In the section titled “Computers are not to blame,” Ross discusses the fact that digital media is not the only area where volunteer or “amateur economy” benefits big business. The practice of using free labor as a business model was adopted by the television industry back in the 1980s. When faced with loss of revenue from the competition of cable channels, networks started producing more game shows and reality television. The general public flocked to participate on many of these shows whether it was to win money on shows like “Who Want’s to be a Millionaire?” or to have their 15 minutes of fame on shows like “Big Brother”, however degrading some of the situations were. Networks quickly realized that these shows cost a fraction of what a scripted television show using union writers and actors cost, and these shows began to proliferate on the airwaves. Reality TV shows are so inexpensive to produce that most make their money back after the first showing of an episode. Ross also points out that anyone who watches these shows can see that there actually is a “script” of sorts. What is meant to seem completely spontaneous, is actually quite often practiced, carefully plotted and achieved with multiple takes. But the producers are able to keep from hiring writers by hiding behind the façade that their shows are “real” and there is no writing taking place. Unfortunately, professional actors and writers are the “biggest losers” in the amateur economy, losing jobs as fewer scripted shows are produced.
In the “amateur economy” of the digital age, amateur bloggers, reviewers and commentators work without the expectation of monetary payment. Like the networks and TV producers of reality shows, the websites reap all of the profits while the talent works for free.
In Chapter 6, Astra Taylor takes a close look at advertising in the digital age. One of the most disturbing new developments in the digital age is the ability for advertisers to zero in on the people they are trying to reach because of the vast information they have on that person. Before the Internet, companies placed their ads in a particular magazine or TV show according to the supposed demographics of the reader or viewer, hoping that they would reach the consumers they wanted to target. In the digital age, advertisers are able to gather such specific information about us from our online behaviors that they can directly target us individually. By gathering such detailed information, they are sorting us into “reputation silos,” a term used by Taylor (190) to describe the online label that we acquire and that can be difficult to shed. Taylor warns of “a new form of discrimination, one led by companies you cant see, using data you didn’t give them permission to access, dictating what you are exposed to and on what terms.” (191) It is very disconcerting to imagine someone watching your every move and deciding what you will or will not be exposed to based on what they see. But advertisers today do exactly that and we accept their right to do so every time we are online. We have become so used to the onslaught of online advertising that we may not even be able to distinguish ads from editorial content. The term “native advertising” describes a form of paid media that follows the design and function of the content in which it is situated, essentially blurring the line between ad and editorial. Taylor says Buzzfeed leads the pack with this type of advertorial, where “Staffers (creative strategists) concoct posts designed to maximize audience engagement while incorporating messages from brands”(194). Even print publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post and Forbes participate in native advertising on their online sites. The Times rolled out its first “paid post,” as they call them, in January of 2014, albeit with a prominent disclaimer. But most sites use more ambiguous language such as “branded” or “sponsored” content (Sebastian, M., Ad Age, 1-8-14) which is much more likely to catch readers off guard. Exactly what the marketers are hoping for.
“Copyleft” is the practice of making a program or work free and requiring that all works derived from it also remain free to the public. The GNU General Public License was originally written by Richard Stallman as a way to ensure freedom of users to redistribute and modify copies of software. In his 1985 GNU manifesto he wrote, “GNU is not in the public domain. Everyone will be permitted to modify and redistribute GNU, but no distributor will be allowed to restrict its further redistribution. That is to say, proprietary modifications will not be allowed. I want to make sure that all versions of GNU remain free.” His reasoning was that he wanted to encourage free software to spread for the betterment of society.
Copyright law is used by an author to prohibit unauthorized reproduction, adaptation or use of the work. GNU or Copyleft licensing agreements use existing copyright laws but they ensure that the work remains free and available. Copyleft, while originally designed for software, can also cover documents and art. Under copyleft license, the author can give every person who receives the work the permission to redistribute and modify it, with the accompanying requirement that any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same licensing agreement.
Taylor states “it does not advance limits on profitability or promote fair compensation” (168). While recognition from peers is an incentive, there is no financial compensation to the artist. Filmmaker Jem Cohen emphasizes “respect for labor” where it is reasonable for an artist to receive fair compensation for his work. Copyleft and the free culture movement do not allow for that. Cohen believes that we need to value the work of the artist and recognize the work that went into it to create an environment of mutual respect and support between the artist and the audience.
Copyright laws have become much more complicated with the rise of digital media. The framers of the Constitution modeled our copyright laws after Great Britain’s Statute of Anne, which gave authors exclusive rights to their work for twenty-eight years. It was designed to limit access and stimulate production by giving writers a reward and an incentive to continue creating. At first only works such as books and maps received this protection but over the years it has come to apply to any form of expression and to extend to up to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication. Since most people do not live 120 years, the original intent of the laws is irrelevant. But, as Taylor states, “new technologies threaten to overturn this situation,” (149) forcing almost anyone who uses the Internet into violating copyright, simply by pasting, sharing and downloading. And if the majority of citizens are in violation of copyright laws, can the laws be considered appropriate for the digital age?
When one buys a hard copy of a book or record, one can lend the book to or share the record with hundreds of friends and copyright holders have little they can do about it. But on the Internet, while culture is easily exchanged, it is also easily monitored by the copyright holders and it is easy to see a future where “all cultural encounters are classified as ‘copyright events.’ ” (150)
There are two distinct camps in the “Copyright Wars”: those who believe that all art and culture should be free and open to the public and that any restriction is an assault on an individual’s freedom; and those who believe that culture can be owned outright, does not belong to the general public, and that all downloading is theft.
The free culture proponents see copyright as profiting large corporations, not the individual artists, and equate file sharing with activism. They believe abolishing copyright will lead to a more inclusive and democratic society, in which no ideas are created in isolation, therefore they should be free for all to experience.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” In other words, sharing does not create a loss to the creator.
