“What’s using who?”

The lines between human tasks and computer task, let alone human capabilities and computer capabilities, are not always clear. When the human brain can be viewed as performing computations, and computers are “learning” and categorizing knowledge, it seems artificial to attempt to separate our tasks from one another. The idea of human computation provides important insight into that symbiotic relationship.

While human computation refers to tasks computers cannot yet perform, the “yet” becomes very important. The idea of human computation is that one day, computers might solve these problems in a way that need not be mediated. The fact that the effort to seek out human contribution for specific tasks further reinforces current symbiotic human/computer dynamic that exists. Since the computer is an extension of us as much as we are an extension of it, it is both tool and machine: we create the parameters in which it functions, and in turn, we are given parameters in which to function. Because human computation is generally a task aimed at eliminating bias, we can see that there is a mechanization of human processes.

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What human computation ultimately sheds light upon is what we consider to be “human” tasks. One complicated example would be that of translation. While a computer may be able to translate, in the most basic sense of the word, some might argue that this is not translation at all. An interpreter or professional translator is one who takes artistic liberties to remain as faithful to the words or sentiments of the original as possible. Though our emotions and power of interpretation make us very “human”, our sight is perhaps our most valuable tool in human computation. Our brain’s training in identification and abstract thinking make us well-suited to certain seemingly mundane identification tasks that computers cannot yet perform.

 

Crowdsourcing: Domino’s and The Modern Business Model

Domino’s has set up their website as a substitute for traditional call-in services, which we may feel is for our (the consumer’s) benefit. It is in fact an example of a decision that provides the company with valuable information from a wide array of consumers, and such a process reflects some of the processes/values of crowdsourcing. Above all, the consumer is allowed (and encouraged) into the process of “value creation”, where this is shaped by personal customization and taste, rather than previous systems used to define value.

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One is able to select from a range of “themes” to track the order. While the stages of tracking that show up on your screen may actually just be arbitrary, they still give a sense of control (as well as amusement) to the consumer over their product.

Letting the Domino’s customer into that process of value creation is useful from the company’s perspective because:

– It allows advertisement for new products to be easily accessible to the customer, making the new product’s acclamation to the existing menu more natural while also appearing more “new and exciting” than it may be (like the new “pan pizza”)

– The interactive “make your own pizza” component makes you feel like you have more control over your pizza than ever before (as you can choose which side you want which ingredients, or even how much of them you’d like)

– It reduces the amount of labor needed to take in orders, and thus can reduce the number of employees

– It provides the company with data about ordering habits and preferences, in order to better anticipate a successful future product

– Online reviews from consumers may influence the products (especially if they cluster)

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Crowdsourcing thus changes the dynamic between producer and consumer, disrupting the industrial-age (and early post-industrial age) notion that production to consumption is a static, unilinear process. Instead, the “prosumer” plays a role in shaping the products he/she is receiving, as there is a new dynamic relationship formed with the producer. Often times, companies with specific tasks will solicit the greater public’s help. Crowdsourcingthus  operates to connect people in unique and highly effective ways, while simultaneously keeping them apart.

MARKETING A “MUSIC EXPERIENCE” (Part 3): NoiseTrade

At first glance NoiseTrade just seems like an incredible resource to get free music legally for the fan, and to connect to your fan base or potential fans for the artist. The website is set up around the philosophy that sharing music for free is in everyone’s best interest: fans get the satisfaction of paying what they feel is fair, while the artist will benefit from the goodwill their “gift” will generate, ultimately increasing fan fidelity, record sales and concert attendance.  While NoiseTrade does all of this effectively, there seems to be a grander ideological and socio-political agenda behind it.

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“You can always trust the Devil or a politician/To be the Devil or a politician” – “A Savior On Capitol Hill”, Derek Webb

One of the founders, artist Derek Webb, is credited with launching the project in response  to his “experiment” of making one of his albums “for free online, asking in return for a little information (name, email address, and postal code), and as part of the process for fans to invite their friends to download as well” (NoiseTrade website). In theory, the website combats the practice of “punishing fans for sharing music with their friends” and instead aims to “reward them for it” (NoiseTrade website).

