Reflection 4: The Prosumption Presumption

The article by Ritzer and Jurgenson examines the intermingling of consumption and production activities that emerged from Web 2.0. The authors reveal that prosumption, where consumers engage in production activities, came about well before the advent of the internet.  These early forms of prosumption involved customers carrying out acts that were previously performed by paid employees, such as bagging their own groceries or pumping their own gas (Ritzer & Jurgenson, 2010). Today, prosumption refers to the plethora of tasks willingly performed for free by online users, from blogging, and producing movies, to translating and product reviewing. I would like to explore two ideas based off Ritzer’s and Jurgenson’s work: first, I will explore the possible social repercussions of prosumption 2.0, and second, I would like to further explore the idea of free labour.

Corporations have awakened to the idea of free labour provided by the consumer.  Within the past decade, I saw the disappearance of full serve gas stations and bank tellers, accompanied by the proliferation of self-scanners and ATMs.  However, these cost-saving and profit-making measures impact the community at large. Fewer unskilled labour jobs affect the most vulnerable sections of society, making it difficult for these people to find meaningful employment. These services jobs are often filled by women, frequently mothers, the less educated, the young (high school and university students) and the old (retirees trying to supplement income).  As a result prosumption, these individuals endure great difficulty maintaining financial autonomy, which carries consequences for them and the society at large. Having seen the effect of early prosumption, I wonder what the societal consequences prosumption 2.0 carries. Already, journalists must surrender to bloggers who manage to get the story first and do not have to maintain the same journalistic integrity standards. Professional photographers, product reviewers, and make-up gurus alike feel a similar crunch, replaced by citizens willing to do their work for free.

However, do Web 2.0 users really complete their tasks for free? Ritzer and Jurgenson expressed that it is possible that prosumers are actually not exploited by the corporations who use them. I would like to build on that idea, and propose that prosumers are indeed paid, just not with monetary values. First, prosumers receive recognition for their efforts, which may quite possibly contribute to happiness more than money. Some prosumers rise above simple recognition and are vaulted to celebrity status, and enjoying numerous, and lucrative, benefits. Some users even receive record deals, job offers, though these are certainly the exception rather than the rule. Even bloggers with a relatively small following occasionally receive free samples, party invites, and other perks. However, users may be “paid” in other ways. The altruistic benefits may outweigh the potential monetary gains. Take Allie, the author of the blog Wardrobe Oxygen, for example, who receives hundreds of comments thanking her for tireless efforts to help “real women” dress better. Her followers express their gratitude for Allie’s sage and practical advice, while praising her daily outfit posts. Is it possible to assign a monetary value to these positive feelings?  While I do not have an answer, I do suggest that prosumption produces both positive and negative outcomes, and that the average citizen can only adjust their sails.

References:

Ritzer, G., & Jurgenson, N. (2010). Production, consumption, prosumption: The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer.’ The Journal of Consumer Culture, 10 (1), 13-36.

Re: Design

Websites are dynamic creations, not static fixtures. Unlike books, websites do not become revered in their old age. They do not ascend to the status of “classic” or become collector’s items. Instead, websites are valued on their ability to be up-to-date and current, constantly morphing and evolving to meet users’ ever-growing expectations.  Web designers must accept that what seems to be the perfect design today will be the laughably out-dated dinosaur of tomorrow. As such, continual web re-design is an unavoidable reality.

I took a critical look at my blog to see what aspects needed to change and what aspects should remain intact. In terms of overall design, I had the option to switch out the template. However, I feel that the current “Mystique” template still looks current. One idea to keep in mind when re-designing websites is consistency. Although it may be tempting to continually change the templates (a temptation made more attractive by its relative ease) this may not be the best course of action. Large visual changes should be occasional, not frequent, in order to maintain consistency and avoid user confusion. Similarly, large structural reorganizations should be kept to a minimum, so repeat visitors can easily navigate the site. I also considered changing the layout of my blog by removing the side panel, since it did not facilitate navigation that much. However, when I viewed the page without the panel, the text stretched from one side of the page to the other and seemed much too wide and unappealing to read. Therefore, I elected to keep the side panel.

