The past thirty years has seen a wave of technological change unlike anything previously seen in history. The internet has provoked new ways of sharing and producing information, but could it be simultaneously dictating how we think about technology? That’s the idea Jaron Lanier is trying to propose in his book, and my reading for the week, “You are not a gadget.” He is proposing that while technology is opening up new opportunities, it is also limiting us because now we only think in terms of how the software or gadget allows us to operate. He doesn’t propose this as a bad road though. As individuals, we’re not getting dumber in the way we interact with technology, we’re just buying into the crowd mentality (and drinking the kool-aid). This lack of individual thinking is what Lanier says could be potentially harmful, but by interacting with technology in individual and innovative ways we can maintain our ‘person-hood’ and define what software can do for us, rather than letting it define who we are.
Lanier’s point of view is interesting when thinking about how attached many of us are to our cell phones and other technologies. It’s hard to think of going through a day and not having that day’s rhythm dictated by what we do on the computer, our smart phones, or tablets (if you happen to be the owner of one…which I am not). And software works- facebook, twitter, skype, dictates most of our daily methods of communication rather than how we would normally choose to communicate with people (face-to-face, immediately, etc.). So in a way, we are allowing technology to tell us how to go through our day, rather than going through our days and making technology work for us.
A less deterministic, and perhaps more cheerful point of view about technology’s influence on our lives, is held by Henry Jenkins in, “Quentin Tarintino’s Star Wars: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture.” Don’t be fooled by the cool-sounding title, this guy knows what he is talking about (and explains it AT LENGTH). Jenkins sees the Star Wars movies as the ultimate example of how convergence is democratizing the production of film through fan-made spoofs, alternate story lines, and other content remixing the original studio-made content. As he says, “fans envision a world where all of us can participate in creation and circulation of central cultural myths.” Instead of relying on the commercial, vertical system of simply receiving cinema, we can now receive, remix, and resend this content to anyone, who can then repeat the process, and this could go on ad infinitum. Despite the problems that copyright laws place, Jenkins believes there is a third area of production emerging between the commercial film industry and moms filming their kid’s soccer game. This area of not quite professionals, but not just recreational filmers, reinforces the idea of amateurization discussed by Clay Shirkey in his book, “Here Comes Everybody.”
Perhaps Jenkins and Lanier aren’t so much at odds. Maybe this third space of creation proposed by Jenkins is not so much different from the control Lanier suggests we need to retake from technological interfaces. When we dictate what technology can do for us, that’s when we can also dictate a non-market area of media production, which is not that different from Benkler’s proposal in “The Wealth of Networks.” It isn’t that far-fetched to imagine a world with fewer commercial film studios and more indie producers, given the popularity of festivals like Sundance and South by Southwest. What is harder to grasp is the possibility that all creative markets might someday work like this. But who knows! The future isn’t always as far off as we think.