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Posts Tagged ‘Network Culture

Participatory Culture at Video Vortex: Cutthroat Capitalism, Foodmarket Piracy and Asian Perspectives

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Do you think Participatory Culture is all about friendly cooperation? Fans flocking to Star Wars conventions or squad based play in the latest MMORPG? The Participatory Culture session at the international Video Vortex conference in Amsterdam, proved that practices such as “cutthroat capitalism” also belong in this category. And how can, from an Asian instead of a Eurocentric perspective, the changing concept of authorship be understood when everyone can build new meaning upon an original work? This session provided practical examples as well as theoretical context. The Masters of Media of the University of Amsterdam were once again present to cover the whole event. Full reports, including this one are available from the Masters of Media blog.

Tilman Baumgärtel: Cutthroat Capitalism in South East Asia
First presenter Tilman Baumgärtel, currently teaching at the College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines in Manila, discussed piracy and intellectual property in South East Asia. Having organised the Asian Edition conference, which deals exactly with this subject, Baumgärtel can be regarded as an expert on these ‘social economics of piracy’. Surprisingly, however, these questions do not involve Internet and P2P data communication. Baumgärtel explains: ‘Asian piracy is still largely based on disk because there aren’t a lot of fast internet connections and modems’.

Tilman Baumgartel Anne Helmond

To give the audience an impression of the context, Baumgärtel shows a trailer of Malaysian film Ciplak (translation: Fraud). This independent film deals with the subject of piracy and it is one of the few comedies that is accessable to audiences in the region, also because indie films usually deal with ‘more serious subjects’. In the production process of Ciplak, creativity was necessary because of the low budget. For example, everyone worked on the movie free of charge, a camera was bought that came with 10 free mini-DV tapes and IKEA lamps were used for lighting.

Malaysian piracy started in the 1980s with the advent of VHS pirating and continued in the 1990s with VCD pirating. Baumgärtel: ‘Piracy started as a counter-movement against poor distribution. In Europe you can find almost anything, in Asian countries, however, films are hard to find.’ Only Hollywood films, or films starring Jackie Chan, make it through to cinemas and the legal distribution circuit. Baumgärtel: ‘This changed with VHS and BetaMax piracy. Some of the film makers feel that they are so indepted to the pirates, that this group is already thinking about contacting pirates so they can use their distribution channels. Internet is not a factor in this yet because of low speeds’.

These distribution channels are inventive and constitute a grassroots movement. In order to provide consumers with product, fishermen are smuggling masterdisks in the belly of tunafish. Global piracy is a consequential response to global economy, Baumgärtel: ‘The recent process of privatization has taken its part in facilitating piracy’. And continuining: ‘This is globalization from below. It is not about legal organisations, but illegal outfits. This movement represents globalized business and takes advantage of infrastructures. It is the counter image of legal illicit globalization we are seeing right now’. A term Baumgärtel mentioned in response to questions afterwards, perhaps exemplifies this movement most vividly. This is about ‘Cutthroat Capitalism’.

Ana Peraica: Food markets and copyright infringement
In her presentation, Ana Peraica, freelance curator and theorist mostly engaged with video and new media, gives an analysis of the growin archive of illegal material with a focus on Croatia. Why this region? Peraica: ‘Croatia is a really interesting region, because piracy is not really regarded as a crime’. She continues: ‘The problem of copyright was introduced to Croatia in 1991, before that it was still silent online. Today you can find illegal copies, for example, on the food market’.

On a more personal note I came across this example on a recent trip to Split, Croatia. Boulevards were crowded with stands selling illegal copies of the newest computer games and Hollywood films. Once installed, games were often older versions of the same franchise and films turned out to be bad recordings of cinema screens. Peraica: ‘I would like to show some examples in my presentation today, but the problem is that this would be illegal here. There is no agency that hunts down piracy in Croatia, they simply don’t bother about objections of copyright’.

