I Feudalisation more like Mein Fuhrerisation

Feudalism is a specific type of relationship between Lord and vassal organised around property and allegiance. In the traditional sense it was where the economy ran off the providing of land in exchange for goods, labour and protection. At the top of this economy there was the king who owned and controlled all of the land. He would loan this land out to lords, knights and peasants and in return they would work and swear allegiance.

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So why am I bringing this all up? Well it’s because although this is an extremely dated monolithic paradigm it is one that is still used today and no I’m not talking about a communist nation like North Korea; I’m talking about right here and now and I’m talking about you. If you are reading this off of an iPhone, if you have a Gmail account, Netfix, Facebook, Amazon, if you have ever used an app, then you are actually the metaphorical peasant of this feudal relationship and I bet you didn’t even know it.

Let me clarify…

Since the introduction of Word Wide Web, content has been in abundance do to mass amateurisation and participation. As I explained more thoroughly in my previous post this has led to the decline in its value.  “The digital economy runs on a river of copies, these copies are not just cheap they are free” (Kevin Kelly). When content can be shared freely it no longer has value and as Stewart Brand states “information wants to be free but it also wants to be expensive”.

So how do you make money off of something that is free? You sort it, you package it and you make it uncopiable. This is exactly what aggregates like Apple were able to accomplish by instead of producing content found a way to tie it to their platforms. You can’t use an Apple app outside of an Apple product and like the peasants who did not actually own the land and could not share, use or sell it without permission from the King, you are granted access to content that you do not control. “The old Internet is shrinking and being replaced by walled gardens over which over which Googles crawlers cannot climb” (John Batelle).

So what are you getting out of this?

Predominantly convenience, in exchange for entering the walled garden you are promised quality information that is nicely sorted and tailored to you. You are also promised that everything works and because things run through a centralised system undesirable information (or anything deemed as such) can be weeded out.

But what are you giving up?

Well for one the internet itself, the decentralised free flowing system is gone and you are now paying a fee for what used to be free. That fee may be a monetary one such as the cost of a song on iTunes or a subscription to Netflix but it also includes your privacy. Everything you do within a walled garden is monitored and just as the peasants who had to work the land to cultivate goods, you are generating valuable data about yourself for ‘the king’ to sell.

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For example Gmail manages your emails for free and in return it compromises the privacy of not only yourself everyone who has ever had correspondents with you, by scanning your emails for your personal trends and habitual behaviours. Facebook, is even less subtle than this creating a share culture where we willingly divulge large amounts of data about ourselves. Convenience is one thing but why are we so willing to share so much of who we are on social networks?

(Bernhard et al) suggests a reason for this might just be that we ascribe risks to privacy invasion more to others than ourselves due to a  psychological mechanism similar to third-person effect. This coupled with high gratification and usage patterns creates a lax attitude towards privacy.

 

Normalising The Niche

“The Internet imposes no barriers to entry, no economies of scale and no limits of supply”(Clay Shirky).

There is an abundance of information literally flooding the net and media itself has changed from an organised stream of information created by legitimate providers, to a convergent mass of shared information created by illegitimate prosumers. Traditional media channels such as television and the newspaper lose their value when new media models grant users content for free.

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Legacy media channels with their high cost of entry are being undercut by “The people formally known as audience” (Jay Rosen) as everyday amateurs are able to create and share content without cost and without risk of failure. So what this means for the global media landscape is that in an age where content is in surplus, value comes not from being a distributor who controls data access but from aggregators who control attention.

The best example I can give of this is Foxtel vs Netflix. Foxtel is a distributor, it plays shows like Game of Thrones periodically at certain times. The value of these shows is evaluated by the amount of people that watch them. Netflix is an aggregator, a digital cloud of shows that people are free to choose from. The value of these shows comes from being chosen.

Traditional forms of ratings measurement no longer have the capacity to reflect modern viewing habits. Just because no one is watching a show on television does not mean it is not being watched and as a result of this miss-reflection thousands of loyal fans almost lost what was in my opinion one of the best shows on television. Community was cancelled due to low ratings until Hulu picked it up as a web only series allowing the fandom to continue. It just so happened that the show had a following, but its followers were all binge watching pirates who liked to stream at their own convenience.

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Game Of Thrones Season Ratings SeriesMonitor.com

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Community Season Ratings SeriesMonitor.com

What allows this viewing practice to happen is something called The Long Tail Effect, where our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of mainstream products and markets toward a huge number of niches (LongTail.com).

