Power and Culture on the Internet, and Saving College Radio

13168201HOW has the Internet changed our culture, politics, and economic structures? One of the smartest answers to this complicated question comes from lefty filmmaker Astra Taylor. I spoke to Taylor, who also has a foot in the indie-rock world, about her new book The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age.

Here‘s my interview. And here’s how we lead off

So there have been a number of cautionary books about the Internet already, some of them quite good. What story did you think that we weren’t hearing about the effects of technology?

I definitely thought there was something missing, a critique or an analysis that really emphasized the economic underpinnings of this technological transformation; what I thought was missing, to use the academic phase, was a political economy of new media. And in that sense there wasn’t a book written for a popular audience that was a left critique of the Internet. Because there was Nicholas Carr’s good book “The Shallows,” which I actually quite liked. And Jaron Lanier’s more eccentric and interesting books. But they’re not leftist manifestos.

I felt like there’s something missing from those books too, about the continuation of not just economic hierarchies, which of course I’m paying attention to, because that’s what political economy is all about, but also social hierarchies… And so I do think there’s something about being a leftist but also just being a feminist that puts a different twist on this.

Will try to fill this in a bit more. For now, please read my interview — and check out Taylor’s important book.

ALSO: One of the groups doing the best work to help creative types negotiate the new landscape is the Future of Music Coalition. We disagree on some matters, but FMC — founded by genuine ’90s indie rockers — does invaluable research on the lives and careers of musicians today, among things.

A new essay on FMC’s website looks at a subject close to our heart here at CultureCrash — college radio. “Solid Advice on Saving College Radio” is largely about an exhibit put on by the University of Maryland’s station, FMUC, a station that struggled mightily when its funding was slashed in 2011. But the piece also looks at the role of college stations in the 21st century, as commercial radio gets even worse, and during which

college radio is under new pressures, as short-sighted college administrators slash station budgets, sometimes even selling off licenses in an attempt to overcome financial shortfalls. And some college stations have drifted from their historic mission and closely emulate commercial radio, or aren’t even staffed by students.

The essay closes with some pragmatic steps on how these stations can survive these rough times. I’ll point out at the stations run by Wesleyan University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Loyola Marymount University have brought me huge doses of pleasure at various points of my life.

FINALLY: Enjoyed reading this story re the musical influences on Nels Cline (lately of Wilco), including late, great jazz guitarist Jim Hall.







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  1. says

    The Internet disrupted journalism, but it didn’t disrupt advertising. – Astra Taylor

    I am going to buy her book. We need a history of how the World Wide Web radically changed during the period from about 1995 to 2005. In 1995, I began using the Internet to spread articles about the Vienna Philharmonic’s exclusion of women and non-Caucasians. The principle forum for the Internet at the time was email discussion lists. In a word, my posts about the orchestra went viral. People forwarded them to countless email lists and created a large movement in the media and in women’s groups that forced the orchestra to admit women in 1997.

    The Internet’s anarchic, borderless character allowed for new forms of protest and distribution of information and viewpoints that were earlier not accessible to the disempowered. Blogs, Google and Amazon did not exist. Very few papers had websites including the NY and LA Times. The email lists were populated by a lot of academics and the level of discussion was fairly high by today’s standards. There was basically no such thing as anonymous commentary in these discussions. To advertise or merchandize anything was considered poor “Netiquette” – a term hardly even remembered today.

    Unfortunately, it was exactly due to this borderless, anarchic, ethos that the Internet was easily subsumed by free-market ideologies. The financial and media interests of society, were given powerful new tools to shape cultural values on a global scale. The Web 2.0 became a powerful tool for social engineering.

    The result is something that might described under the rubric of behavioral economics. Through monitoring our Internet activity, the web learns in detail what each individual wants. It then markets it to that specific individual. In terms of media like film and music, it even presents it as an instantaneous, on-demand product.

    The means the idea of mass marketing to a general public is more and more obsolete. And that means the kinds of cultural experiences designed for large gatherings of people are becoming obsolete. In the 20th century, we moved from the local public of the theater to the mass public of the cinema. Now in the 21st century, we are moving from the mass public of the cinema to individuals in their living rooms. This allows for marketing that is both massive and individually tailored at the same time.

    This kind of behavioral economics for individuals utilized on massive scales has become the new medium of social engineering. It will also becoming the principle working method of the arts. New genres will evolve where artworks will be delivered to massive numbers of people, but tailor for each individual.

    The next phase after behavioral economics will thus become biological economics. The web will not only determine individual interests and provide them as an on-demand product. New technologies will evolve that will allow the web to measure the individual’s reactions to the product in real time while experiencing it, and alter the experience in real time to further enhance it to what will essentially be hallucinogenic levels.

    By knowing all of our desires, the web’s behavioral economics fulfills our dreams. Someday, the bio economics of the web will not only fulfill our dreams, it will invade and become our dreams. Every level of human consciousness will be controlled and manipulated for the sake of the marketplace.

    I hope people like Astra can lead us to a less dystopian vision.

    • says

      Just to explain a bit, while watching a “film” (though it will only be loosely related to that ancient genre) the webcam on your computer will monitor your pupil dilations, the micro-stigmoidal movements of your eyes, your facial expressions, your body movements, breath rates, etc. It will also look around your house and monitor your habits and interests. Your mouse will measure the galvanic skin responses on your fingers, the nervous movements of your wrist, the speed of your actions. Devices perhaps built into the frame of your monitor or webcam will read heart and brain wave patterns. The viewer’s sexual stimulation, levels of tension, relaxation, anxiety, bemusement, etc. will all be read in real time. The course of the “film,” its tempos, its plots and sub plots, it characters, and scenario will all alter in real time to move the biological responses to the desired levels and create an ever more intense experience. Just like the genetic analysis of music used by Pandora Radio, the physiological and psychological responses of the consumer will be read and through software analysis reduced to precise predictions of behavior for the service of the marketplace.

      It’s a dystopian vision to illustrate the invasiveness of the web’s behavioral economics and how it is evolving toward bio-economics. The problem is, it might be more than just be a metaphorical fantasy.

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