Ana Peraica CrCom Anne Helmond

Continuing, Peraica asks herself the question: ‘Is everyone who possesses a video camera and publically exposes video, automatically a video artist?’ Both an interesting and strange case, exemplifying duality in this question, is that of Croatian popstar Severina. She recorded a pornographic video of herself that got published online without her consent, she claimed copyright and stated that is was video art. Severina’s lawyer also stated that home video pornography is video art. The court’s response was that it was nothing innovative and therefore not video art. Severina lost this case, but at the same time she saw her popularity rising. The lawyer also put forth that it was invading privacy, the court responded by stating that she recorded it herself.

‘What is still video art?’ Peraica continues. Does it have to be innovative and perhaps even elitist? Peraica: ‘Popular culture is recycling elite culture, but is it still art?’ In her final words, Peraica concludes that is hard, if not impossible, to define art as something downloaded from YouTube versus institutionalized art.

Dominick Chen: Redefining Authorship from an Asian perspective
In his presentation Dominick Chen, who leads Creative Commons Japan and is JSPS Fellow Researcher at the University of Tokyo and NTT InterCommunication Center, aims to propose a redefinition of authorship itself: ‘How can we gain understanding of data generation and distribution in the light of systems?’ And more specifically, how to go through this Eurocentric idea of individual authorship, or commons? Chen aims to redefine the ‘commons’ from an Asian point of view. Especially with regards to the chain of creativity, where Asian culture differs greatly from its European counterpart.

Chen starts with an example of piracy and participatory culture in India: ‘When you buy a DVD in India, through a Chinese hack, you can get three stories: English, Chinese and Indian. Because translation of subtitles is really bad, you get three different stories based on one film’. Another example of a big Japanese market where you can secondary work of comics, anime and novels, Chen: ‘ There are about 50.000 participants who are selling product themselves, they gather to buy eachothers works that have been derived from original works.

Dominck Chen CrCom Anne Helmond

The result is ‘fifty million Yen of economical effect in just three days’. Contributing to an original artwork, going from monologue to dialogue, is an essential part of Japanese culture. Chen: ‘Creativity is considered as reflective to the original author, contributors don’t care about being part of the chain of creativity’. This is exemplified in the fact that on Japanese Wikipedia, 80% of users are acting anonymous. This is the exact opposite of Wikipedia use in the United States. Chen: ‘This chain of creativity, based on anonymity mous is very characteristic of Japanese culture.

Looking back, Chen remembers 2007 firstly as the year of the fight between users and existing shareholders of the broadcasting industry. Secondly, 2007 saw the birth of the metadataplatform, which Chen calls ‘a critical point in classical User Generated Content’. Envisioning 2008, Chen firstly sees an explosion of open contents and, secondly, the rise of the ubiquitous platform of data and creation, such as the iPhone and the Nintendo DS. A third essential vision for 2008 is the recursive stratification – indefinite division into subgroups- of web API with the appearing of “API’s of API’s”. Fourth, Chen predicts a ‘war over openness, which platform can be more open than the other one?’

As an example of Japanese culture and the chain of creativity mentioned earlier, Chen shows Japanese videosharing service Nico Nico Douga. By analyzing this video service, Chen wants to clarify what creativity is in this whole situation. He concludes that comments are ‘becoming constituents of the original work, affecting both authorship and spectatorship. It is a shift from dialogue to symlogue, because narrative control is shared and over time content is nurtured, fermentative’. As examples of symlogue, he mentions M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands, where both hands share narrative control and are also fermentative of nature. On Nico Nico Douga, a movement has emerged that uses original material and builds upon it by using, for example, the VOCALOID sound plugin.

Chen emphasizes that he doesn not want to focuss on the horizontal effects, or the chain of creativity, but he asks himself the question of ‘how to open this up on a vertical level?’ For a recent exhibition, Chen cooperated with a well-known Japanese author, who wrote a new book on the spot. New chapters could be downloaded through the Internet. Chen: ‘Normally it is considered embarassing to show how a writer writes. By showing this process, a new relationship between reader and author is created’. Chen also shows a recording of twenty-four hours of editting on a single Wikipedia page. This ‘opening up of revision’, is what Chen regards as the next step in opening up the ‘commons’. It exemplifies the ‘open ecology of digital contents’ and ‘fermentative ecology’ that Chen mentions in his final words.

