology plays a major role in daily life it is essential that each user understands a healthy way of using tech and the significant implications that arise with every keystroke. Though the media works to keep us interested, we are individuals with choices. To understand the system is to be an intelligent user. True power is the ability to both see the games at play and make a considered choice: Do I want to play their game or is something better out there?

Crust Cuts

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In contemporary media, it is possible for a same-day hired employee to commit acts of such depravity that decades of reputation can be lost. Video of an employee urinating in a sink at a West Virgina Pizza Hut recently emerged. Once broadcast on local media the story “had legs” and made its way to popular “click-bait” sites where rapidly it spread. More viral than the bacteria splashed inside the sink, the story became less about the employee or his actions and more about the brand and the response from those in charge. From Twitter came their comments of “disappointment” and “regret”.

Is a corporation responsible for the actions of every employee? Surely a company as large as Pizza Hut can’t be held accountable for the habits of the few? One lesson that can be learned from this story is the peril of expansion. With greater size comes cost. As the network expands the distances between the components becomes greater. Corporate Pizza Hut (based in Plano, Texas; owned by Pepsi and Yum! brands) must respond for each of its 160, 000+ employees.

With immensity comes more hazard. What is lost as one expands? Communication and awareness. I highly doubt the employee caught on camera concerned himself with the reputation of Pizza Hut. One wonders just how close he was to his own supervisor. Certainly a pizza shop where that type or behavior occurs is one lacking in supervision.

Unfortunately the costs of this expansion become massive in contemporary society. One rogue employee’s act becomes a global reflection on the brand. The internet is a highway of sharing and its streets are filled by cobblestones of rumor. Do we benefit from such revelations? Are these bad actors at the sinks now open to… exposure? Is there really no such thing as “bad press”? One wonders just how busy that Pizza Hut remains tonight? Are employees busy slicing pizzas or bored in their bewilderment. One wonders if they’ve gathered round that sink to ask themselves just why he did it and how quickly things can change.

Imitation Simulation: Jerseys, Cash and Who?

January 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Endorsed as an “authentic replica”, an athlete’s jersey is expensive fabric gold. Part gem of memory and portal to a hero, it is a piece of clothing defined through multiple points of meaning. “Did he wear it in the game?” If so its value is far greater. “Is it dirty, bloody or torn?” Such tarnish is not filth: one might see that blood as liquid, reddened gold.

These jerseys are replicas of those worn by professional athletes. Not simply generic, standard issue, they come with the name of the athlete labeled on the back. One is “buying the player’s jersey”. What purpose is there in wearing another person’s jersey? Does John Doe, wearing Lebron’s jersey work to imitate LeBron?  Is it support or something deeper?

Jerseys that are endorsed by the NBA or the specific team hold a certain level of credo. What’s marketed as “authentic” is a realistic imitation of those worn in the game. Maybe the fabric is similar or the graphics are exactly as the team desires. These jerseys are expensive; though, and imitation jerseys, not endorsed by either group, exist and sell for far less.

What do we make of these “imitations of imitations”? Do these fakeries work to destroy the market? If any jersey works than why buy the best? Is it to support the team? One would provide more assistance in buying the imitation jersey for much less and mailing the difference to the team.

Action is Not Progress

January 24, 2014 Leave a comment

We often mistake action for progress. Spin the wheels and chase the tail: it all feels like we’re getting somewhere, but driving the car around the cul-de-sac and swimming laps inside a pool is simply simulation. For endeavors where a change is needed we need to do something more, something harder, to reach the goals we sense we have.

A disconnect between knowing what we need and doing what needs to be done is often where we fall. Emotion muddies the water and rapidly our confident sense of action becomes shriveled to inaction. In the corner hides the shrunken dreams of a warrior that was.

Perhaps we might measure leaders by their ability to disregard their doubts. For those who can charge forward a great existence lingers. Of course this charge is relative as both evil and angels achieve power in such striving. For every hero is a Hitler.

For many this feeling of doing something is enough. A constant stream of attempts might feel like actual effort but until we actually face the facts and fight the war we’re merely playing games. Impressively skilled at complicating our existence, we each possess the equally tragic and impressive ability of doubting what we want and sabotaging effort.

