The Post Information Age

It is now 2011, not 2001, not 1991, but 2011 and soon this year too shall pass….

This generation’s technical revolution was not broadcast on TV.  The rhizomatic growth and distribution of information over the past 10 years has been a phenomenon.  This growth has created new social and cultural practices by the young and old alike.  In this article, I would like to propose that there are fundamental changes that have taken place over the past years and I will share examples of such changes.  The areas I will discuss are:

  • The Google generation
  • Media Distribution- Beyond Copyright and Closed Publishing systems
  • The sixth layer of the Internet (the cultural network)

Each section will cover evolutionary events and changes that have taken place to change the trajectory of each field for ever.

 

The Google Generation

It is 2011, and in this post information age the ability to think analytically and creatively at the same time are at the heart of this revolution.  Before, when you would become interested in a topic, such as when I was 14 and became interested in stereos, I would maybe search yahoo.com for limited information about stereos and my father would purchase books for me to read.  This can be, and is, still a social practice.  However, this informational data grab is now a fluid motion.  Ones ability to cognitively associate search engines as ways of quickly gathering and sorting information is astonishing.  The ability to not only do it textually, but aurally, visually and with video is taking this information revolution in directions that have been predicted as happening and often with the modern twists Hollywood predicted, such as the recent Samsung iPad debacle from the movie 2001.

Whenever I begin the academic semester now, I start with my “Google” talk, one which I formulated after I saw how all the “Genius” students in my classes (and colleagues) are using post information data acquisition and analysis in order to create new and different ways of “making stuff”.

Note, if you are reading this in 2022, you will find this method laughable, however, for now though it is “new” to many.  I explain to my students that skill sets are no longer learned through books, but through the ability to assemble ad-hoc networks of information through various mediums and sources.  Now this sounds very old fashioned, many intellectuals might even refer to this act as rudimentary research skills.  However, it is the speed, open architecture of knowledge resources (i.e. the internet, wikipedia, etc.) and fluid relationship that students and people in general have with information being provided to them that has revolutionized the way in which we think about being “a genius”.

For example, one student I had this past Spring 2011, Phillip James, approached me during my office hours and began discussing possible projects he could work on for class.  Now Phillip has a knack for making video and an ability to sort through information at a rapid rate, a product of the “Google Generation” for sure.  Now what makes him an interesting example, was that I could literally tell him about a cultural or technological product and he could quickly ingest the material at a rate that would put him close to on par with experts.

One such example is when I told him about the Arduino, an inexpensive DIY micro controller board.  I sent him a text and told him to look them up.  The next morning he came by my office and was speaking arduino jargon to me.  Within the next week he told me that he had picked a project, refused to tell me about it, but only that it would blow my mind.

The next project presentation day he showed up with a card board box and a USB stick. He loads a power point and a couple of videos onto the computer and then pulls out a camera with a bunch of stuff around it to show off. He then gives a fully documented presentation about a Wireless Follow Focus System he built out of a hobby servo, some wires, an Arduino and a lot of internet searching. He references the open source software, the forums and the wiki’s he read to create a work flow for which he could build his project. He then gives an in class demonstration, notes that he has posted a video summary on Vimeo and had already received over 3,000 views within the first week.  Within a month he was on a music video set using it in practice.  Here are the two videos:

Arduino Wireless Follow Focus from Phillip James on Vimeo.

Arduino Wireless Follow Focus In Action from Phillip James on Vimeo.

Another example of the “Google Generation” is Christian Rios  a student who had an idea for a social network that pertained to just the students of a university. Now how original is that idea? It was not original, but it still held value, he saw a void in the post information landscape for a space where students from the university could talk in a 21st century quasi private online space, something facebook no longer offers as the network is so interwoven with multiple social networks.  This networks purpose was to build a student driven space to build school spirit and community. Christian was not a computer science major, nor a business major, but a convergent media major, a blend of business, computer information systems, audio, video production and core communication theory. His background made it very easy for him to find hosting, register a domain name, track down an open source social media network management system, as well as host the site under creative commons licensing. All within a week. The development and learning curve was astonishing to watch. I also noticed an ability of he and his peers to take words of wisdom’s from all sorts of mediums, whether it was reading blogs, wiki’s, watching youtube videos, they would ride the digital wave as if it were there their whole lives. They watched PBS’s documentary Triumph of the Nerds, they read status.net‘s wiki pages (an open source twitter like social network software) and surfed the net in general for tips and tricks to making their ideas come to fruition. And when they hit road blocks they would go “into the meat” aka go ask for assistance from professors, professionals and amateurs alike. For example, the student who made the social network actually found out about the open source project after asking Brandon Wiley, a speaker who had come to the campus and talked about open source anonymity projects. Mr. Wiley told Christian about a project his friends were working on called status.net and before I knew it there he was with an instance running on his server. And the conversation that Christian had was not with Mr. Wiley over the phone, but through texts and Facebook conversations. A new way of meat mediated intellectual exchange. They also talked about Xbox gamer tags, which turned out to be a common interest.

