Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Old Media are Dead: Long Live the Old Media!

Intrigued by the Time Magazine election of 'You!' as the personality of the year, I took a little holidays excursion to YouTube hoping that I would catch a glimpse of this so highly praized personality . On my admittedly rather small explorative journey into YouTube I came across video postings of a fellow country man, who calls himself 'JP'. He had only recently started his vlogs, and I caught his second one. Well, if this young man is only remotely representative of the 2006 personality, this personality had rather be called 'non personality'.
Though visually very present in close up, he remains a completely blank person. The most revealing information he discloses about himself is that he lives in the Netherlands - of which he shows a map - and that he is willing to answer questions about his country. He then plays three fragments of Christmas songs (by Bing Crosby, Wham!, and Elvis respectively) and then confesses that he's not sure whether to decorate his house for Christmas and asks his viewer for suggestions. He ends his video with a little tour through his scarsely furnitured appartment and then says goodbye.
Since JP is representative for what is called blogging, vblogging and socializing on the Internet nowadays, I will not reveal his name or URL (you can probably find his vlogs pretty easily yourself or you will recognize the sort of video I'm talking about). For me JP is the paradigm example of what the so called digital revolution has brought about. The main result of that revolution is a desire to manifest oneself on the Internet, to be seen and heard, and to get in touch with other likeminded 'internauts'. However, equiped with a 'real camera' (JP makes a point of not having recorded his film with a webcam), a YouTube account, a computer and an Internet connection, JP finds out that he really has got nothing to say. The musical instruments he proudly shows - a guitar and an electronic keyboard - are probably just like his computer objects that symbolize his desire as much as his uncapacity of personal expression. The central piece of his room is a couch, in which JP, as he says, usually watches television.

That's the whole point of this story, I'm affraid. In spite of all the promisses that new media would release the hidden or repressed creative potential of ordinary people, this 'democratization' only taught those common people and us, new media gurus, that they really had not that much to say. Many videos on YouTube are either straightforward forms of viral advertising, spoofs or pastiches, emulations of mainstream media, or re-enactments of longstanding quarrels such as the one between the Mac and PC fanbases, or digital editions of long time honored home movies such as the little girl singing Christmas carols. Just as JP tries to move around his couch and tv set, sites as YouTube, MySpace, or Hyves (in the Netherlands) cannot really get around the fact that these sites are alle a big cry for professionally made entertainment to fill the daily empty lives of the common people who are at loss in the vast ocean of high tech interactive communication systems where they really don't know what to say, what to show, and what to communicate. Sites as YouTube do not pose a real threat to the old broadcast media, but are rather a reason for relief because they beg for more tv.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Time Magazine has elected the Internet user as the 'personality of the year 2006'. There's a bit of irony here, because 'the Internet user' doesn't exist as a personality, and the websites that are heralded as examples of the 'Internet democracy' should rather be defined as 'distributed personalities', shared and created by a multitude of users who do not necessarily share psychological traits, ideological convictions, political goals, personal ambitions or what have you. In that sense, however, this election is not without importance, since it points towards a major paradigmatic shift in our notion of personality and individuality. The 'I' was the individual subject of the liberal and neo-liberal eara, but 'You', always already defined relative to someone else, will be the 'dividual' subject of a truely 'postmodern' epoch of the 'network society'. Even mainstream media can no longer deny this.

The other irony is, of course, that Time detects the democratic potential of Web 2.0, 'social software', p2p networks, etc, at the very moment that these have also been discovered by corporations like Google and other media giants. As is well known Google furthers democratization of information and knowledge only as far as it furthers its own commercial interests. This company wants to make all information accessible except its own codes and algorithms, and is prepared to keep loads of 'free information' stored away behind a 'Chinese Wall' for millions, if not billions of people. Youtube is expected to face law suits on copyright issues, and is, given the huge amount of money Google was prepared to invest in it, bound to be commercialized in no time. In that sense history seems to repeat itself: after the 'activist' optimism about the future of cyberspace, virtual communities, democratization and freedom of information in the eighties and nineties, the dot.com crash soon elucidated the bounaries of these utopian prospects. It is more than ironic that these old illusions are now being re-animated by the 'old media'.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Googled back again..

We're finally back again. But to my great surprise I was forced to take a Google account before I could access my own blog again. Is the blogosphere being digested by Google? After having bought YouTube, now they appear to own Blogger as well. A remarkable dialectic between the democratization of the possibilities of publishing your thoughts, ideas and hunches on the one hand, and the centralization of ownership of those very means at the same time on the other.

What about copyrights? Who will at the end of the day own my musings? We'll see....