All photography, copyright Anne Helmond

Warming up for Picnic ’07

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Picnic ’07, Amsterdam’s annual event organized by the Cross Media Week Foundation focusing on creativity in cross media content and technology, is only a month away and the list of speakers is nearly finished. Between the 25th and 29th of September, Amsterdam’s Westergastfabriek will once again host the event after the succes of last year’s edition. But with such a diverse and wide-ranging programme, where will you go? In order to get into the mood and warm up for the event, it is worthwhile to highlight some of the fascinating speakers and take a more in-depth look at what they are all about.

Reuben Steiger (Former Linden Labs Evangelist and founder/CEO Millions of Us)
scion2ndlifeAt Picnic ’06 Philip Rosedale of Linden Labs / Second Life presented his take on ‘the empowerment offered by Second Life of the average citizen to not only create but monetize their own content and design’. This year former Linden Labs Evangelist Reuben Steiger will take the stage at Picnic’s Virtual Worlds, which is all about virtual worlds becoming central to the future of marketing, technology, entertainment and brand-building. After his work at Linden Labs, Steiger founded and became CEO of Millions of Us, a company dedicated to helping businesses understand and harness the power of virtual worlds. An example is the Toyota Scion car in Second Life.

Being an evangelist and clearly someone who believes in the power of virtual worlds, Steiger fights of recent criticism of Second Life as a branding tool at influxinsights.com by saying that ‘some of the criticism is partially warranted, but a lot of it is poorly contextualized and opportunistic, in the sense that pundits love to tear down technologies that have ridden a wave of hype. IT analyst firm Gartner calls this the hype cycle – new technologies spark a wave of initial excitement, expectations inflate, the technology is found to be imperfect in some ways, and there is a backlash – but in the long term, a good technology will overcome the hype cycle and enjoy long-term adoption.’ Are virtual worlds all that Steiger says they are, or just a big bubble? Are you a skeptic or an enthusiast? Not sure? You can find out at Virtual Worlds. In the video below Steiger answers questions on his personal interest in Second Life and if virtual worlds are a response to alienation in real-life.

When? 27th September 14.00 – 17.00
Where? WesterUnie
What? Virtual Worlds at Picnic ’07

Cory Doctorow (SF novelist, blogger, technology activist)
doctorow overclocked Cory Doctorow, co-editor of popular weblog BoingBoing and contributor to the likes of New York Times and Wired, explores the benefits and consequences of online systems in his latest (fictional) book Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present (free download). This provocative collection of six previously released stories shows Doctorow extrapolating todays user experiences towards a futuristic vision and creating fascinating stories in doing so. An extensive review can be found at The Uberreview. For his writings, Doctorow has already been compaired to ‘Cyberspace’ godfather William Gibson by Entertainment Weekly. In the Authors@Google series Cory Doctorow himself presents and discusses the book, if any questions remain be sure to go see Doctorow at Fab, or the personal fabrication revolution.

When? 28th September
Where? WesterLiefde
What? FAB, or the personal fabrication revolution

Pablos/Paul Holman (Futurist, IT security expert, notorious hacker)
From an interview with Pablos “Paul” Holman at DLD ’07, shown in video below, comes the following provocative quote on creativity in companies: ‘Especially large companies tend to be poor at doing new things. They have lots of resources, lots of people and a lot of infrastructure . But all that gets in the way of when you’re trying to be creative. [...] Ideally for me, I’d be able to wake up in the morning and dream up something I’ve been dreaming about. Then go build it by lunchtime, launch it in the afternoon and see if people like it. And then maybe fix some bugs by dinner.’

hackerbotpablosContrary to Doctorow, Holman does not read science fiction because he doesn’t want to be accused of plagiarism. His views however are, as the Picnic website also mentions, unique. With his design studio Komposite he ‘consults on bizarre invention and design projects that assimilate new technologies’. To give you an idea: Among his projects is the Hackerbot, a WiFi seeking robot that can find you when you’re using a wireless network – and drive up to show you your password on its screen. According to the Hackerbot website, the robot is really quite friendly and tries not to show your passwords to anyone else. Interested? Be sure to check out Holman at Picnic ’07, also if you’re interested in salsa dancing!