Christian Presenting to the General Assembly

 

Christian then took his idea to the student general assembly, gave a full presentation and gained the support of the student body.  uiwsocial.com is now in it’s infancy having only been live for about 2 weeks and is growing at a rapid rate.

These two examples are just that, examples. As I write this others are building out this post information space, giving us just that much more meta data for which we build off of.

This generation’s ability to quickly build out information networks is at their finger tips.

In many of my courses, on the first day, I now ask specific questions about protocols and specifications to my classes, not because I expect them to know the answers. I want to see how they react to such questions when prompted, how long it takes for them to reach for the mouse and keyboard and begin building their learning narrative to find the specifications and protocols. How quickly they are able to contextualize such information and make it into usable tangible goods.

This new age of post information is one that is truly bringing a new type of social, cultural and techno experience to our world.

Media Distribution

Media distribution in the Post Information Age is something that in 2011 is still in the “gold rush” stage. Many people want to understand it, few understand and even fewer are capitalizing on it. Within just ten years we have seen all major forms of media distributions be called into question and most obliterated by what the 20th century distributors thought was merely a pesky techno blip on their radar, aka the internet. Print was the first to fall, followed by Music, then Movies and now TV. They all took a defensive approach to the issues the internet brought upon them. Their distribution systems were brought to their knees. The way in which old media would create false markets and scarcity crumbled at their finger tips. The media companies of the 20th century overzealously decided that the best bet for them was to sue in-fringers of their distribution systems and try to maintain these systems of scarcity, where in reality they were losing their distribution systems of scarcity to the digital age where distribution of perfect copies were common place.  In the software and internet worlds, copying and imitation are prevalent and something that this “new” tech industry was used to.  The media distributors of the 20th century had lost sight of this.

In their places, in parallel to their demise arose other stake holders of a 21st century media distribution. These meta savvy companies saw beyond the steam boat distribution systems the 20th century distribution systems were based on and looked at silicon valley and other newer information and user experience systems for inspiration. Napster.com, LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP), MP3, Bittorrent, The Pirate Bay, Youtube.com, Facebook.com and Apple.com, these companies, online movements and open source developments, plus many more for which I am failing to mention, have agilely adapted to create a new sea for which media distribution can occur in the 21st century.

The companies created analytics that traditional media companies could only dream of. Also, through the use of the “long tail” model they have been able to capitalize on fronts that traditional, top down approaches stifle.

For these new systems of media distribution, the source of new media and content is no longer relevant. If it has internet cultural value, it will be distributed. The barriers to entry have fallen.

An early deeply rooted example of this movement was DJ Danger Mouse’s Grey Album. An album that, before this Post Information Age, was legally unable to be produced due to copyright and other technicalities. DJ Danger Mouse blended the Beatles’ White Album and Jay Z’s Black Album, two mainstream artists who were rooted in the traditional media world. The lore goes that DJ Danger Mouse had made the mix for friends and the next thing you know, the mix went online and the rest is history. By the next year we saw Jay Z and Paul McCartney up on stage performing a DJ Danger Mouse Grey album mix.

It should be noted that DJ Danger Mouse made no money off of the album, nor did Jay-Z or the Beatles. This lack of revenue is something that bothered traditional media, yet inspired the new generation of content makers and people of the Creative Commons licensing movement.   For a rounded and interesting non-traditional media take on the early happenings of media distribution on the internet please check out Good Copy, Bad Copy, an independent documentary about copyright and file trading.

In 2011, the modes of media distribution are now even stronger.  Two dominant players in this field of distribution are Apple and Google.  These two companies took what traditional media deemed a problem and monetized it.

Apple introduced the iPod ten years ago in 2001, and has since built an empire out of the “i”.  Their latest offering is iCloud, a system that puts all your media and documents on the internet’s “cloud” so you no longer even have to think of your media as being in your pocket, as much as being network accessible.  Their evolution of the iTunes store from a limited label store to having the ability to harness a brand power that was able to attract even Apple Records to allow the Beatles to be distributed on their digital store front has been amazing.  It shows their progression, but even in 2011 this feat sounds trivial due to the ease for which major labels now use digital media distribution.  Like Youtube, iTunes has garnered the long and short tail markets, making it a premiere place to buy all type of music and media, even electronic books.

Google’s approach has seemed more subtle to the consumer, mainly building out their search business and b2b market, while acquiring and developing 21st century media distribution systems, such as Google Docs, YouTube, Google Earth, Google Wave (RIP), Google + , Orkut, Google Adsense and Google Analytics.  It is when all of these technologies are combined that the sum of the parts begin to be greater then the parts themselves.  Google has been a paragon of the Post Information, quickly gathering and analytically distributing media, geographical, cultural and social information in ways only a handful of theorists have imaged (though it should be noted people like Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Arthur C. Clark and many other core theorists/sci fi writers have made these predictions) and even fewer have actually capitalized on.

