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Day: April 12, 2017

The power of networks: distributed journalism, meme warfare, and collective intelligence

These are the slides for what was perhaps my favorite lecture so far in BCM112. The lecture has three distinct parts, presented by myself and my PhD students Doug Simkin and Travis Wall. I opened by building on the previous lecture which focused on the dynamics of networked participation, and expanded on the shift from passive consumption to produsage. The modalities of this shift are elegantly illustrated by the event-frame-story structure I developed to formalize the process of news production [it applies to any content production]. The event stage is where the original footage appears – it often is user generated, raw, messy, and with indeterminate context. The frame stage provides the filter for interpreting the raw data. The story stage is what is produced after the frame has done its work. In the legacy media paradigm the event and frame stages are closed to everyone except the authority figures responsible for story production – governments, institutions, journalists, academics, intellectuals, corporate content producers. This generates an environment where authority is dominant, and authenticity is whatever authority decides – the audience is passive and in a state of pure consumption. In the distributed media paradigm the entire process is open and can be entered by anyone at any point – event, frame, or story. This generates an environment where multiple event versions, frames, and stories compete for produser attention on an equal footing.

These dynamics have profound effects on information as a tool for persuasion and frame shifting, or in other words – propaganda. In legacy media propaganda is a function of the dynamics of the paradigm: high cost of entry, high cost of failure, minimum experimentation, inherent quality filter, limited competition, cartelization with limited variation, and an inevitable stagnation.

In distributed media propaganda is memes. Here too propaganda is a function of the dynamics of the paradigm, but those are characterized by collective intelligence as the default form of participation in distributed networks. In this configuration users act as a self-coordinating swarm towards an emergent aggregate goal. The swarm has an orders of magnitude faster production time than the legacy media. This results in orders of magnitude faster feedback loops and information dissemination.

The next part of the lecture, delivered by Doug Simkin, focused on a case study of the /SG/ threads on 4chan’s /pol/ board as an illustration of an emergent distributed swarm in action. This is an excellent case study as it focuses on real-world change produced with astonishing speed in a fully distributed manner.

The final part of the lecture, delivered by Travis Wall, focused on a case study of the #draftourdaughters memetic warfare campaign, which occurred on 4chan’s /pol/ board in the days preceding the 2016 US presidential election. This case study is a potent illustration of the ability of networked swarms to leverage fast feedback loops, rapid prototyping, error discovery, and distributed coordination in highly scalable content production.

Trajectories of convergence I: user empowerment, information access, and networked participation

These are slides from a lecture I delivered in the fifth week of BCM112, building on open-process arguments conceptualized in a lecture on the logic and aesthetics of digital production. My particular focus in this lecture was on examining the main dynamics of the audience trajectory in the process of convergence. I develop the conceptual frame around Richard Sennet’s notion of dialogic media as ontologically distinct from monologic media, where the latter render a passive audience as listeners and consumers, while the former render conversational participants. I then build on this with Axel Bruns’ ideas on produsage [a better term than prosumer], and specifically his identification of thew new modalities of media in this configuration: a distributed generation of content, fluid movement of produsers between roles, digital artefacts remaining open and in a state of indeterminacy, and permissive ownership regimes enabling continuous collaboration. The key conceptual element here is that the entire chain of the process of production, aggregation, and curation of content is open to modification, and can be entered at any point.

The Medium is the Message II: craft, and the logic of digital making

Following from the opening lecture for BCM112, in which I laid the foundation for approaching digital media convergence from a McLuhan perspective,  these are the prezi slides for the follow-up lecture focusing on the logic of digital production. I open the lecture with a fairly dense conceptual frame establishing the logic of craft and production in digital media, and then follow this up with a range of examples focusing on the aesthetics of glitch, hyper kawaii, vaporwave, and Twitch mess. Again, I build up the concept frame as a shift from the industrial logic of the assembly line to the internet’s logic of mass-customization, where the new aesthetic form is characterized by rapid prototyping, experimentation, rapid error discovery, and open-process mods leading to unexpected outcomes . The key element of this logic-frame is that the openness of the process of digital making – all aspects of the object are open for modification even after release – leads to an emergent unpredictability of the end-result [there is no closure], and a resultant risk embedded in the process. This state of indeterminacy is how digital craft operates, and it is the risky openness that generates the new aesthetic of the medium.

The Medium is the Message I: trajectories of convergence

These are the prezi slides for my opening lecture in BCM112 Convergent Media Practices [live twitter #bcm112 hashtag]. The lecture is an introduction to the state of play in digital media, and specifically the open-ended process of media convergence as mapped by Henry Jenkins. I use McLuhan’s work as a basic frame of reference through which to analyze the process, while focusing on the three distinct trajectories of audiences, industries, and platforms. It is a dual-layered analysis, where the interplay between the three trajectories drives the dynamics of the process, and changes in media platforms act as phase transitions shifting the process on another plane. I am illustrating this dynamic with a number of examples, ranging from papyrus to codex and hypertext, to the shift from newspaper to radio, and of course – the internet.