calin dan on Wed, 13 Sep 2000 12:08:12 +0200 (MET DST)

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Syndicate: streaming media and its mass

Excuse cross-posting.

(the Economy of Attention in the prospective of a streaming media)
Calin Dan

[Illiterati quod per scripturam non possunt intueri, hoc per quaedam
licturae lineamenta contemplatur. (Alcuinus)]


New media? What new media? The internet is stepping up its development
under the incidence of three determining factors: technological excitement,
economic itch and political swing. In a vicious circle that started to spin
a very few years ago, more attention the internet gets from the decisional
factors in industry, law making, and venture capital, more it provides
reasons for concern and delays in gratification. Buzz words are important
in the semiotic of large scale phenomena, and if one remembers what was
buzzing in the last years of the previous century - it all connected in a
way or another to the internet. If it was globalism, net communities,
browsers war, bandwidth, net art, gift economy, virtual money, the open
source, the millennium, interactive television, - all came out of, turned
around and got swallowed back into the belly of the internet.

But now finally the pieces of the puzzle fall in place, and the internet is
joining the mainstream of politics and capital. Internet will remain the
local news paper and the toy of numberless information freaks, back yard
activists and software visionaries, leaving enough room for community
service, innovation and protest. But it had to follow the unavoidable path
any medium has taken in history - from epiphany to consumerism.
Modern society works like a two steps engine:
time 1. - new media versus mass media;
time 2. - new media equals mass media, equals old media.
Time 2 introduces usually a paradigm shift: since the new media became old
through massification, the very territory of novelty has to be re-defined.
As it happens, while this process is accelerated along an ascendant time
line (basically from religious mural painting on), its outlining becomes
also progressivley blurred. From the art of the roman catholic and orthodox
Byzantine churches to the first printed books we get a user time of six to
seven hundred years. From books to photo journalism, about four hundred.
>From photo journalism to cinematic images - a few decades. From there to
TV, roughly the same. And then came the fracture.

The analog and then the digital computing machines changed the
media-to-masses process from an accelerated spiral model to a model of fast
competing parallel developments. So far so that at the very moment when
internet is merging with television (which is allegedly happening now) this
gerontic phenomenon is under constant pressure from innovative
hardware-and-software experiments and implementations. As an unexpected
consequence, for the first time the new-to-mass-to-old-to-new media
paradigm shift is put on jeopardy, and together with it our perception of
the new and the good and the beautiful, as sedimented along modern history.
We are probably witnessing The collapse of the ethic-aesthetic
conglomerate. And we are unimpressed.

Eating interactivity. It is still uncertain what format communication,
business and entertainment will take in the future, but it is more and more
obvious that a merger of technologies and functions will be worked out from
today's juggle between priorities. The main direction of that merger is
pretty obvious as well:
Wireless communication, while standing as a hugely successful and
diversified operation in itself, looks more and more like just another
opportunity for the further dominance of television. Through the
instrumental development of wireless bandwidth, television is slowly but
steadily eating the internet. And with this move, it swallows lots of other
related features: one-to-one/many-to-many communication, interactive
research, tele-presence, non-linear entertainment as a whole. TV seems to
be THE REFERENTIAL MEDIUM, the Leviathan swallowing anything that moves in
the area of communication research and development. Why aren't things
happening the other way round? Why isn't internet eating television?

Before the implementation of streaming media (the latest buzz in town),
internet (that is the world wide web) was, among other things of course,
television with a plus. Plus coming from: a) interactive (re)search; and b)
downloading possibilities. Which can translate by: content control (a) and
content appropriation (b). Zapping became mapping, and users could look
back into their relation with the www as readers used to look on the
shelves of their libraries, and dreamers in the cases with family
souvenirs. It all was suddenly so personal and still so entertaining;
differently packaged, but with the same screen-based prospective. Yet this
intimacy fired back quickly and unexpectedly: at this feast of free data
cookies were served for dessert, and the private maps people drew from
their wanderings on the net became surreptitiously but effectively the
property of various web stalkers, corporate initiatives, database holders
etc. Minimal as it was, the web interactive behavior became a priority
purchase item. Therefore now it is time for eating interactivity back into
television. Time for staying put and just watching.