2011 Digital Media Distribution Examples

Here are two examples of how digital media in the 21st century are harnessing the post information age to create new ways of thinking about media distribution and social/cultural crowd building.

Mac Miller

Mac Miller, a Pittsburgh rapper, as of Oct 28th has yet to release an album on a major label, but currently has over 120 million views on his music videos on youtube.com and over 1 million followers on twitter.  On March 3rd 2011, he released Donald Trump, a song that when it hit 20 million views, Donald Trump himself tweeted about it.  He is a 19 year old with a passion and way of getting his message out. Now will a major label pick him up? Who knows, and does that mean he will have made it? Or has he already made it?

(Knock Knock by Mac Miller, a modern take on a sock hop)

Skrillex

Another 21st century artist is Skrillex, a Dubstep artist who, interestingly enough, many say has sold out, who until recently had not even released an album on a label and had just been playing live shows and releasing his work on Beatport.com, a website for DJs. If you look him up on youtube you will quickly see quirky interviews with him, his songs (for which some have over 40 million views) and clips of him playing live. Like Mac Miller he is also a big twitter user with over 400,000 followers.

In this post information age, the idea of “making it” has become relative to what is of value to you.  The idea of a star is now relative, if it is about money and fame, I think the CEO’s of the bank institutions are the winners, pulling in close to 10 million dollars a month, compared to most stars careers of 3-100 million dollars over a life time.  The “aura” of media production in the 21st century has changed, much like the age of  mechanical reproduction in the 20th Century.

This ability to quickly make and distribute music at this rate is truly a wild wave to watch from my vantage point. The way the cultural waves flow on the internet are almost becoming like weather patterns in that you can get a forecast, but you will never know for sure.

In the 90’s, during the building of our information wealth, pay per click, digital rights management and other monetization of the information age were debated and constructed. In the past 10 years, these theories, have turned into practice, a cultural way. Some have failed (like DRM) and others have succeeded such as pay per click (For example Google Adsense). Other more controlled markets, such as NetFlix and Hulu are hybrids of the post information age and traditional media distribution. They hold large amounts of top curve content (i.e. mainstream content) and distribute it in a very traditional way over new media networks, such as the PC, the xBox, Sony PS3 and Smart phones like the iPhone.

The Sixth Layer of the Internet.

In 1995, America Online charged 9.95 for 5 hours of internet access and 2.95 per extra hour. So a typical 40 hours of 2011 weekly access would cost roughly $113 dollars or $467 dollars for month. And remember, that is all at dial-up speeds!

Fast forward to present day and we are now paying not for time, but bandwidth. The information scarcity is no longer an issue, it is not limited to AOL’s limited content offering, but a rhizomatic mesh mash of websites, video services, audio services, social networks and more. The playing field has become so vast, currently few stake holders have all of our attention, with Facebook, google and yahoo being the top contenders… And Facebook is a social media website that uses the “sixth layer” of the Internet to exist.

What is the 6th layer?

The 6th layer of the internet is what I refer to as “the cultural consciousness of the people”. This layer is much like the weather as described earlier. It is where Kraidy, Straubaar, Stone, Star and other great post modern cultural theorists have been predicting a global village, a space for rizomatic cultural interaction. In 2011 we currently live in a space where the internet wizards are not even Facebook, twitter or 4chan. These Are the 5th layer, the application level. It is the people on these networks, the other 5 layers of the Internet have created a new user, they have created the 6th layer.

In the 60’s,70′,80’s,90’s and 2000’s and even today people have been waiting for the human to be jacked in to the VR. However, this is a missed boat… Tron was not the future, nor Blade Runner. It is simpler, it is us, the “normal” humans. We are the ones slowly being turned into a new being, with satellite technology, GPS, fluid interfacing and social media and medical meta metrics being able to be created in real time, our world has become its own virtual space.

The sixth layer has created the narrative for this VR/Meat world. Such narratives include the intellectual creative class causing civil unrest.

My main example for this discussion of civil unrest begins with /b.  A forum on 4chan.com. A website originally developed to discuss Japan animation and manga. However the sub section named B changed that for ever. As Brandon Wiley, my internetz colleague said, “it is kind of the toilet bowl of the Internet”. In my opinion it is the the epidemy of the post information age. A cryptic cynister place where tricksters, jokers, hackers and the culturally postmodern post information age users reside.

Through this network, such infamous groups have emerged like Annoymous, Lulzsec and the Occupy Movement (in 2011 these groups made some noise, look them up).  This new layer of the internet is one that calls into questions many of the social, cultural and economical practices of our past generation’s actions and are laying out the rhizomatic foundation for the future.

These groups are constantly being analyzed and looked to for cultural, social, and economic patterns.  The sixth layer at this point is where the “black box” is still open.  It will quickly close however.  Rules, regulations, laws (SOPA for example) and cultural norms will soon be applied and integrated to it.  Much like how the first Ethernet protocols were established for the first layer of the internet.  The time to play in the sixth layer’s playground is coming to a close.

 

 

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