However, taking a quick look at the artists that populate the site, we can see an interesting pattern emerge. Christian and Gospel music is very prominently featured. There are over 34 pages of artists described as “Christian/Gospel” which comes out to approximately 1361 artists. Though the “Alternative” category also contains about 34 pages (perhaps 4 or 5 artists less), it includes many artists that would surely overlap into the previously mentioned category, like Jars of Clay for example.

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Once I did a little Wikipedia research on Mr. Webb, this felt less and less surprising. Having “six #1 Christian radio hits”, several “Dove Awards”, being married to Sandra McCracken (whose only song I’ve heard is “Jesus The Lord My Savior Is”), and having endorsed Ron Paul make Derek Webb an important character in determining who NoiseTrade’s intended audience is, or who this format is intended on attracting. “Popular” music and Christian music coexist on a same platform. Should we be questioning the vetting process of the artists that appear on the site, or the motives behind the exposure of certain artists? Should we simply be satisfied that Christian music has found its niche?

MARKETING A “MUSIC EXPERIENCE” (Part 2): Welcome to Daytrotter!

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The unique “experience” that Radiohead presented with its marketing has been creatively (and more blatantly) repackaged in the music-sharing website, Daytrotter. The website operated similarly to Radiohead’s initiative: the musical content was originally free, an “upgrade” option became available once the content was no longer free (a $2/month membership is now required to access unlimited downloads, videos and customized streaming), and finally, the emphasis on creating a unique musical “experience” also appears.  The site offers access to recording sessions by up-and-comers, as well as well-established artists like Ani DiFranco, Tegan and Sara, Fleet Foxes and Vampire Weekend.

The central premise of Daytrotter is that they offer a distinctly unique experience from other music-sharing sites, in that they offer one-of-a-kind recordings from indie artists (which is used here with some liberties), both popular and up-and-coming. The site describes the spontaneity of the artistic process as follows:

They [the artists] use borrowed instruments, play with their touring mates, utilize an often unkempt toilet, eat some food and then cram back into their vans…. What they leave behind is a pile of ashes, …. and four absolutely collectible songs that often impart on whomever listens to them the true intensity that these musicians put into their art, sometimes with more clarity than they do when they have months to tinker with overdubs and experiments. These songs are them as they are on that particular day, on that particular tour – dirty and alive. 

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Authenticity also necessarily comes into play here, as the “indie” classification frequently leaves room for criticism, especially with bands that have broken into the mainstream. Daytrotter bypasses any problematic claims of having “discovered” anyone or “liked them before they got huge”; instead, they “give you something that you truly have never heard.” (Daytrotter website) Furthermore, a member can take this experience even further, and listen to the sessions live as they are being recorded. These sessions are presented as truly authentic and deeply personal, intimate recordings, akin to a casual impromptu jam session with your favorite indie artist. There is no commodity being produced or sold in any kind of traditional way. While the bands may otherwise rely on traditional institutions to sell their records and build a name for themselves, their Daytrotter sessions acquire a less tangible value. In addition to the mp3-format downloads, original artwork is made of each band for their session, which then go on to be sold as posters or appear as the vinyl album covers (all sold in their “Shop”).

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This niche marketing contains within it an ideology about musical purity, as it sells only vinyls of unmediated/edited recordings of indie bands, and offers memberships for access to unlimited (increasingly multi-media) experiences.

MARKETING THE “MUSIC EXPERIENCE”: Radiohead

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“Can you make me a hundred copies of these?” – “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” addresses piracy and Radiohead from 0:49 – 1:35 (in what is perhaps the best episode ever).

When Radiohead released their album In Rainbows for free on the Internet, there was skepticism as to whether or not this was a “smart business move”. Motivated by their desire to control their creative content more freely than their previous record deal had allowed, Radiohead decided to take to the Internet. But Radiohead’s circumstances were special.

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(so fuckin’ special)

Having already established themselves through traditional institutions (a major record label, major record sales, breaking into the “mainstream”…) allowed them the room to take risks. Besides offering the album for free, the band also made use of the interactive affordance of the Internet to present their fans with “upgraded” options of their music (generally better quality) as a type of “premium use” (one you would have to pay for). Eventually the download was no longer available for free, and instead a £40 “discbox” took its place. This discbox is perhaps the clearest example of a customized music experience that directly links producer to consumer.