In the traditional media paradigm the mass market always beats the niche but as Chris Anderson explains “What matters now is not where customers are or how many are seeking a particular title but only that some number of them exist anywhere”.

Think Amazon, it is not confined by the physical space of each individual store and therefore does not limit itself to only the bestselling books. The digital search and demand environment allows them to stretch their operations to the extremities of niche culture and still remain profitable. Now you have access to all the obscure books your heart desires at the click of a button and a short wait on delivery.

The benefit of this is that people get out the habit of simply following the mainstream, they freely peruse their own interests and movies such as Juno and Like Crazy get watched as well as massive blockbusters like The Avengers. The negative is that this sometimes prevents us from stumbling onto new discoverers. Have you ever watched a movie you never heard of simply because it was TV? Alternatively have you ever not known what to search for online and just ended up watching something you have already seen? The abundance of information leads to the scarcity of attention and when we are faced with choice we often stick to what we know, whereas the dictation of information can force us to take notice of things we wouldn’t of otherwise.

Jaron Lanier and Eli Pariser argue that when aggregators such as Google sort us into categories based on the niche interests we express, we run the risk of being given back to ourselves through the filtering of content. But at the same time it gives us opportunity to further ourselves beyond mainstream culture. It is important we expand our attention past our own little bubbles, after all there is so much to explore in cyberspace.

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Drinking Up Dat Liquid Labour

 

“As the use of mobile phones in public spaces is increasing, it is leading to the change in social order by blurring the boundary between public and private spaces. What one would typically call a public place is slowly becoming pockets of individual private spaces where people exhibit behaviors as if they were by themselves’” (Geiger 2013).

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What we are seeing is a world where people are always on, always connected to the decentralized global network and this is creating an environment where there is no barrier between real the world and online world. We take our mobiles everywhere, we work from home and we take our social medias into the office. Some of us don’t even have an office, working from companies that exist entirely in the digital realm providing services that run on the facilitation of information rather than the providing of physical products.  This is the liquid labour environment and I discuss in my podcast above it is extremely flexible and constantly moving.

Right now, convergence culture is getting defined top-down by decisions being made in corporate boardrooms and bottom-up by decisions made in teenagers’ bedrooms. It is shaped by the desires of media conglomerates to expand their empires across multiple platforms and by the desires of consumers to have the media they want where they want it, when they want it, and in the format they want. (Henry Jenkins)

We are both the consumers and the creators, the customers and the product.

Controlled Cyber Freedom

Significantly better than last weeks, now with 30% less tongue ties…

“Cyberspace, as Gibson imagined it nearly 30 years ago, was – or would be – a realm of total-immersion virtual reality…The hero of Neuromancer jacks in to the matrix, his inner eye sees a transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity on which graphic representations of data re abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system” (Thomas Jones).

What happened to world Gibson envisioned? While we are close to this vision – living in a highly convergent, ultra technological, globally connected world – it is almost like we are running parallel to this vision never quite reaching it. While our current technology systems give us opportunity to connect and contribute to the virtual cyber world. we have sacrificed bits of our freedom for the sake of aesthetic coherence and convenient usability. You must agree to terms and conditions before using sites like Facebook, you must send your messages through them and adhere to their format limitations.

I remember when android phones first came about, Steve Jobs- the father of walled gardens himself- appeared on television saying something along the lines of “We define everything that is on the phone. . . . You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. This is a perfect example of what I mean when I say we have given up our control and often our privacy for a sense of security.

 

Introduction To The Global Network

The moment when you attempt your first audio blog and realise you said PUGcast instead of podcast. None the less here are my thoughts on week two’s lecture topic and readings…

(ps promise to get better in future)

 

To elaborate further on my podcast the quote from the reading that really stood out to me was “Cyberspace is something more. Though built on top of the Internet, cyberspace is a richer experience. Cyberspace is something you get pulled into perhaps by the intimacy of instant message chat or the intricacy of  massive multiplayer online games Some in cyberspace believe they’re in a community; some confuse their lives with their cyberspace existence”.

This perfectly encapsulates the way the internet has created opportunity to create meaningful interactive relationships without physical interaction. The ability to do so has changed marketing forever. Gone are the days of the old school one way dialogue between a company and its customers. Today’s consumers want more, they want personal relationships, real time communication, opportunity to engage with the brand, to contribute to its culture and to form communities with like minded brand users . My textbooks call this Online Customer Relationship Management but I call it simply being a brand in the networked environment.

