May 02, 2008

Cognitive surplus

We have a TV, but no connection, because there's nothing worth watching. Things come out on DVD, but they mean very little. I realized the other day that I pay for hardly any media save for books. I don't buy newspapers, magazines, CDs or DVDs, and the movies I do watch are generally pirate copies rented from a local store. The owner pirates them because legal copies of many interesting movies are not sold in Taiwan. Books I'm happy to pay for, for a number of reasons, but perhaps mainly because the physical object is such an important part of consumption. For other forms this isn't true. What's more, I don't really care what happens to the other forms, because the needs they meet, if real, will still be met.

A few things from other places related to this, that if I had the drive I'd synthesize more thoroughly

There was a good post the other week called Is Content Worthless?, extracts below:

Content may be king, but, ironically, its perceived value today is being driven towards zero. In the eyes of consumers, content is becoming a commodity -- more a commoner than a king. [...]

Everyone focuses on piracy, but there actually six related reasons for the devaluation of content. The first is supply and demand. Demand -- the number of consumers and their available leisure time - is relatively constant, but supply -- online content -- has grown enormously in the last decade. [...]

The second is the loss of physical form. It just seems natural to value a physical thing more highly than something intangible. [...]

The third reason is that acquiring content is increasingly frictionless. It's often easier, particularly for young people, to access content on the Internet than through traditional means. [...]

Fourth is that most new media business models are ad-supported rather than pay per view or subscription. If there's no cost to the user, why should consumers see the content as valuable, and if some content is free, why not all of it? [...]

Fifth is market forces in the technology industry. […] ...non-professionals, long denied access to distribution, rush to use the new technologies, as do pirates of professional content. As a result, technological innovation reduces the market share of paid professional content.

Finally, there's culture. A generation of users has grown up indifferent or hostile to copyright, particularly in music, movies and software. [Full article here]

People like making things, and is much of the professional media, the kind that attracts and earns the big $, all that good? I have more fun messing around with a music editor [Acoustica Mixcraft - a GarageBand for Windows] than with listening to other people's music. My stuff isn't good, but it's mine.

This leads into an interesting article on the 'cognitive surplus' that has supposedly opened up now that people watch less TV and spend more time doing creative things online. Excerpts follow, but the whole thing is here:
Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened--rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before--free time.And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.

Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn't know what to do with it at first... [...] Because if people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institutions, then it wouldn't be a surplus, would it? It's precisely when no one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that integration can transform society. The early phase for taking advantage of this cognitive surplus, the phase I think we're still in, is all special cases. [...]

And I'm willing to raise that to a general principle. It's better to do something than to do nothing. Even lolcats, even cute pictures of kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions, hold out an invitation to participation. When you see a lolcat, one of the things it says to the viewer is, "If you have some sans-serif fonts on your computer, you can play this game, too." And that's message--I can do that, too--is a big change. This is something that people in the media world don't understand. Media in the 20th century was run as a single race--consumption. How much can we produce? How much can you consume? Can we produce more and you'll consume more? And the answer to that question has generally been yes. But media is actually a triathlon, it 's three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share. [Full article here]

A final quote, to patch together things and really add little of my own. It doesn't matter. This blog was started to take the place of the index cards I used to note down things of interest in my reading, with the idea I'd have a box of cards full of ideas that set me off in new directions, a box of feelings to be accessed any time. So, as I was putting together the above I took a break with a coffee on the balcony and took a Henry Miller anthology from the stack of slow skim, drop in anywhere books I keep to read / reread very slowly [The Book of Disquiet being the current ultra-slow skim fave], and it fell open and my eyes landed on these lines:
All art, I firmly believe, will one day disappear. But the artist will remain, and life itself will not become "an art", but art, i.e., will definitely and for all time usurp the field.
Make yourself something today.

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