The addictive confusion. It is always useful to remember that the advent of
television was an event so massive that it can be compared only with the
discovery of fire (a shorthand for fire-production-and-control). From
pre-history till the mid 20 century AD nothing else was able to generate
comparable mutations in the human behavior. No wonder that similarities
abound. The TV set as a substitute for the fireplace is an already
exhausted comparison, yet useful to start with. But there is more. Fire
discovery did to Homo Ap(e)iens what television did to Homo Sapiens: it
changed its physiology and its brain processes altogether. It made food
more attractive and shelter more homey. It pushed back loneliness and its
cohort of phantoms. It created irreplaceable needs for comfort. It enhanced
contemplation and stimulated the invention of new gods. It generated new
social power structures (providers, keepers, owners, etc.); new ideologies;
new means of communication; and of course new fears.

Therefore it is jut too hard to believe that television can be displaced
from its dominant position as a mass medium or even slightly undermined in
its authoritarian discourse by any other mass distributed instrument of
content dissemination. And yet an interesting shift is generated here by
the venture between television and internet under the auspices of high
bandwidth wireless communication facilities. The key word of this merger is
INTERACTIVITY. Nothing spectacular, just the minimal
stimuli/response/stimuli equation checked upon via the www platform.
Through interactivity the operation can keep in the game the big discovery
internet brought - users profiling - and keep out what internet promised to
us all - customized content (unbearably expensive in terms of TV production
costs). At least that should be the plan, if the vague buzz going around is
of any consistency.

But precisely since things do not look clear, and since different
directions seem to be explored simultaneously, let me improvise a bit on
this. Summing up what we have until here, there is a mass of couch potatoes
dependent on TV; there is an increasing number of net users, dependent on a
minimum of interactive satisfaction; and there is what we will call from
here on "the industry" - a conglomerate of consumer goods, services, mass
media and advertisement companies planning to cash from the merger between
mouse and channel zapper, respectively between computer and TV set top box.
As far as interaction must stay a part of the scheme, things might not
reach that easy a satisfactory level of response: the internet has set
already a certain standard in profiling, due to its capacity of providing
practically an endless mass of information and content. In order to make a
profitable leap form there further, interactive television (iTV) must: 1.
keep interactively happy the (former) web users; 2. enhance the user
behavior of the regular TV watchers (the, sorry, couch potatoes); 3.
diversify options of content in order to maintain comparable profiling

So, we have on one hand the audience, addicted to content and somehow ready
to respond to it. And on the other hand we have the providers, addicted to
precisely that response and forced to encourage it. That is where a window
of opportunity might open: a place where the two addictions meet, which
might be the place where internet will bite a bit from TV's inertial body.


Advertisement Rules. Advertisement is the most dynamic content carrier that
mass media can rely on at this moment. A lot of financial and creative
energies are absorbed by the domain, for reasons that should not keep us
here too long.

[Still: An increasingly sophisticated production of goods combined with
limited markets made advertisement into an essential factor for the
survival of economy, and developed it through history as a self-standing
industry. The demands of the advertisement industry - in terms of both
production and exposure - were met through: the high level of specialized
education, increased even further in the post war period; the broadening
and diversification of the mass media platforms, capable of reaching huge
amounts of public.]

At this moment advertisement is in position to control important sectors of
the media via direct investment, via purchase of printed
surface/broadcasting time - and via content. This last aspect is less
obvious, since the common perception in the audience is still that of
separate discourses - on one hand the regular TV/radio programs, the
newspapers' main pages, and on the other the add slots. But the content
borders between adds and the rest are increasingly vague, so far so that
advertisement tends - through mimetic processes - to become part of the
mainstream content scheme. Smart stories, witty dialogues, beautiful
images, cool sounds, hip graphics, famous people, a whole world, not very
different from the other world of the entertainment media - all helps the
process of this content merger. In combination with the merger of media in
iTV, this brings the advertisement domination of mass media at a point from
where unpredictable developments can unfold.