I made several small changes to improve the usability and appeal of the site. I experimented with changing the colour of category cloud header and the title sub-heading from the colour purple to either red or blue. The red immediately clashed with the pink in the background, so I decided to forgo that option. Meanwhile, the blue did not standout against the background and seemed dull, so I decided against that colour choice as well. I eventually settled on the bright green colour because it stands out against the background without clashing with the other colours. Furthermore, the colour green is more gender neutral than the original pink-purple colour.  I also added an “origin” page to add more personality and salience to the blog. This helps create a “stickier” site as it gives users more content to explore. In addition, the image on the “origin” image is humorous, which might encourage users to share the content. Structurally, I added a tag cloud in the sidebar for better organization. Furthermore, I adjusted some settings to ensure that the posts appeared in reverse chronological order, which complies with the conventions and expectations associated with the blog genre. I feel that good website maintenance involves continual little changes that keep the site up to date while maintaining consistency.

 

Reflection 3: Caught in the Youtube Vortex

Manovich’s article, The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life, raises questions about the supposedly revolutionary nature of social media. While he acknowledges the transition from one-to-many to many-to-many broadcasting, he points out that the statistics show that the “many” producers may not be as many as popular commentators and academics assume. Manovich observes that even within the realm of democratized social media, it remains that large number of users access the content of a small number of producers. I feel this is especially evident among Youtubers, where a small number of producers gather subscribers, gaining celebrity status and reaping the profits. These Youtubers act similar to traditional media celebrities by holding meet and greets, signing autographs, and attracting huge crowds to their live appearances. As such, I agree that Youtube in particular is less about social activism and more about entertainment, as Manovich implies.

A cursory look at any high-profile Youtuber immediately enforces Manovich’s idea that social media producers follow the templates laid out by traditional media. I would like to further explore this idea as I believe the success of many high-profile Youtubers is based on their ability to mimic broadcast television. First, many Youtubers copy the structure of traditional television broadcasts. They produce and post content at regular intervals, typically once a week. Some Youtubers may also have multiple channels to appeal to a wider audience and provide more content. This echoes the popular trend for television channels to have offshoots, just like Much Music’s “Much More Music” channel.  In addition, the format of the videos themselves often follows the format of regular television shows.  Regularly produced Youtube shows often include an introduction clip which plays at the beginning of every video, and credits at the end. In addition, popular Youtubers frequently engage in strong branding efforts. In their videos, they develop catch-phrases and plug their upcoming content, and may even include trailers for their larger productions. Furthermore, Youtubers may customize the interface of their channel with personally branded imagery, and create t-shirts and other merchandise bearing their images and catch-phrases. Finally, Youtubers answer questions and fan mail. Clearly, many successful Youtubers have borrowed the strategies of traditional broadcasts to grow their fanbase and achieve notoriety.

I would like to look at (in)famous Youtuber Peter Chau,  known for his crass and candid comedy style, and examine how he uses strategies from traditional media to attract and trap viewers. His “weekly news round up” is very similar to comedy news shows, like the Daily Show or the Rick Mercer Report, where a single comedian pokes fun at events in the news. Like traditional news parodies, he relies on professional and traditional sources to provide content for his weekly program. He replicates the quality of professionally produced media by using HD cameras and editing software. He also uses strategies to build his brand by designing and giving away t-shirts, using theme music, answering fan and hate mail, and ending all his videos with his distinctive catchphrase: “stop drinking the haterade and start drinking the bubble tea.” Peter Chau has successfully employed traditional strategies to gain huge success online.

As Manovich pointed out, the social media revolution provides a new medium for budding entertainers whose popularity outstrips that of online activists. Youtube is frequently seen as a force of societal change and as a medium for social activism and free speech, where any individual can create a broadcast.  However, as the author shows, Youtube, although it has revolutionary potential is rather just an evolution of entertainment media. Clearly, Youtube mimics the successful patterns of mainstream broadcast media, complete with the annoying commercials and product placement.

References

Manovich, N. (2008). The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life. In Lovink, G., & Niederer, S. (Eds.), Video Vortex Reader: Responses to Youtube (33-44). Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Reflection 2: All in your head

Locker room jokes and advice columns alike take care to remind us that the biggest human sex organ is the brain. Nowhere is this more evident than the pervasive spread of internet pornography. Authors Lynn and Arvidsson emphasize that the mind plays an essential role in the appeal of online porn. With no physical contact, viewers rely on their visual and aural senses for stimulation. As such, porn is a psychological matter, not a physiological one. This fact alone is what causes porn to be such a controversial topic. Porn does not occupy physical space; it occupies mind space. The human mind is the last frontier, subject to influence but rarely conquered. Like any new world, danger lurks.