We can view this as a postmodern response to an outdated structure, one that fails to fully convert to a post-industrialist economy more concerned with marketing “experiences” than mere commodities. However, the example of Radiohead also points to the transitory stage that this movement is in, as it would not have been possible at all without the previous affordances of the very things it denounces.

#BuddhaIsMyHomeboy

Buddhism, as a philosophy that generally jives well with the concept of a “changing world” (as central principles include the acceptance of the impermanence of all things, avoiding attachment…), inevitably faces the perpetually modern challenge of determining which path is a most appropriate customization of the Dharma. While monks have taken to social networking, writing blogs, tweeting, certain questions begin to arise about the ways in which this use of social media might conflict with basic Buddhist principles.

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“The challenge that Buddhism faces today is not with the Dharma itself, the Buddha’s teaching – as the timeless message embedded in the Four Noble Truths maintains its validity – but how to present this ancient teaching as a meaningful alternative to people who have been shaped by the values of the consumer society.” – BuddhaNet.net

At this point Facebook has become an integral part of most young Americans’ lives in that it not only does it help them keep track of their friends and what they are doing, but it also helps them shape and concretize their identities. It is within that idea of maintaining a fixed identity, while also inevitably (because of the interface) taking an egocentric viewership position that would arguably be highly anti-Buddhist. These practices are time-consuming but also “thought-consuming” in that one’s attention and emotions can get completely wrapped up in and affected by what happens in this pseudo-reality. One could make the argument that there are varying levels of involvement on Facebook, and while this is valid, the tools you are forced to engage with, I would argue, invariably guide your experience in a self-important direction.

Language, Meaning and Rational Thought

Ray Jackendoff, author of “A User’s Guide to Thought and Meaning” came to give a talk at my school a few weeks ago based around the ideas he covers in his book. Jackendoff started off by mentioning that this cursory view at those ideas may not be entirely accessible, but that hopefully his book had covered them more completely. He joked, “my wife read it so I think that’s a good sign!” Casual sexism out of the way, he went on to illustrate the difficulties one faces when trying to categorize, or even describe “thought”.

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His talk shed interesting lights on ideas about the uniqueness of human thought, especially our “rational thought” that we (especially in a Eurocentric capacity) seem to take as the major definer of our superior, inimitable human intelligence. The “critical thinking” that we pride ourselves in is very much something we’ve trained ourselves/been trained to do. Breaking down thought, concepts, even language, took an approach that viewed everything as trained computation, which destabilizes our ideas that the processes and productions of the human brain cannot be imitated. Rational thinking, he said, does and cannot exist separately from the unconscious processes that link our thoughts together to form “reason”.  Even the formation of a sentence speaks to this idea, as we typically do not memorized linkages of words to know that they should/can be linked – yet they are still established by a more complex working memory.

Who’s to say our unique humanity wouldn’t be able to be replicated?

Why can’t we be Friends, Tila?

Social media sites tend to garner reputations (usually in retrospect) for attracting certain “kinds” of people based on the affordances of the interface, and the types of social interactions it privileges. Some utilize this to rise to fame, much in the way Tila Tequila became known as the Queen of MySpace.

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“She’s more MySpace now than woman…”

For the large number of us who use social networking site,  we currently find ourselves in a position where most of our relationships, not matter how meaningful, are in some way mediated by that social media’s interface. Whether or not we even choose to include certain relationships into that online   space speaks to our perceptions of what that space is for.  It is “crucial to evaluate them [social networks] on their own terms, recognizing the role of technology and social navigation”, writes danah boyd about MySpace and Friendster users’ practices.

If the ultimate promise of interactivity afforded by the Internet is the power to “write back” into previously static forms, then what happens when the subject is Identity – an inextricable mélange of fluid and static forces? It seems producing an online “existence” from nothing thus proves to be complex, as various interfaces allow users to “write themselves into being” in different ways. Online, subjects carve out a space between “social processes and technological affordances”, much in the way Marshall McLuhan has claimed that “the Medium is the Massage” – it shapes and “works us over” completely, but is inevitably an extension of our human faculties.

