I’ve been interested in the traction that Instagram has gotten since its acquisition by Facebook earlier this year. Obviously, the use of Facebook to share information AND pictures with friends is its most important feature. And Google’s acquisition of YouTube (broadcast yourself) is also worthy of similar attention.
But I’ve always had this penchant for looking past the obvious importance of these things to try to find the underlying “meaning” or effect of the activity on the ways we think, act, or will change. Instagram and YouTube draw me to the historical development of 20th century media, specifically the newspaper and magazines, films, and television. In all four of these forms of content, limited and expensive technologies like the printing press, professional cameras, video and film equipment always had constrained the widespread generation of content by consumers. So centers of production like newspaper publishers, television networks, and Hollywood studios grew to meet the demand for content and to professionalize their specific industries. Also, copyright laws protected large producers of content from the theft or misuse of their information.
That brings us to the twenty-first century, a time when many more of us have access to both the technologies and the distribution systems that had once been controlled by Industry. And now, the “new” industries are funded and driven by consumer demand for information products and services at an unprecedented rate. But much more of the content is now ours, collected and generated by individuals and collective groups with common interests.
What is left, then, is the content itself and whatever “value” it provides us, consumers. And here is where the problem may lie, in my estimation.
The inclusion of cameras in smartphones and tablets puts millions of recording devices and cameras on the street and in the homes and workplaces where millions of serendipitous (or staged) events can be captured by anyone. The need for angel funding, a script, The Screen Actors Guild, actors, film editors, distributors, movie theaters or reporters, copywriters, city desk, printing presses, even newsprint itself has been challenged – for the first time in history. Camera film is no longer a consumer product or commodity for that matter. Copyright is a loose and vague constraint.
The BIG questions are twofold:
– Does new content, like what we get from YouTube or Instagram provide the same or different value to us? Obviously, we still have commercial movies, TV, and newspapers, but to a lesser extent than we used to – when we consider the options we now have to get information or entertainment, for that matter. And the industries that have provided them in the past have shrunk considerably or morphed into something new. And we have a boatload of New Media companies like Hulu, Netflix, Roku, and Red Box distributing conventional content in new ways.
– Does our daily interaction with and use of “new” content change us – in the same ways, perhaps, that the television revolution changed older generations? Remember, our brains grow and adapt to both content AND the act of processing it. “Reading” and decoding print, for instance, changes the brain – in the long run – differently from watching TV, movies, or YouTube. The difference is in cognition and our ability to think critically, or so research has taught us.
Without beating a dead horse, mind you, I just want to understand what all this means and how valuable will it be for us ultimately. By opening this conversation – in print, mind you – I want to engage our collective consciousness.
And don’t mention unemployment because, unwittingly I guess, we are all participating in the dismantling of these industries and the creation of new ones.