One can be, of course, the dystopic scenario where ingredients like mind
manipulation lead to an abnormal growth of the media/advertisement
conglomerate towards political/military control, etc. I would go this time
for a better case scenario, where audience and media, public and the
industry realize the fact that they belong to the same eco-system and
therefore have to find ways of working towards some kind of positive

A few reasons for making history. The worst accident in a business
relationship is the loss of confidence. This occurrence is virtually there
when the industry underestimates the expectations of the audience, while
the audience reciprocates by perceiving the industry as arrogant.

1. A limited but sophisticated segment of the audience is in position to
influence business developments by the intelligent use of opinion
dissemination and/or media dissent. Ignoring that level of refined
consumerism will endanger the equilibrium of the social species playing
this game. And not only because this segment has a disturbance potential.
But precisely due to its capacity to improve the type of attention wider
circles dedicate to the discourse of the industry.
2. The main segment of the audience has indeed a limited level of
expectations. But keeping those limitations unchallenged might damage the
industry's reason of being - which is expansion. A tendency to solve (2.)
in a manipulative way should be taken into account as always possible.
Corrections of such (self)damaging policies should (hopefully) come from
segment 1. - if other regulatory systems are not in place.

Keeping in balance the needs of the masses and the expectations of the
elites means building history. Including that kind of missionary approach
in the business agenda might look excessive, but there are some facts to be
considered in favor of a pro-active attitude of the industry in relation to
the social-cultural conglomerate. For instance:

3. The industry has, besides its market priorities, less obvious but urgent
agendas in the domain of image strategy. By becoming the referee of the new
(globalised, ICT based) economy, the media/advertisement consortium has to
define and maintain itself as the top player in a society based on labeling
and profit figures. For image purposes sponsorship of culture could be a
handy solution, yet not different from initiatives generated by other
private sectors, and moreover, not close enough to the specific policies of
the industry itself. *Stewardship * would be a more complex and accordingly
efficient solution.
4. The Economy of Attention is undermined by the Economy of Speed. While
this might sound positive for the business (increase in demand and supply),
and it actually is on a short term, on a medium-to-long term it could bring
a loss of interest on the side of the audience and a loss of edge on the
side of the industry. One should not overestimate the capacity
advertisement and media have to spin attention and to endlessly heal the
inflationary tendencies of the economy. Saturation of goods can find easily
an equivalent in the saturation of good ideas. Creativity has to be
enhanced by *a sense of tradition * as much as by a crave for innovation.
5. The neo-liberal system of education and promotion will increase the
difference between the haves and the have nots, not only on the level of
economic power, but mainly at the levels of knowledge and judgment. That
will imply a loss in the expectations the audience will have from the
industry, and therefore in a drop of activities on the markets. *Supplying
for education * might become a safety belt for the industry.

The Big Merger. The industry cannot solve internally the 5 fundamental
issues listed above. As the general trend goes, the potential crisis they
point at has to be contained through a merger: the merger between industry
and culture. The advertisement/media conglomerate and the cultural
conglomerate (from patrimonial domains to state of the art cultural
research) have to join efforts in order to increase the economic position
of both potential partners, to build a historical dimension of the
industry, and to rebuild the credibility of culture.

I am not talking here about the privatization of culture, education and
research - which I consider intrusive. I am also rejecting sponsorship as
superficial and partisan. What I suggest is the build up of an integration
model that will put cultural values in the economic circuit, and deliver
them through this bias to an audience neglected so far by the elites.
Criticism from the industry can be that cultural information, scientific
achievements, fundamental research are a part in the industry's strategies
and focus for a long time. If this is true, things are not happening of a
systemic manner and on a noticeable scale. Criticism from the culture can
be that the suggested merger is posing a serious threat to creative
independence. If this is true, it happens for a long time already, and some
negotiation about it can do only good.

What is that integration model about? It is about propaganda. The whole
history of art as we consume it today, either directly (via manuals,
academic studies etc.) or indirectly (via exhibitions, museum and media
discourses) is the history of a series of major propaganda campaigns,
instigated and planned by artists, writers, philosophers and other
mercenaries of the mind; but generated and financed by the equivalents of
today's corporate power centers: the kings, the rulers, the church(es), the
military (at very early stages in time even by bankers, traders,
politicians). The 19th century brought in the picture the Romantic genius
as anti-industrial hero, and by that changed the perception of art history,
helping meanwhile in the dismantling of the collective systems of faith.
>From there on the public and the artists went their separate ways, reunited
at times through economic accidents staged by rich collectors, sponsors,
mecenate people. The last attempt to propaganda art, the state sponsored
Soviet avant-garde ended in a disaster. But that should not be a deterrent.