The performative element of “Friending”, but more so ranking, becomes an important process in identity formation, as we effectively are customize our audience. The MySpace Top 8 is/was a “controversial” tool, as it limited the user to have 8 “best” friends, all of which would be ranked. In this case, MySpace actually caused social backlash in “real-life” (teen) friendships. Furthermore, the negative responses to the interface became as much a part of identity formation as anything, as Tila Tequila’s FUCKTOP 8 is in fact an anti-“drama” proclamation.

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I guess that explains a lot… 

My Pinterest Boards

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(Snapshot from the last “Old Spice” commercial featuring this actor)

My boards explore the ways in which systems of meaning are translated onto the Internet, are mediated, and then come back into offline culture. There is a fluid and dynamic exchange that exists because of interactivity, and this affects identifications through both race and sexuality/gender. I was interested in these topics because they always stood out to me; the types of things that I perceived as being translated from the Internet into common parlance seemed disproportionately racialized and gendered in a way that further disenfranchised those in non-dominant positions.

My board dealing with masculinity focuses on the mostly self-referential nature of masculinity as being identifiable in such absurd associations as “bacon”. I note the ways in which various cultural types of affirmations about hyper-masculinity, be they expressed by the various sites refining what it means to be a “bro” or the self-aware parody of excess found in Tumblr4men or “Powerthirst”. Ultimately, all the content I pinned seems to be working in a same direction, marking the unquestionable power of masculinity.

My board about race deals with two counteracting sides of interactivity; one produces and reproduces stereotyped content in ways that are ideologically static yet flexible enough for unique users to add their creative touches to them. The other side to this is activist blogging that takes pop culture only to subvert it and critique it. The difference in the two is most likely accessibility, both intellectual and popularity-wise – mindless comedy will inevitably be more palatable an appealing than attacks on our comfortable perceptions of racIn both boards I attempted to make clear that interactivity is not a force that evens the playing field. Interactivity, in so far as it is concerned with representation, privileges certain images and certain positions. The white male producer in both cases is the most prolific and powerful, as he is the main frequenter of “culture creating” site like 4chan and reddit, that are the sources of practically all memes ever popularized. This monopoly on the “popular” and the “popularizable” is also reflected in the Youtube videos I included; while Epic Meal Time is appealing for its content, it also has quite good production value, as do the most popular “Shit __ Say” videos, in which individuals control their own representation – whereas popular videos extracted from news clips like “Sweet Brown” and “Bed Intruder” simply offer us humor clips that fit perfectly into our imagination about the way “black people live”.

I mostly relied on finding site, videos or memes I was already familiar with, as I felt I had a sense of their cultural value and function. I decided whether or not content was relevant for pinning by cycling through various preliminary pins generally related to the topic, and then deleting the ones that felt like outliers. I enjoyed being able to bookmark my findings and to consolidate different types of mediums found on the Internet. Perhaps the least valuable tool in this case was “liking”, as it served no purpose to furthering my project or creating my boards. I would really like to be able to pin content from Facebook, because I feel as though it is a site of confluence, in which a host of other mediums come together, so it would be very valuable to pin. Additionally, I would have found it useful, as there are certain “pages” on Facebook that have evolved from other online trends that I would have liked to pin, such as the Wheaton College Memes page. Being able to pin these fan pages in which familiar user generated content appears would be quite useful.

As I have seen it, the popular use of Pinterest is chiefly for re-posting content found within Pinterest. It limits the possibilities of truly being “interactive” and instead creates customizable avenues for the user to go along, accumulating pins aimlessly. This attitude is prevalent in the way we interact with Web-based content, as we may “share” it or “like” it, but we will rarely “interact” with it in a way that might be more meaningful. The average person may not see value in commenting on an article he/she reads, or uploading video responses to something they’ve watched – we do not view it as “our place” as we do not view ourselves as producers, simply consumers.

http://pinterest.com/hreier/

http://pinterest.com/hreier/