In the second camp are groups such as the Recording Industry and the Motion Picture Association who see art as property and are fighting for more copyright restrictions on the Internet. But they are not fighting to help the artists.
Ironically, it is the artists themselves who are caught in the middle of the Copyright Wars. The industry often cuts them out of profiting from their own work so stricter copyright laws will not help them. And many emerging artists benefit from the exposure of their work when it is shared online so are not necessarily against file sharing. As Taylor states, “Most cultural producers, however, sympathize with both sides and wind up somewhere in between.” (169)
The term “churnalism” was first coined in 2008 by BBC journalist Waseem Zakir. It refers to the trend in journalism where reporters cobble together stories from wire copy and press releases rather than doing the actual investigation, research and fact checking. They may add a few quotes or comments and then “churn” it out to their readers.
While not limited to digital media sites, Taylor explains that because of the urgency and speed of the Internet, more journalists resort to these shortcuts online than in traditional print media. Taylor interviewed Nick Davies, a journalist who has been outspoken about “churnalism,” who said that a study in Britain found that only 12% of material found in the British press contained original reporting (Taylor, 89). A report was done in Baltimore in 2011 found similar results. Most new information came from traditional print media – very little from online media.
The main cause is the pressure on digital reporters to produce stories at a faster and faster rate while spending less money. The dangers are many in that the more often a story is reposted the easier it is for facts to be distorted. There is a huge margin of error in this type of reporting. And when a person is linked from one story to another, quite often the linked article is not current, causing the reader to be misinformed, even if it was correct at the time it was first posted.
The Huffington Post boasts of publishing over twelve hundred items per day (95) and in order to do that they demand their writers spend very little time on each story. And because page views determine advertising revenue, editors are pursuing subjects that they feel will get the most page views. They study what is trending and then writers pull together whatever sources they can and then churn out an abbreviated article. The Huffington Post is a perfect example of “churnalism”.
Assignment #2 – Deborah Markewich
There have always been challenges for artists and others who view their work as serving “the public good.” For artists, the need to create vs. the need to be financially stable is not new to the digital age. Artists are more often than not forced to take “survival jobs” while pursuing an artistic career such as theater, music, fine arts, etc. Even within the artist’s field there is the challenge of balancing love and money: the actor who will do a TV commercial for a laxative so that he can do an off-off Broadway play he believes in for no money at all; visual artists who work at ad agencies by day and paint by night; musicians who cover pop songs at Bar Mitzvahs so they can play their own music at bars with a tip jar.
In the chapter “For Love or Money,” Astra Taylor speaks about the “millions of people who contribute user-generated content without promise of remuneration or reward.” (Taylor 2014:48) Many, but not all, are artists and do this as a way of getting their work seen or heard. In some ways this is a good thing. It is rewarding to be recognized for doing something well or contributing culturally to society. And if this is an easy way to make one’s voice heard, it is certainly understandable that so many artists take advantage of it, since it is a readily available outlet. There is also the hope that it will eventually lead to a profitable opportunity (fame and fortune!)
Those who are passionate about teaching or improving society face a similar struggle between love and money. Teaching is an oft-used example. The people we trust with educating our children are paid less in a year than what a trader can make in a minute on Wall Street. Our society has devalued teachers by paying them so meagerly when compared with most other professions that it is remarkable that young people still want to enter the teaching profession. But while there is a troublesome teacher shortage, there are still those people who are so passionate about teaching children that they will choose to do so over a more lucrative career. Thankfully, the same holds for other so-called “do-gooders” such as social workers, public defenders and community activists who have chosen to make a societal contribution over a larger paycheck.
One of the ideas I found interesting in this chapter is that “the psychology of creativity has become increasingly useful to the economy.” (2014:58) Where it has long been accepted that artists will work for no money to pursue their creative passions, creativity is now being used as a reason to pay workers little or nothing in other professions as well. Taylor states “creativity is invoked time and again to justify low wages and job security.” (2014:59) Employers are taking advantage of free labor by comparing their workers to artists who should be happy for the opportunity to work for their company. If they can be convinced of this, they too will face the challenge of working for love or money.
Deborah Markewich – Assignment 1 – Astra Taylor
Part 2 (hybrid). Taylor (2014:6) argues that how questions about technology are framed is important, and that we “[grant] agency to tools while side stepping the thorny issue of the larger social structures in which we and our technologies are embedded.” In your own words attempt to describe what Taylor is trying to tell us.
In this selection from The People’s Platform, Astra Taylor is pointing out the fact that our society often debates the negative vs. positive consequences of technology. Are we better off today with astounding technological advances that make our lives so much easier? Or are we heading down a dangerous path where our privacy is threatened beyond our control? Is the ability for anyone to voice one’s ideas and thoughts to an instant audience a good thing? Or are these writers being exploited by the sites and advertisers that profit from them? Just as Thomas Carlyle and Timothy Walker debated the pros and cons of the mechanical advances in the Victorian Era, many writers today feel strongly one way or the other – “techno-optimists facing off against techno-skeptics” (Taylor, 6) – but Taylor seems to be saying that it is not as black and white as that and that we are asking the wrong questions.
The problems that existed before the Internet still exist and may even have been exacerbated by it. The Internet has not leveled the playing field as many had hoped it would. Taylor states, “While it’s true that anyone with an Internet connection can speak online, that doesn’t mean our megaphones blast our messages at the same volume.” (Taylor, 4) The people who controlled the media still have control. Our societal problems have continued in many ways and for all the new developments, many things are not really that different. We need to look beyond the technological tools and examine the social structures and economic forces that were in place before the Internet existed and continue to occur in technology today. We must address the challenges they present if we want to create a more evenhanded and inclusive society.