Merger Problems. Problem No. 1 is the above mentioned lack of collective
systems of faith. It is symptomatic how the expression "suspension of
disbelief" became lately the coining term for all kind of successful
operations using the platform of cultural discourse. Believing in authority
is no more a part of democratic culture, and believing in culture is no
more possible after the post-modern experience. The exceptions can appear
only in "suspension".
Can industry itself provide the values of a new faith? I am afraid that
this is precisely the tendency now, and it better be abandoned, before the
suspicion of cynicism will ruin the hedonistic mood of the consumers.
No, the industry (media, advertisement, and their partners) cannot - thank
God! - provide us with systems of faith. But, if biological and
anthropological research prove to be correct and humans are genetically
prone to transcendent needs, then identifying the spiritual trends and
resources understreaming today's a-moral behavior becomes compulsory.

Problem No. 2 is the parochial attitude of the art world. As a partner in
the suggested merger, the art world brings a curious way of prioritizing.
What matters in arts nowadays is not legibility by the public but
eligibility by an internal promotional system. Since this system is
predominantly self-reflective, visual arts have a tendency to isolation and
encryption. In how far this serves the purposes of the art system itself is
not relevant for our discussion here. In terms of re-building the popular
confidence in our visual surroundings this attitude is counter-productive.
Contemporary art as such is in that sense not a reliable partner, at least
not without careful filtering and mediation.

Problem No 3. is - paradoxically - the complacent attitude of the same art
world. In a mimetic tendency, art is dominated now by the jargon of market
economy, by the clichés of consumerism, by the populist solutions sold as
survival techniques, tongue-in-cheek criticism etc. A sub-culture of
compromise is cashing in from the combined lessons of conceptualism and
community oriented activism, all wrapped in the relaxed post-modern
confusion of criteria. A process endangering the creative potential and
polluting the main goal of art - which should be the search for enhanced
visions, emotional richness and meditation. Art needs a different, more
targeted funding system helping to reposition it in the social tissue. Art
should focus more on transcendence, and less on the mundane: for this kind
of job design was invented.

Recipes for a good propaganda. One can re-write art history as the History
of Successful Propaganda, so there are plenty of solutions there to be
extracted, analyzed, updated and re-applied in the present situation. The
best example coming to mind is the "Bible of the Poor" - a paradigm of
communication through images meant to enhance quite a few aspects of life
and economy at the time of raising Christianity. The murals covering
generously the walls of churches with biblical scenes, the stained glass
panels and the relief carved in stone were bringing the Book to the
illiterate, but were as well talking about fashion, social interaction,
moral boundaries, political hierarchies and trends. Religious art was
updating the biblical message in order to upbeat it. This made Roman
catholic and Orthodox art excellent examples of highly synthetic
discourses, if not in form, but in intention and content.
Take art history as an endless pool of examples, target your momentous
priorities, look into the long term needs of your audience, and do the
deed. It is so much easier now than it was then. And so much more

- Look into the history of cultures.
- Look into the history of religions.
- Find the concepts that fit today's needs.
- Find the images that fulfill today's sensibility.
- Encourage fundamental research:
						in visual arts
						in literature
						in sciences
						in religion
- Facilitate the incorporation of good advertisement in the history of
culture. - Find the go betweeners from research to the industry and back.
- Develop interfacing institutions for the go between to operate.
- Use art history as source for models of top-down communication.
- Use literature history as source for models of independent criticism.
- Use all other media and their respective histories in an informative way.
- Discourage the intrusion of production into fundamental research.
- Discourage direct translation from fundamental research to production.
- Revisit hermeneutics, etymology, psychoanalysis, mythology.
- Make your goals clear, don't make them obvious.
- Stewardship from the industry/Connoisseurship from culture.
- Good advertisement and good propaganda are similar in intentions and tactics.
- So are the bad ones.

Calin Dan
Rozengracht 105/D4
NL-1016 LV Amsterdam
T: + 31 (0)20 770 1432
F: + 31 (0)20 623 7760

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