Trickiness of Genius

January 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Genius is suspicious. Federal prosecutors, in mounting their accusations against JP Morgan Chase, suggested they should have “known better” because much of Madoff’s magic was beyond the normal ways and means. Magic tricks and extraordinary skills are just two pieces of that odd wonder we call genius. In those in whom we deem it, it is an ethereal feature where one’s abilities are so far stretched beyond our sense of reality that we aim to give it room.

A common response to genius is to let it be. Dangerous are the actions that stifle genius or otherwise limit its potential. In her biography, A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar highlights a similar reaction. The story details the response of John Nash’s family in light of his battles with schizophrenia. Fearful of hindering his mind and denying the world of the great discoveries it was likely to find, they were skeptical of treatment and preferred instead to allow the troubled genius to remain in struggle.

Genius is a tricky thing. Often seen as a powerful force beyond human understanding, many are fearful of hindering its full blossom. One wonders whether JP Morgan Chase saw in Madoff the fetid fumes of genius. Might their failure to act be less about willing negligence and more a factor of some awe for potential genius? Maybe it was less about their easy profits and the sketchy details, maybe they were less interested in seeing how the sausage was produced. In the end they, and all who proffer genius status on the undeserving, suffer for their foolishness: Madoff, not a genius, was merely sneaky crook.

Genius is a tricky thing. Mysterious in nature, we are quick to gift it to another and when rightfully assigned the benefits are endless. Shakespeare writes Macbeth and Rembrandt paints The Night Watch. Miss the mark and something other happens: genius imitated is disaster waiting to happen.

Artistic Picks

December 23, 2013 Leave a comment

To assert one’s identity is to re-assert and codify identity politics. Why was one selected for this position? What qualifications garnered the individual with the opportunity? In moments of competition literally person versus people- the factors that are used to make a decision are more important than the decision itself. Yes, the ways you decide are far more important than what you decide.

To provide one with an opportunity on the basis of identity is to disregard or discount skills unrelated to identity. A great artist is judged not by background, heritage or culture; instead, it is the work itself that persists through the ages. Art outlasts the artist. Contemporary culture has moments where background, heritage, or culture trump artistic skill. In these situations the artist’s work is not the major focus; instead, we ask where did she come from? Who or what does she love? Or, worse yet, how can her selection say something about who we are?

All decisions are expressions of the deciders. President George H.W. Bush is often quoted as saying he “is the decider” when challenged that his vice president Dick Cheney was actually in charge. We treasure our authority and use it explain who we are. In selecting someone we express a preference for perspective. Selections are symbols and in decisions where people are involved (i.e., artistic nomination) symbolic stand-ins for our beliefs.

Nominations of artists are particularly interesting on a meta level. Artists often work with symbols and manipulate meaning. One who nominates an artist for a position is manipulating symbolic manipulators to manipulate a symbol.

Incorporated Grief

November 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Though John F. Kennedy’s biological life ended when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a cadre of alternative existences lives on. Kennedy the father, our president, the family man and soldier being just three alternative and complimentary existences at play. Kennedy is among a small cast of characters whose death provides a birth: figures who in leaving become enlivened by symbolic status. History is rich with great figures whose greatness went unrecognized when they were alive. Kennedy, like these figures, is an individual “cut down early” or geniuses living “beyond their time.”

Though few knew John F. Kennedy personally, millions feel a sense of sadness when considering his death. Often frames of commonality are applied to garner senses of melancholy. Not just a man but “President” “father”, “Catholic” or “solider” these labels become points of identification and relation. We more easily mourn the loss of someone we relate to or in whom we’ve placed significant importance. Is the death of a President more tragic than another? Of the millions who died on November 22, 1963 why is it John F. Kennedy that continues to capture public attention each November 22?

One wonders how the use of terms is utilized to manipulate responses. Are we mourning Kennedy or ” a president” Do his roles as “father” or “husband” make us more upset than an alternative JFK whose lack of children and wife negate these labels? What of his label as “Catholic”? One wonders whether the constant application of these terms functions more as a distortion. When a priest mentions Kennedy as Catholic does the moment of silence become something more? How is this religious figure utilizing JFK’s faith to cull reaction? What does it matter what Kennedy believed?

In memorializing the life of someone we warp that person’s existence. We layer on symbolic frosting and create some new identity whose c0nnection to its biological root is foreign. Are Presidents laying a wreath on Kennedy’s grave remembering or mourning their own death?Are we crying more for symbols or for something other- something beyond our experience and knowledge?

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