Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I got married and my bro-in-law made me this great video!

I try not to get too personal in this blog, but it would be wrong not to share this great video that my Brother-in-law, David, made for me and Katie. We got married on May 24th, had a great band, The Randys, play for us and a great time. And here is a wonderful composite of sound and image to prove it. Enjoy!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Always Already Affect: Social Network Spaces as Personal Sites of Comfort and Communication

Ok, what I am about to type is nothing too radical, or new (scholars such as Danah Boyd and bloggers such as Robert Scoble have said it before): digitally enabled social networks are about trust. I would add to that that all social networks are about some level of trust. However what seems different about MySpace and Facebook when compared to the names I have in my PDA, family unit and the people who I talk with at the water cooler is that this trust accompanied by huge dollops of aesthetic display (particularly MySpace and, to a lesser extent, FaceBook), affect and play. It doesn't take a genius to see how MySpace differs from LinkedIn -- LinkedIn has the clean sterility of a high-priced lawyer's reception area. MySpace, on the other hand, specializes on messiness. I prefer the happy medium of FaceBook, but have profiles on all three networks. In FaceBook I get to choose my apps and pics and even possible music, but I like the fact that I cannot (or at least do not know how to) change my background imagery. When I hit my FaceBook or my soon-to-be wife goes to her MySpace there is a sense of affectionate retreat, a sort of virtual Calgon Bubble bath that washes over my eyes and "takes me away" from the kiddos, cats, jobs, whatever is pestering me. This is particularly the case with MySpace. When I go to FaceBook I often hold the illusion that I could do some "networking" and have even established a couple of groups through which I work and communicate. With MySpace, forget professional behavior. Unless it is some band, I quickly delete any attempt to solicit brands from my contacts, messages, etc. It's MySpace dammit, so let's keep it amateurish thank you.

As some of you may know I love amateurism -- I am of the opinion that expertise tends to be overvalued in our culture and many of our problems could be addressed by collective, passionate and not-for-profit discussions. I think this is called democracy, sometimes, and I like that. But online social networks aren't democratic utopias, they just give us the feeling that they could be democratic utopias (see Richard Dyer's writings in Only Entertainment as they apply here). Not all blogs and profiles are equal in influence. Nor does everyone have equal access. That said, these spaces do enable many of the similar effects social clubs that proliferated throughout the 20th century and whose spaces often morphed into private nightclubs of association and gesture, i.e. sexual flirtation and dance. In short, these are spaces of association that create specific "vibes" and "feelings" through multiple modes of selection and protocol.

It is also these aesthetic features that I find so under-theorized and examined. In all of the research I have seen about these spaces is has more to do with what people do there, who goes there, etc. That's interesting, but it's a limited understanding of how these spaces work as displays of affection, which is one of the reasons, to quote Danah Boyd's work, so many Why Youth 'Heart' Social Network Sites. And, of course, these spaces allow anyone to develop and live out their affection in what Raymond Williams once called a structure of feeling. These lived and felt relations are somewhat new in the sense that this space of affection exists in an always-already manner that can be accessed asynchronous of one's self engagement. We have always had these texts in our lives, texts such as journals, diaries, memoirs, etc. Yet somehow this combination of journal/avatar, a space of "face" and "ownership" not only seems as if we don't quite understand how these textual spaces operate, but it seems as if we just beginning to get beyond the obvious pronouncements that these are spaces of passionate amateurs but beginning to understand why these spaces allow us to best feel the passions of others.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Why the Stains of Fandom On Our V-Sleaves Mean More Than Ever Before: Value Added through Public Fandom

Van Hagr!
Originally uploaded by Loganpoppy
Compared to other music fans I have found little interest in publicly celebrating my favorite bands and artists. The only time I remember putting a bumper sticker on my car for a music act was the Grateful Dead teddy bear sticker, and even then it wasn't to promote them... I just loved the images. In fact, other than t-shirts, my very strong tastes are relatively reserved when compared to, say, those who would get their car plates customized to celebrate not just a band, but a specific iteration of a band. When I saw this plate, I took the picture and talked to the driver who said that while he liked both iterations, the only thing he really hated was the replacement of longtime bassist of Michael Anthony with Wolfgang Van Halen.

Much has been written about fandom that I need not rehash. However when we live in a possible "One Person, One Channel" environment this kind of public intensity, particularly when it is on the web, is something that needs to be considered in terms of what I would like to call an "Aggregated Granularity" that illuminates how specific differences, differences of iteration, opinion, version, etc, create measurable and appreciable value. Right now the most interesting iteration of how aggregating granules of information is valued in a vast media environment is the well publicized Netflix Recommendation Engine contest. Getting 10 percent performance improvement over Cinematch is worth the prize of a million dollars precisely because if you can ferret out a manner in which you can limit mismatches in a media economy of seemingly unlimited hours then you have a product that will allow you to leverage your services in an almost monopolistic fashion. Much like Google's proprietary PageRank was only percentage points better than Yahoo! or AltaVista's, it was that small difference that has allowed Google to simply dominate search.

