April 27, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of April 27, 2007
*Opening Note: Grant McCracken with Notes on France's Cultural Identity
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Parmesh Shahani Shares a Conversation with his Diary Based on His Recent Trip to the Interactive Content Exchange, Part I of II
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.
Thanks to the corporate representatives, affiliated faculty, and members of the team who helped built such great discussions at Collaboration 2.0 this weekend here on the campus of MIT. We will have more on this past weekend's event in upcoming newsletters.
As usual, this week's update includes links to all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Also, the site features tools to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do so if you read on a regular basis.
This week's update features an opening note from Grant McCracken, who shares some of his observations from his recent international travels while staying in France, particularly on France's cultural identity. McCracken has shared observations throughout his travels on his blog at http://www.cultureby.com.
The closing note is the first of a two-part series by former C3 Research Manager Parmesh Shahani, who shares a conversation he had with his diary about his recent trip to Toronto for the Interactive Content Exchange conference.
If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
France at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics
By: Grant McCracken
First, the economics:
1.) economic growth has fallen well below other industrialized nations;
2.) the economy tumbled from 8th to 19th in national rankings of gross domestic product per head (over the last 25 years);
3.) youth unemployment stands at 22%;
4.) France is the only eurozone country that has not reduced the financial weight of the state over the past 10 years;
5.) Government spending (54% of GDP) is among the highest in the world;
6.) The public sector employs 1/4 of the labor force;
7.) State borrowing accounts for 66% of GDP. (The service charge for this debt is 40 billion euros.);
8.) France's share of world exports fell 5% in the period 1999-2005;
9.) Morgan Stanley calls France the "New Sick Man of Europe."
Now the anthropology:
Last week, doing ethnographic interviews in Paris, I was told several times that the French are "equal."
To an outsider like me, this is improbable. Certainly, equality is there in the model of social democracy France has embraced. Yes, the French are equal before the law and their God. And yes, equality is there in the commitment to "egalite" that survives the revolution of the 18th century.
But evidence of inequality is everywhere. Indeed, the French insist on differences of class, status, wealth, power, and several kinds of capital. Discrimination, in a sense it is what France is for.
Respondents would not to be dissuaded, and I got to thinking how it is the French might be said to be "equal." Here's my guess, and it's only a guess.
European hierarchies in the medieval and early modern periods used a relatively simple system of status marking: the notion of relative fineness. Those who ranked high exhibited fineness in their clothing, their food, the manners, their speech and their very bodies. Those who ranked low exhibited a relative coarseness in clothing, food, manners, speech and bodies. I will spare you the details except to say that fineness was finally a matter of intellectual, aesthetic, almost spiritual disposition. High standing people could make fine distinctions. Low standing people could not.
At some point, France constructed an idea of itself, its culture, its collectivity that broke with this longstanding historical convention. In France, according to this convention, everyone was capable of discerning and exhibiting fineness. Especially, in the domain of eating, food, cooking, cuisine, here the French were one. The table was the place were fineness was identified, discussed, shared, prized and that was just for starters. The main course had yet to come. (The democratization of fineness extends beyond food, of course. It is there in the language itself, which is why the lowliest clerk at the Tabac is entitled [obliged!] to sneer at our high school French.)
There was some period in which culture and economy worked hand in glove. Discernment and taste were national exports. Industries based on discernment and taste flourished. Wine, food stuffs, perfume, handbags, scarves, watches, and clothing brought in a fortune. The language itself exported well.
The grandeur that was the culture that was France...this was accessible to the rest of us, miserable cretins living in the far provinces. Everywhere in North America, there were little shrines everywhere, "French restaurants," we called them, places where middle class families could go to glimpse for a moment, to taste for a moment, what France had created with its national accomplishment. French restaurants were draped in seriousness and heavy red curtains. They were staffed by men with deep knowledge and great courtesy. The food was heavy and ornate. Tables groaned Silver, plate, and crystal. The whole thing was well off the Paris standard, of course, but obeisance was called for and obeisance was paid.
