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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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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The Digital Walled Garden: A Price on Entertainment

flanagan_walled_garden_03 “The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times.” (Kevin Kelly)

Previously wealth was built on the selling precious copies and as a result the instant duplication of data, ideas, and media undermines all major sectors of our economy. If reproductions of humanities best efforts are free how does one make money selling free copies? The truth is they don’t, so what is the solution here?…An advertising dominated online culture? Harsher punishments for copy right infringements? Intense DRM laws? An end to free streaming? Or the death of piracy?

All these things sound great (to businesses) however what this means for the consumer is the end of a free internet and the creation of a Walled Garden. Which in my personal opinion goes against the entire construct of what the internet is; a global data sharing service that facilitates the free flow of information.

For those not up with the lingo a Walled Garden is a closed platform or software system where the carrier or service provider has control over applications, content, and media, and restricts convenient access to non-approved applications or content (think Apple).

In Australia we have only just now gotten Netflix and at the moment it is very reasonably priced in an attempt to combat the competition of piracy (SMH). I was dumbfounded by the positive response it got and the sheer level of buzz it generated. A few of my friends got it and they couldn’t wait to tell me about how for only $14.99 a month they could gain access to the hundreds of shows Netflix had to offer. Off course my immediate reaction was: WOW that’s super awesome, did you know that for zero dollars a month you can gain access to every show ever?

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Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for supporting the industry and funding the artists but what I cannot understand is peoples willingness to buy into what is essentially a restriction of freedom. Let’s just say for arguments sake that in an ideal hypothetical future, piracy was non existent and access to the things we watched online were restricted only to paid streaming services such as Netflix. The price is cheap now because piracy is a threat but in a world without free downloading these services would have monopoly and therefore total control over price. This would be a world where the price of entertainment could fluctuate as frequently as petrol.

What people need to ask themselves is just what exactly they are buying into. While you are watching shows on Netflix, Netflix is watching you watching their shows. They know what you are viewing, when you are viewing it, how often you are viewing it and what sort of things you like. The luxury of private entertainment in the comfort of your own home is a thing of the past. The question here is, does knowing that someone knows what you are watching make a significant impact on what you watch? Would people stop watching porn if other people knew they watched it? Would manly men suddenly feel embarrassed about watching sappy romantic comedies? Would students start to have their study assistance rejected because their viewing data proves they are not putting in full time study hours?

When a service becomes an inhibitor to your daily actions as a person it becomes a breach of your freedom. Convenient solutions almost always come with an inevitable cost.

Space, Time and the Cinema

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“Time has a critical importance when it comes to fitting people and things together for functioning in socio-economic systems”

These famous words, written by Torsten Hägerstrand in 1970, played a pivotal role in shaping the concept of Time and Space Geography. A concept  which has effectively broadened our understanding of the nature of human social behavior and is still very much relevant to today.

“Hägerstrand used the space-time path to demonstrate how human spatial activity is often governed by limitations, and not by independent decisions by spatially or temporally autonomous individuals”…”He identified three categories of limitations, or ‘constraints’; These refer to the limitations on human movement due to physical or biological factors” (John Corbet).

For example, it is imposable to be in two places at one time and you cannot travel instantaneously from one location to another, which means “a certain trade off must be made between space and time”. The three Constraints are:

1. Capability – can I get there?

2. Coupling – Can I get there at the right time?

3. Authority – Am I allowed to be there?

Last week I attended a movie with a group of friends and It was intriguing to notice just how much these three constraints affected my spacial movements. To begin with, at this time, my phone was temporarily out of action due to an unforeseen bathroom occurrence. Needless to say it fell into the bowl and was rendered useless. As a result of this mishap, my communications were restricted to words spoken to those within my direct vicinity and messages sent through Facebook. It was in the morning just before I left for work that my boyfriend FB messaged me about seeing Guardians Of The Galaxy that night. He told me the time it was on and asked if he should by tickets for us and our friends. This is where the first constraint (Capability) comes in. I was about to go to work, which meant I wouldn’t be free until 8:00pm. The movie started at 8:20pm. My attendance to the movie and thereby my spatial movement pattern would be determined on whether closing the store took longer or shorter than usual. Unfortunately there was no way for me to be closing the store and attending the movie at the same time.