Brottman’s article delved into the havoc and terror caused by internet porn. As expected with the introduction of new technology, the internet stirred a great deal of fear-frenzy as its popularity and reach quickly outgrew its academic and military origins. Internet pornography, in particular arouses fear as frequently as it does carnal desire. It has been labelled addictive and psychologically harmful, destructive to the individual, the family, and the community at large. Worse, porn supposedly holds the power to turn ordinary human beings into brutal pedophiles and child predators. I cannot help but wonder who benefits from this radical condemnation of internet porn. Remember, internet porn is psychological. It has much less to do with moving pictures as it does with thoughts, feelings, and reactions. As such, controlling and censoring pornography is actually control and censorship of the mind. Dominant ideologies continue to condemn pornography presumably because it harms family values. No mother of five or father of two could possibly act as a responsible loving parent and enjoy pornography in the privacy of their own bedrooms.  Family and sexuality are seen as two mutually exclusive categories, conveniently ignoring the fact that sexuality is what leads to reproduction and the creation of families. Religious institutions are fearful of the fact that sexuality can prevail over faith, and that lustful desire will cause devotees to reject the religious norms that condemn sexuality. Sex, apparently, can undermine religious institutions. After all, controlling devotees’ sexuality ensures the building of faithful family units. Family units reproduce, creating the next generation of devotees. Furthermore, family units are easy to control. Lustful lovers? Not so much. Women especially must be carefully constrained as they are the producers of these religious heirs. If women were to explore their sexuality, they might become promiscuous and disrupt the family unit. As such, women’s sexual liberation has been slow. Internet pornography is just another step in this process, although “women’s liberation” and “male-dominated bondage” may be difficult to equate, the link remains. Even when women are viewed as exploited through pornography, they are exercising their sexual autonomy beyond the sanctioned act of pure reproduction. Internet pornography, as contradictory as it may seem, is a rebellion as against control, and remains a forbidden frontier where individuals’ minds are free to explore.

References

Arvidsson, A. (2007). Netporn: The work of fantasy in the information society. In Jacobs, K., Janssen, & Pasquinelli (Eds.), C’Lick Me: A netporn studies reader (69-76). Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Brottman, M. (2007).Urband legends, moral panics, and the dark side of the net. In Jacobs, K., Janssen, & Pasquinelli (Eds.), C’Lick Me: A netporn studies reader (69-76). Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Lynn, R. (2007). Sex drive: Where sex and tech come together. In Jacobs, K., Janssen, & Pasquinelli (Eds.), C’Lick Me: A netporn studies reader (7-16). Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Reflection 1: Status, homogeneity, and misbehaviour online

Rosen’s article examines how individuals create status on social networking sites. He discusses how individuals internalize norms, use vulgarity to grab attention, and aggressively recruit online friends. I would like to focus on the relationship between two important concepts Rosen discusses, public exhibitionism and the proliferation of uniqueness, and how they relate to status building.

Rosen raises the idea that on social networking sites “private misbehaviour becomes public exhibitionism” (Rosen,2007, p.26).  However, what need does posting private, often potentially embarrassing, information online fulfill? Although often associated with pictures of drunken folly, the disclosure personal information can include writing rants, posting passive aggressive threats, or bragging of misbehaviour through status updates and comments. Individuals continue with such misbehaviour, despite the potentially harmful consequences. Do individuals not worry about how other’s will view them, including prospective employers? My belief is that online shamelessness actually relates to individuals views of online privacy. A recent study showed that the primary reason people post private information online (such as address, birthday, and contact information) that could lead to harms such as identity theft or stalking, is the belief that it won’t happen to them. Individuals may feel protected by social guidelines and the (somewhat mistaken) idea that “what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook.” Given the consequence, the motivation to publicise “private misbehaviour” must be quite strong. Attention grabbing photos and text will likely receive a sizable reaction from their audience, resulting in comments, likes, and online gasps of disbelief. Social networking sites then become a medium for bragging. In the same way that a young boy might boast in the schoolyard about how he swiped another’s toy, some people use sites like Facebook to build their status and identity in a similar way. They also feel protected from consequences because they are only bragging to their “friends” and make use of privacy settings to ensure only the right people learn of their misbehaviour.