And some few years ago, we North Americans decided we couldn't care less. Several culture trends made this restaurant and many of the exports of France look suddenly too...too. We decided that formality counted for less than informality. We shifted from ceremony to spontaneity as our preferred cultural mode. We gave up solemnity for something more winning and cheerful. We abandoned heavy foods for something lighter and more "fun." Most important, food became a place to experiment, and now the French looked, even after nouvelle cuisine, positively hide bound.
Bad for France. But not, one would have thought, intolerable. If France were committed to the creative destruction that most Western economies and cultures take for granted, this should have been a simple matter. Accept your losses, make your accommodations, and move on.
But in France this was not simple. It would have meant compromising the beautiful idea, the magnificent theater of French life. (And this is very beautiful indeed. Even the smallest details of the built world exhibits the French faculty for fineness. And you find yourself thinking, "ok, this is what it looks like, when everyone in a culture, over a very long period, cares about design and execution.")
This may be the only Western culture in which the phrase "creative destruction" is fully paradoxical. All of us balk for a moment at the phrase, but the French, I think, must just shake their heads and say, "no, it's creative or it's destructive." This is a culture that approaches perfection, and for a world like this all of the things that make other Western economies go, innovation, responsiveness, competition and innovations, these, in France, are wrong. These contradict the the French style of life.
The English could invent punk because there wasn't very much to keep them from the aesthetic violence it required. The Germans could rebuild the nation state because all it demanded of them was that they tear down a place stinking of cabbage and soft coal. Americans could push us all down the bobsled of post modernity because all it meant was surviving the the bouleversement of Silicon Valley in the late 1990s.
But the French, for them change must feel lapsarian, a fall from an exquisitely accomplished grace. The rest of us blunder from a uncertain present into the maw of a chaotic future, but then as one of my French respondents said, "it's not like you've got very much to lose." The French, you see, pay dearly for change, and sometimes they just can't bring themselves to budge.
Thornhill, John. 2007. Not working: why France may find its social model exacts too high a price. Financial Times. April 16, 2007, p. 9.
Grant McCracken is a faculty adviser for C3 and the author of various books on brand management and cultural consumption. He holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago and has been a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, in addition to director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum. He is also currently an adjunct professor at McGill University and a corporate consultant on brand management.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
The Future of VOD: Looking at Two TelevisionWeek Special Reports. A C3 reaction to the recent two-part series from Daisy Whitney about the current place of prioritizing VOD for cross-platform distribution and creating an advertising model around VOD content.
Passions Fans Get Their "World without End" After All: The Soap Opera Lives on with New Episodes on DirecTV. Following the recent C3 commentaries on the rhetoric of the networks about the eventual end of the soap opera, Passions lands a deal that will keep it on the air as exclusive content for DirecTV subscribers.
Xbox Live Originals Contest Looking for Pilots To Be Made into Six-Episode Series. Another new contest launches which seeks to reward user-generated content with the chance to make a short series, but with an added twist--a special showing at the 2007 New York Television Festival.
Smallville Legends: Justice and Doom: Integrating Content and Advertising Across Multiple Media Platforms. The CW Network property launches a cross-platform advertising deal that includes original branded content that correlates with the main narrative, leading up to the show's season finale.
Collaboration 2.0: Ivan Askwith and TV's Terminology for User Engagement. Askwith, who will be graduating from the Comparative Media Studies program here at MIT in June, presented his thesis research, which highlights the need for a more sophisticated language to discuss extensions and viewer engagement.
Collaboration 2.0: Robert Kozinets and Star Trek. Kozinets, an affiliated researcher with C3, presented his work on fan-generated content and the continued vitality of the Star Trek fan community, including the fan-produced online television series Star Trek: New Voyages.
Collaboration 2.0: Kevin Sandler and Scooby Doo. Sandler, a C3 affiliated researcher, presented insights from his forthcoming book on the Scooby Doo multimedia franchise and how that set of characters has been used and recontextualized through multiple generations.
Collaboration 2.0: Jean Burgess and Vernacular Creativity. Burgess, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre of Excellence for Creative Industry and Innovation at Queensland University of Technology, presented her work on vernacular creativity as it pertains to Flickr.
Collaboration 2.0: John Banks and Developer/Gamer Relationships. Banks, another postdocortal research fellow in the CII centre at QUT, presented his work on developer and gamer relationships based on his own experience working for PC game development company Auran as the online community relations manager.