The third constraint (Authority) only made it harder for me to get there in time. The remaining parking spots were handicapped ones and as this is space I am not legally allowed to park in, I had to drive further away and park on a side street.

The Coupling constraint affected me heavily as there was no way for my friends to contact me. This meant there was a limited amount of time my friends would wait before thinking I was not coming and entering the cinema with the ticket purchased for me. If I did not make it in time to meet them I would not be going at all. It all depended on how quickly I could get to the cinema at the other end of town. If our paths of time and spacial movements did not cross the event of me watching the movie could not occur. Authority would also be a factor here again because if I missed them I would not have a ticket and would not be allowed to enter the room they were in.

As it can be seen from this example “human spatial activity is often governed by limitations, and not by independent decisions”. However my eagerness to see Guardians Of The Galaxy made my motivation to overcome these limitations much stronger.  In my mind nothing was going to stop me and let me just say it was worth all the effort, great film.

The concept of Space and Time Geography did not just stop there, once inside (having made it in time), our movement patterns were affected further. It was a late session on a Tuesday night, so the cinema was practically empty. Authority lost its limitability here as we could sit wherever we wanted. There was not enough people for someone to say “you’re sitting in my seat”. With this new found freedom we decided to sit back and center, spacing the seats out between the six of us, so we could all lie down and put our feet up on the chairs in front. We didn’t have to worry about hogging seats, sitting too close to strangers, fidgeting or making too much noise. We were free to move about as we pleased. At one point we simultaneously climbed the chairs moving several rows ahead to pull a prank on a friend while they were in the bathroom. This type of behavior would not be possible had we selected a busier time.More people = more social constraints.

The emptiness of the cinema made me question the longevity of cinemas in general. Earlier in this post I said it was impossible to be in two places at once, but with the creation of the Internet, that law sort of changes. When you’re online you can be everywhere at once not Physically off course but you get what I’m saying. The point is with the internet, a couch and a projector you can be at the cinema from the comfort of your own home. So why go to the cinema at all?

Personally I still prefer the experience of going out to the movies, it’s still a social activity for me, and makes movies way more exciting. Although I only like to go on weekdays during off peak hours, so I can misbehave as much as I please. As for the continuity of the cinema industry I am unsure, but what I do know is that my movie going experience is shaped dramatically by time.

Reference:

Corbett, J 2001, Torsten Hägerstrand: Time Geography, Center for Spatially Integrated Social Sciences, viewed 29 September 2014, <http://www.csiss.org/classics/content/29&gt;.

My Media Space Knows My Name

This is the first blog of many to come for this semester studying Media, Audience and Place. Our Opening task was upload an image of our own personal media space and talk a little about ourselves. I’d like to start of by saying that my media space just so happens to be the very thing I describe when I am asked to introduce myself. This is because my media space is my life. I am still undecided as to whether I shape my life around my media or my media around my life, but lets just say the two go hand in hand.

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This is a photo of my luxurious and comfy Media Space; which is where I spend the majority of my time (hence it being my life). The Sun to my proverbial media galaxy would have to be the XBox One, it is the central hub for all things Technology and Communication. It’s where I play my games, watch my movies, surf the net and communicate with friends. Most of the time I’ll be doing all of these things at once; playing Assassins Creed on split screen with Instagram or Facebook open on the other side all the while having a group conversation through the headset and downloading the latest ep of whatever show I’m interested in at the time. It really has become a major part of my life and is personalised specifically to me. It knows my name and greets me when I walk in the door, It suggests the things it knows I like and it even listens when I talk.

What I mean when I say my media is who I am is that my interest outside of digital media still revolve around it. My hobbies include drawing Characters from the shows I watch and reading the Graphic Novels of films and TV shows. Even my sense of humor, taste in fashion and the aesthetic of my room is shaped by my love for media. Because of this my media space has become a driving force in the creation of my personality.

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Just a few from my Collection

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A Drawing I did of the Character Rei from the Anime Evangelion.

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I love Anime so much that my room is filled with posters and figurines just like these two. Particularly from One Piece, Japans #1 rated Anime. This is Sanji and Nami two of the main characters.