Rosen also describes the “overwhelmingly dull sea of monotonous uniqueness, of conventional individuality, of distinctive sameness” that appears on social networking sites (Rosen, 2007, p.24). This stems from the strong pressure for users not to be viewed as “followers”, despite the immense pressure to conform. This sentiment is echoed in the advertising slogan of today, where individuals are encouraged to “express their style” or “be their own person.”  However, this is not real individuality. Social networking, like their marketing companions, sells the illusion of individuality, constrained to pre-determined parameters or genres. True individuality cannot be expressed on a social network because the very act of being on a social network is an act of conforming. The apparent irony of the proliferation of uniqueness comes to like when you look at the homogenous displays of public exhibition. Even the seemingly shy or reserved individual will occasionally submit to the desire of online limelight, though it might be a subtler form. Public exhibition can be found in a number of genres, from “mirror pics” to the ubiquitous “I’m having fun at a party and I’m a little bit drunkkkk” picture. As such, the posting of “misbehaviour pictures” is a way of reaffirming that their misbehaviour is actually acceptable behaviour, and they are simply conforming to social expectations.

Works Cited

Rosen, C. (2007,Summer). Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism. The New Atlantis (17), 15-31.

Internet culture in the news

From Sad Keanu to Lame Puncoon, internet memes have overtaken the internet. These pictures, and their often hilarious, sometime nonsensical, captions have swept across the web, spawning an army of websites dedicated to gathering and disseminating these memes (if you’re curious, check out http://www.memebase.com). This latest internet trend has not gone unnoticed by the researchers of the world. According to an article in London’s Independent, academia recognized Internet memes as a valid field of study when Master’s student Kate Miltner submitted her dissertation on the audience behaviour of LOLcat users. I feel this article is important because it acknowledges internet memes, often dismissed as asinine and irrational, as a legitimate source of culture. Although the authors of the article still appear doubtful to the legitimacy of Miltner’s field of study, I believe that memes provide a great deal of insight into the attitudes and beliefs of internet users. In addition, they are a powerful example of collective creativity and culture building, where meaning is created and changed through every new version of a meme. While taking a look at this article, keep an eye open for the author’s biases. What does this tell us about how internet memes, and the people who research them, are viewed?

View it here! http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/memes-take-a-look-at-miaow-2356797.html

Welcome

Dear Reader,

Welcome to WordArt Demon, where we explore design from both a practical and theoretical perspective. New posts appear at the top of the bag. Just click on the title to see the latest addition. I look forward to reading your comments and suggestions. Enjoy!

Introductions.

Welcome to WordArt Demon. This blog will provide a platform where I will publish my reflections on various web design topics for my third year communication class at UOIT. As an interactive medium, I hope my peers will take advantage of the comment sections to provide constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. I look forward to filling this space soon!

What’s in a name?

What on earth is the WordArt Demon? Those who remember earlier versions of Microsoft Word will recall “Word Art.” This handy little feature allowed you to create custom text, often in varying degrees of tackiness: rainbow fonts, arching and dipping titles, or, for extra effect, 3-D text. Word Art could be seen on garage sale flyers, grade 9 science projects, and book report title pages. Perhaps its modern kin would be sparkling animated kitten gif. This blog hopes to help the average person dodge design monsters like the WordArt demon by simplifying web design theories into digestible ideas and examples.

The Medium is the Message.

I choose WordPress because it is a platform that I am familiar with, having used it twice before. I have gotten to know the Dashboard and some of its quirks. WordPress comes equipped with clean and simple templates that are easy to apply with the click of a button, and allow for moderate customization with their free offer. For my website, I choose the Mystique WordPress theme. This theme came with several desirable features: customizable colour scheme, six different layouts, and unique social networking tabs. I find the textured background visually pleasing: it provides a pattern without being overwhelming or distracting to the content. I also feel the rainbow colour explosion header prevents this theme from simply being another boring minimalist theme. The pairing of rainbow colours and black balances nicely, preventing the appearance from being too perky (and difficult to take seriously) or too sombre (and somewhat depressing). In addition, this template comes with an easy-to-read font, which is a vital component to good design. The font is also sans seriff, which seems to be trendy right now. Although bowing to trends can appear unoriginal, it can help a site appear modern and up-to-date.

Text, Tone and Technicalities  

The overall tone of the website is meant to be inviting, from the cheerful colour scheme to the somewhat cheeky line at the top of the website, cautioning visitors to “beware of the WordArt Demon.” This playfulness will be reflected in the writing, which will be a mix between an academic and relaxed tone. I hope to be able to interpret academic material into readable, enjoyable blog posts. At the moment, my website is fairly compact. As more content is added, the number of pages and posts will grow, and may necessitate a layout revision. The top bar allows plenty of space for expansion, as does the side bar. As the structure of our assignments requires us to look at the most current post, I included a “sticky” feature that ensures the latest posts stays at the top of the page, and includes an eye-catching header. I anticipate making design changes throughout the semester to ensure maximum enjoyablity for readers.