Collaboration 2.0: Henry Jenkins and Media Violence. In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, Henry Jenkins discussed our society's discourse about media violence and media effects.
Collaboration 2.0: Sam Ford and Soap Operas. Ford, who will be graduating from the CMS program at MIT in June, presented his thesis work on soap opera fan communities and ways in which soap operas should manage shows as brands and take a transgenerational approach to storytelling.
Collaboration 2.0: An Introduction. The partners-only retreat at C3 included the C3 research team located at MIT, a few of the affiliated faculty members with the consortium, and representatives from all five corporate partners, for a two-day event to discuss the current media landscape and future research directions for C3.
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Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/.
--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
ICE Cool Toronto, Part I of II
By: Parmesh Shahani
I am so sorry that I didn't write anything during my conference hopping sojourn in Canada recently. Do you hate me? Are you wondering if there's someone else? There's no excuse for my tardiness. There was email all around. My hotel room had broadband, the lobby had wi-fi, and both the events I attended were totally wired. But you see, I had a series of mild epiphany attacks, and while these were not life threatening, they certainly made me sit back and reflect a little. (By the way, those damn foreign health insurance plans don't cover epiphanies, so be careful next time you travel!) I hope you forgive me. To show you how much I love you and there's really no one else, I'm going to reconstruct a few moments from memory, and let's pretend that I wrote them down, just while they were happening.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
My first day in Toronto and so far, I have seen the inside of cabs, hotel rooms and conference halls. Inner beauty. I am browsing through CN Tower pictures on Flickr, so that if anyone asks what I saw while I was in Toronto, I can say CN Tower with a straight face. Meanwhile there's this futurist and sci-fi author called Robert Sawyer giving the key note of the ICE 07 conference, and I'm bored because he's saying stuff that was kind of cool two or maybe five years ago. "Moore's Law." Yawn. "Narrowcasting." So last season. "The future is 3D; virtual reality; the distinction between online and offline lives is going to disappear." Isn't it already happening? "Democratization of media and the rise of prosumers." Ditto. "The Long Tail." 'Nuff said. It's much more fun to watch superblogger Shel Israel in action. Author of the corporate blogging manifesto Naked Conversations, Israel is feisty, provocative and informative. I feel the tingling of a mild epiphany when he says that the practices and technologies in storytelling may change (so from cave painting to special effects via computers) but people still gather around that which is popular and what they can identify with. Flashback to my first day at CMS and the realization that there isn't that much difference between old and new media. (Technically, dear Diary, this is not a new epiphany. This is what experts call a residual epiphany.) Israel is very gung ho about Joost: "Rock and Roll did not replace opera, yet it changed the world. So did hip hop later. As far as simplicity goes, all Gutenburg did was take some trees and slice them up and print a bible on it. Joost is doing the same." He is also excited about the advertising in the intention economy: "If I am going to Italy, you may tell me all about it for the next three weeks. Likewise, if I want to buy a new dryer, send me the information I want, till I buy the dryer. Then stop."
Overall, I like the conference, Dear Diary, and there are enough deja vu moments relating to other events I have attended to make me feel that we're pretty much on the cutting edge of all this, back home in India. What I'm really jealous about though, is the level of support, infrastructure and incubation for the creative industries in Canada at a government level. Organizations like the Ontario Media Development Corporation, Telefilm Canada, and the Banff New Media Institute are providing an ecosystem for media folks in Canada to really flourish. (And in the conference lobby, there's a British council delegation, selling Britain as a creative destination - and emphasizing how developed countries should stick together, because they get each other's culture better! Hmn.)
Diary, remind me to read the Cluetrain Manifesto at some point. Will be fun to see what's worked and what hasn't in the 7 years since it was written. Also remind me to look at these sites when I take a break from my You Tube anime addiction:
- Heavy (http://www.heavy.com/): Cool videos, and lots of time pass, but I always get an Access Denied when I try to access it from work. :-)
- Pal Talk (a href="http://www.paltalk.com/">http://www.paltalk.com/): A video chat community with more that 4 million users. It allows multiplayer games, streaming music and free group video calls.
