Archive for the Internet Category

Sheer Madness

Posted in Internet, Television with tags , on March 22, 2009 by Adam

Earlier this week, I received a work e-mail from a higher-up at my magazine with the words “March Madness” in the subject line. Because this was not from the co-worker in charge of the office pool and because of the job title of the sender, I was pretty sure that I knew what this e-mail would be about: “Please don’t gamble or partake in activities that support gambling while at work.”

If only. Because despite the fact that I had already submitted 25 dollars in cash for an office pool, I could have lived with being scolded for gambling or even told that my money would be collected and used to buy a new copy machine. But the e-mail was more along these lines: “Please don’t watch streaming video of games on your work computer. We have to pay for our bandwidth and it slows the network down for everyone else.”

Outrage. Pure, vengeful outrage racing through my bloodstream. “How?” I thought. “They can’t…” “This is my com-“. Aha. I realized I had fallen into a dangerous modern trapping. Although my employer had provided me with all of the hardware and some of the software that I was using, the fact that I had been the only one who operated the machine on a daily basis gave me a false sense of ownership, one that seems to mirror many people’s feelings about the information they share with the world. While a false sense of information ownership is nothing new–think of all the musicians from the last century who believed they would get a cut of royalty money only to find out that the record label is the sole proprietor of a piece–what makes this modern naivete so much more prevalent is the fact that the tools used to send forth this information, unlike a record studio, are generally in front of us every day.

My inability to use my office computer for streaming video at first seemed like a Fascist prohibition of information flow. Before long, though, I realized it was much simpler. It was a reminder that the tools used for transmitting this information can sometimes be legally and appropriately snatched right out from under us.

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Hulu Saves The World. Or not.

Posted in Internet, Television with tags , , , on February 5, 2009 by Adam

One of the most talked-about commercials from last Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast was Hulu‘s “An Evil Plot to Destroy the World” spot. Understandably–the ad was funny, it enlisted the star power of Alec Baldwin, and it had the dubious privilege of existing within a Bowl broadcast that produced few other memorable commercials. As you know, though, the real appeal of the spot comes in its startling acknowledgment of the kinds of critiques that have been leveled at modern media purveyors, namely, that the constant presence of screens in the modern life is making us less socially functional and more relying on technology to get us through our daily journey:

“And the best part is, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I mean, what are you gonna do, turn off your TV and your computer?”

I can only assume that Baldwin’s question forced a lot of people–many of whom were undoubtedly checking their Facebook page as they kept one eye on the TV screen–to stop in their tracks and think about how close to home the words were hitting. Yet, for every viewer who was appalled to be confronted by such a brutal truth, I believe there was another who shrugged and said, “Yep. I am addicted to having a screen in front of me.”

This acknowledgment may be the key to harnessing the wonderful access that our computers, phones, and television sets give us, using them to make us all the more intelligent about both what what we consume and what we produce. The fact that Meetup uses a digital, Evite-like program to put into effect their “Unplug Your Friends” screen addiction intervention program is a humorous reminder that turning off completely is both unnecessary and, ultimately, limiting. Gone are the days when it was trendy to say you didn’t own a television. Cultural literacy is, I would say, as valuable a form of social currency now as it has ever been.

And while I do not subscribe to Steven Johnson’s belief, put forth in 2005’s Everything Bad is Good for You, that today’s lowest common denominator media artifacts are significantly more challenging and rewarding than their counterparts of yesteryear, the abundance of screens has certainly raised the bar on the highest common denominator, both in quality and quantity–the more transistors, the more opportunity for consumer control. This consumer control is also made possible by the self-selection of time and place of consumption, a well-documented factor in the continued proliferation of digital forms of viewing. And, perhaps most importantly, the abundance of screens has given us a powerful cross-referencing tool, and the fact that we are becoming quite good at using this tool easily stamps out the notion that we are falling into passive realms.

It is the tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of these aspects of modern media–as well as their Luddite naysayers–that made the Hulu spot such a breath of fresh air. If more media outlets can intelligently acknowledge modern consumption and thereby encourage its most intelligent use, we will be on the right path to avoiding mental destruction.

UPDATE: It has occurred to me that all of these goddamned screens have, in fact, started to rot my brain and everything I said above is a lie that I was tricked into thinking I believed. Sorry for the confusion.

UPDATE: I just did some online research, and it now appears that the original post was both accurate and honest. Please disregard first update.