The aggregation of small differences is the what Google offers us better than any other search engine and it is in these granules where media fans lie, plot, speak and collect. I have been thinking more about this as it has become clear that the effect of online MP3 blogs has started to take over as a major means of distributing music. Getting the word out about a record has always been the function of the music press and as Rolling Stone, Spin and NME may have dominated a good portion of the English speaking world are losing their hold as print is suffering under the weight of MP3 blogs. And how do we know this is happening? Well, ad dollars are for print are, as Crains recently noted, dwindling:

Ad pages for the three biggest music magazines slid 26% in the first quarter. Jann Wenner's Rolling Stone, the category's iconic publication, saw a 33% drop, according to just-released numbers from Publishers Information Bureau.

The magazines are reeling from the same seismic shift that has rocked the record labels—and which has made popular music more available to consumers than ever before.

Young fans are filling their iPod and Zune libraries straight from the Internet, which is also where they can listen to music and catch the latest news and reviews.

Naturally, advertisers are following them.

“We're putting money in Pandora and other music [sites] that in the olden days would probably all have gone to Rolling Stone,” says Scott Daly, executive media director at advertising agency Dentsu America, who still places ads in the Wenner Media title. “We're trying to reach young, early adopters—which Rolling Stone reaches, but it doesn't have a lock on them.”

Music magazines were also hit hard by downward currents affecting all magazines.

Cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds, responding to criticism—and lawsuits over editorial-style ads in Rolling Stone last fall—has pulled all U.S. print advertising.

The auto industry, weathering its own crisis, cut magazine ad spending by 21% in the first quarter, according to PIB. In the past, car companies always looked to music titles to reach young men.

And as compact disc sales have continued to fall, music labels have downsized their ad presence even further.

I am not surprised by this at all. One of the things that print did very well was treat general interests generally very well. It was "mass". As we all know, Mass Media is so 20th century (insert sarcasm here). Sure, Spin, NME and RS all have online presences, but they are effectively oriented around general music coverage and today's fan, one that has grown up not only with 24 hour a day online access to information and a musical catalogue won't even buy a 12 song album if they do not have to. They are particular and aren't interested in mass consumption in the classic one-size-fits-all set of practices. They may consume large quantities, but it is one grain at a time.

Which brings me back to the above picture. I don't know if anyone will use or find this picture. I have placed a number of pics in the common terrain of public flickr groups, etc. Some get visited, others don't. However, for those one or two people who visit these pictures they are valued enough to email to friends, view, and share. It's these minor iterations that, when accumulated through specific searches, that mean more than ever. These kinds of pictures, MP3 blogs devoted to subgenres of subgenres, and remix sites mean that the anyone who has ever had a specific, pointed interest in a band's most minor recordings can find them. In the 1980s I took an interest in bootlegs of REM and Prince precisely because it was hard to hear them. This kind of scarcity doesn't exist any more and the idea of a classic bootleg like Prince's "Black Album" has very little purchase these days. If you want these recordings you can find them. The question isn't whether or not you wish to go deep into an artist's catalogue, but how deep and for how long you wish to go. Now, more than ever, there is more good music available and now, more than ever, I am listening to fewer and fewer of this music than ever before. Like sweeping the sand into the ocean with broom, it's a hopeless task. However, if you can help me find that one specific grain of sand....

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Goodbye SOMA, Hello Wedding Plans

I just finished my duties at Indiana University, which was a great experience all the way around. Indeed, I will write about that later, but I just can't say enough about how much I enjoyed the good people of Bloomington and my students. Even those that simply treated my classes as pre-reqs which they simply wanted to pass were a refreshing antidote to the grade-grubbing that so many other places equate with being a "good student". I would rather have a bunch of C students who work understand that they are doing C work than a bunch of C students who, instead of working hard, would rather argue that they deserve something because they worked hard rather than actually performing (as John Wooden once said, "Never confuse effort with achievement"). Now, that said, the best student at a place like IU is as good as the best student at any private institution I have been at.

The best thing about the Bloomington area is the vibrant alternative scene it has cultivated. I spent many hours at SOMA coffee house preparing lectures and reading and above it was the very nice Laughing Planet Cafe, which prepared nice organic burritos at a good price. Bloomingfoods, one of the best co-ops in America, simply has no comparison in Columbus, and Plan 9 Video is, DVD per DVD, one of the better rental stores in the Midwest. While I am happy to be back in Columbus, I will always be grateful to my year in Bloomington, the student body at IU and the faculty with whom I worked. If I ever get a chance that works for me and my family to return, it would be a place I would seriously consider again.

In the last week we have almost finished our wedding plans, which takes place in almost two weeks. The catering, place settings, band and space are taken care of. We need to stock pile soft drinks, chips and salsa (which I will most likely make). Oh, and we need to get the Alcohol figured out. That might result in some long distance travel to pick up (perhaps a trip to Sandusky, who knows?). Wish me luck and will post about media soon now that my life is getting a little more in control.