When? TBA
Where? TBA
What? Pablos Holman

Stefan Sagmeister (Graphic designer and typographer)
sagmeisterYou might have seen Stefan Sagmeister‘s design in your local record shop on the covers of Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and Talking Heads recordings. The Picnic website mentions that just as film, art, music and literature have the power to move people, Stefan Sagmeister’s innovative work shows that graphic design, too, can cut to the emotional core. An in-depth interview with Sagmeister can found at designboom.com. The image is courtesy of Grafik-freunde Stuttgart.

In 2004 Sagmeister spoke in Monterey, California about how design can make us happy and more specifically design that made him happy on a personal level. Telling stories ranging from billboards and museum exhibitions to pictorial language, Sagmeister is able to show how design can touch a nerve. Design never felt more personal while listening to Sagmeister’s presentation and his words seem far removed from corporate thought. Anyone intested in the emotional side of creativity, and creative industries in general, should see Sagmeister at Creative Genius: Things I Have Learned So Far at Picnic ’07.

When? 27th September 16.50 – 17.20
Where? Zuivering West
What? Creative Genius: Things I Have Learned So Far – Stefan Sagmeister

Various Meetings and (Un)Common Ground
Like last year, Picnic also hosts various meetings such as Virtueel Platform’s (Un)common Ground II: An expert meeting that brings together all the top thinkers in the industry. This year the sub-title is Scale and Intimacy. At the meeting experts will take a close look at the complex issues arising when practices and models of collaboration move across different scales. Like Stefan Sagmeister in his presentation, questions such as ‘how to maintain the emotional connection that people make to the ideas that are promoted or the services or products that it delivered’, are asked. Although the meeting is ‘invitation only’, be sure to check out Virtueel Platform’s publication (Un)common ground. Creative encounters across sectors and disciplines for more information.

For information on all Picnic ’07 events (25th – 29th of September) go to the Picnic network website. Oh… and did I mention Andrew Keen (see my previous post) will also be there?

The History of Hacking: Stories from the outlaws of network culture

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phone hackThe History of Hacking is an interesting documentary by Discovery Channel which shows interviews and stories of some of the early hackers. It features the must-see story of John Draper, aka Captain Crunch after a whistle found in the cereal box to hack into telephone networks, who is one of the pioneers of hacking.

As Michel Foucault mentioned: “We are subjected to the production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth.” (See: Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings) The counter-discourse of hacking provides the ability to use the existing networks in ways they were not supposed to by the reigning power. Nowadays phone tapping, a way of hacking someones phone line, is legal for the only institution that also has the monopoly of violence, namely the government. Besides the monopoly of violence, there is thus also the monopoly of surveillance through networks.

androidsThe cyberpunk movement of the 80s shows a glorification of the hacker as an outlaw: A modern day cowboy who challenges the system and is always one step ahead of it. Swift and uncatchable, almost like a liquid substance seeping through the cracks of the networks. The stories of Philip K. Dick often feature characters that have abilities to unravel mysteries of computer networks. Rick Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is one such outlaw. A grim person who has an extraordinary ability to recognize humanoid cyborgs.

A real-life outlaw story was experienced by Kevin Mitnick, who was wanted by the FBI from 1992-1995, however shows the criminalization of the art of hacking into networks. He was sent to prison in 1995 for five years and was released in January 2000. The story told in this documentary shows the duality of hacking. It is a kind of voyeurism, but it is also a heroic way to challenge networks and lay bare their vulnerabilities. No wonder many hackers also work as security advisers, Kevin Mitnick is no exception.

Hacking remains popular nowadays, but is no longer restricted to the outlaws. Simple tools to hack Hotmail or Myspace are provided by organized hacking troupes. This poses the question if hacking has lost its romance and has been degraded to a horrible nuisance, or even a nightmare for the everyday user of a network.

The documentary provides a really good basis for everyone interested in the early days of hacking. To see the whole documentary, which also includes an interesting interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on hacking and the early Apple days, check out the embedded video below.

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