Free-for-all vs the end of humanity

Jaron Lanier You are not a gadgetThis post is the eighth in a series that will be for a graduate course called Theory and Audience Analysis. For the course, I will be posting weekly questions and follow-up analysis about the various readings we are assigned. This post asks questions about Henry Jenkins’ “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture” and “You are not a gadget” by Jaron Lanier.

I found Jenkins’ stance on intellectual property to be an interesting topic for further conversation. He pointed out a difference in outlook between legal and creative departments in regard to their opinion of parodies, spin-offs and other fan created materials. While companies have a right to regulate their creative property, there is also a lot that can be gained from embracing derivative works. Some of the best marketing campaigns for entertainment across all platforms have actively sought fan participation and creation. Jenkins writes,

“This third space will survive, however, only if we maintain a vigorous and effective defense of the principle of “fair use,” only if we recognize the rights of consumers to participate fully, actively, and creatively within their own culture, and only if we hold in check the desires of the culture industries to tighten their control over their own intellectual property in response to the economic opportunities posed by an era of media convergence. “

While cracking down on intellectual property violators seems almost absurd with the technologies available today, having a complete free-for-all doesn’t seem fair to the creative minds behind the entertainment. So where should the lines be redrawn? How do you put a price on intellectual property especially with the easiness of access now-a-days?

I’ve found that reading about the current state of technological advancement and predicting what might lie ahead in the future can sometimes evoke a doomsday kind of thinking. Alternate reality games still make me wary when thinking about using them in daily life – who IS the puppet master if the world is a giant ARG? But Jaron Lanier is just depressing.

He is not a fan of the new media revolution, claiming the anonymity and triviality of Web 2.0 “demean” interpersonal interaction. He thinks MIDI has forever ruined our musical appreciation. He says we’re losing touch with who we are as human beings. “This digital revolutionary still believes in most of the lovely deep ideals that energized our work so many years ago. At the core was a sweet faith in human nature. If we empowered individuals, we believed, more good than harm would result,” Lanier writes. “The way the internet has gone sour since then is truly perverse. The central faith of the web‟s early design has been superseded by a different faith in the centrality of imaginary entities epitomized by the idea that the internet as a whole is coming alive and turning into a superhuman creature.”

Lanier couldn’t be more opposite to Jenkins. While I think both represent two extremes in opinions, the idealist in me tends to side with Jenkins. Although I agree that many of the examples that Lanier mentions (Internet trolls, inane ‘entertainment’ posted without thought) are negatives to the technology we now depend on. They are also just facts of life, and I believe they would manifest no matter what technologies existed. Lanier’s biggest problem with the current status of digital technology is how it “depersonalizes,” but what if the problems are products of human nature, of us being persons? Maybe we should be focusing blame not on the technology but on the people?


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