- Bite TV: (http://www.bitetv.ca/): Emmy award winning interactive online TV channel. Little raunchy. Very funny.
- Movi.TV (http://www.movillc.com/): The You Tube for mobile content. Diary, maybe you should send me an SMS about this some time tomorrow?
- Punch Much (http://www.punchmuch.com/): Channel V and MTV India seem so bland compared to this -- a 24 hour totally request driven music TV channel, driven completely by users' mobiles.
Good night now. I'm going to fall asleep listening to a funky jazz CD from Richard Underhill, the Juno (Canadian Grammy) award winning artist. I hung out with him today, by the way, at the conference just before his all-star ice hockey game. I don't like to name drop as such, especially about celebrities, but I thought I'd let you know, since I tell you everything...
Friday, March 23, 2007
Another residual epiphany, early in the morning, right after gasping over the elevated sponge Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) building where the Mobile Nation conference is being held. In my still jet lagged sleepy brain, I hear the voice of Nigel Thrift (famous social geographer and Vice Chancellor at the University of Warwick wafting in to me. He is talking about non-representative theory: "People don't necessarily have meanings for doing things... lots of meaning is post constructive. Doing is... a kind of experiment... we exist as affinitive flows..." We're bonding by picking out the good pieces of sushi at lunch two days later, and I'm still mulling over what he said. "The western model of the bounded human being is dangerous... surfaces speak to us today, and we can speak back... affective flows...people to objects and back...." Eureka! Flows. Convergence. Flux. Border crossings. People studying globalization, media, mediation and mobility, have been thinking in this manner for a while now. When people and objects flow across each other, people become cyborgs, and objects become human. What happens as borders are transcended, dear Diary, between people, objects, communities, geographies? Do imaginations spill over too?
It's either the coffee or Nigel, but I'm awake now, and thank god, because I can see how Goldsmith College's Nina Wakeford has used film, photos, text, artifacts, relationship maps, drawings, controller room data, and created a rich, funky ethnography of cycle couriers in London. I watch bits of Accidental Lover - an interactive love story from Finland between a young man and older woman, where people text in their plot suggestions and based on the messages received, the plot changes. There's real time dialogue with the characters and with each other.
My laptop screen is open and there are 5 windows open. Within one of them, I am video chatting on Skype with my partner Junri in Boston. On others, I am taking conference notes, checking out pics of Toronto, surfing.... Rhonda, sitting next to me, is a PhD student from the West Indies, studying at York University. We check out the World Cup cricket update online; both our teams are doing badly; instant bonding happens. Bollywood and cricket are my social glue, even half way across the world. I constantly look at my cellphone screen to text message friends and colleagues from Bombay. Around the room, this seems to be the norm. In the conference hall, there are three giant screens hung from the ceiling. One of them has an image of Leena Saarinen, video conferencing in from Finland. The other has the conference blog running side by side, while the third contains a stream of messages that the users in the room are text messaging to the screen via the service CWide. (Joanna is a goddess.... The Rivoli on Queen Street is a good restaurant.... This billboard is not an advertisement for Yahoo... Eric Zimmerman marry me.... )
Diary, I don't want to seem repetitive, but just consider how many conversations are taking place here. One among the panel members on stage, another over the internet from Finland, the third between conference participants and the panel and/or Leena, the fourth between each other via text messaging on the screen in the room, the fifth between them and their own smaller screens on their laptop, cellphone, and so on. A sea of screens. Affective flows. Emotions, communication, ideas moving back and forth effortlessly via objects and people. You know, I have never before, felt so completely normal in such a situation. I am connected and I am connecting. The how is irrelevant. Later, I am awestruck by the launch of the open source Mobile Experience Engine, from the Mobile Digital Commons Network (http://www.open-mee.org) This is a way to rapidly prototype C++ based mobile experiences and since it is open source, it will be available to all developers as a shared resource to create commercial applications.
The second part of this series will appear in the opening note of next week's Weekly Update.
C3 research affiliate Parmesh Shahani is Head --Vision and Opportunities at the Mahindra Incubation Lab in Mumbai, India. He can be reached at email@example.com.