Here is a brief history of the evolution of marketing as it coincides with the trajectory of technology itself.

 

Cyber Fears

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This week I began analyzing the results from my survey. The aim was to discover the answers to several key questions regarding my research topic about Cyberpunk and Cyber Fears …

  • Are we more accepting of new technology?
  • What kind of fears do we have regarding our current technologies?
  • Do we still have a dystopian view of the future or do we have more positive perceptions?
  • Is there room for the cyberpunk genre to re-emerge in our modern culture?
  • And if so how might it be different?

Originally I was aiming to get around 40 participants, but thanks to Facebook and its mass message capabilities I was able to get 80. This was really exciting because it gave a large range of in depth answers to work with and draw ideas from. Here are some of the trends I noticed…

35% of participants stated they had a negative perception of the future in that they think we are headed towards disaster rather than utopia. This actually contradicts what I had hypothesized. I thought for sure there would be a positive trend in perceptions but the survey showed that the majority had a bleak, dystopic view, reminiscent of classic cyberpunk.

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But then when asked what their perception of cyber technologies was, 50% said helpful and 24% said extremely helpful. Only 6% said they thought cyber technology was dangerous showing a vast drift towards positive perceptions and suggesting a greater acceptance of technological advancement.

When asked their level of fear over technological advancement 50% said not very frightened and 11% said not frightened at all. Only 3% said very frightened again showing a greater acceptance of technology and a low level of cyber related fear.

However,  there were still areas of cyber culture that generated anxiety within the respondents; predominantly in the field of Artificial Intelligence. When asked if there were any current or near future technologies they were particularly worried the most common answer was Artificial Intelligence. Answers Ranged from AI’s killing or enslaving us, to unemployment from AI’s flooding the job market, to the ethics of playing god.

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Others were concerned about their online privacy, online security, drone spying, governments control through wearable technology and social media dependency.  The three issues most concerned about were Cyber Terrorism, Online Privacy and Cyber Security.  From this I have gathered fear is still prevalent when it comes to our perceptions of new technologies and there is growing concern over several key issues.

Due to a lot of mentioning of films in people answers though I have begun to re-shape my thinking in that perhaps it is not people’s fears that shape cyberpunk films but rather films that shape peoples cyber fears.

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Post Modern Cyberpunk

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I have spent the last few weeks looking into the end of the cyberpunk genre and examining modern texts to find any evidence of cyberpunk exiting today. This week I began researching what scholars have said about the post- cyberpunk era. I wanted to discover what themes, aesthetics and other key differences set the post- cyberpunk era apart from traditional (authentic) cyberpunk. What I found is that most scholars come to agree that a key point of differentiation is the concept of hope and positivity.

Lawrence Person argues that post- cyberpunk works use the same immersive world-building techniques as classic cyberpunk but features different characters, settings, and, most importantly, make fundamentally different assumptions about the future.

“Far from being alienated loners, post-cyberpunk characters are frequently integral members of society”… “They live in futures that are not necessarily dystopic but their everyday lives are still impacted by rapid technological change and an omnipresent computerized infrastructure”.

I thought about this with relevance to some of the texts I have been looking at and for most of them this statement rings true. I thought about movies like Transcendence, Ex Machina and Gamer where, as Lawrence has pointed out, the characters all deal with significant issues to do with cyber culture and new cyber technologies, but they do not necessarily live in a dystopic world that has fallen into chaos. Ex Machina for example is not about a rouge AI destroying the world, but rather the ethical issues with creating and discarding artificial life.

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This relates back to my research project as the reasoning behind this increase in positivity may be linked to the idea that people’s perceptions of the future have changed since the time of the cyberpunk era. I want to conduct further primary research into this discovering if people have become more accepting of technological advancement now that cyber-technology is so saturated in our everyday lives. I want to know if they have more positive perceptions of the future and what fears (if any) people have about our current/near future technologies.

I plan to do so with an online survey which I have already created here and am awaiting the results. I have also started some secondary research into this and found this interesting study into people’s biggest fears of 2015. Three of the top ten where cyber technology related which was very interesting.

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I plan to present the findings for my research in podcast style video, where I will discuss concepts, show what I have found and elaborate on my thoughts about the future of the cyberpunk genre.

 

References

Pearson, L 1999, Notes Towards A Post Cyberpunk Manifesto, Slashdot, viewed 4 April 2016, < https://news.slashdot.org/story/99/10/08/2123255/notes-toward-a-postcyberpunk-manifesto>.