Intro to Networked Collaboration

Squeezing People Into One Box

I really enjoyed the Jenkins reading this week, particularly everything under the heading “The Black Box Fallacy.” What I loved so much about it was the emphasis on differentiating between “delivery technologies” and actual media. I think far too often there’s a tendency to conflate the media technology with the medium and as a result bastardize McLuhan’s claim that the medium is the message, thus turning the technology into the message.

People get excited about podcasts as this revolutionary new medium when in fact they’re just a new delivery system for the spoken word. Whether we hear that spoken word around a campfire, through a phonograph, a transistor radio, or via a digital file we’ve downloaded and put on our iPods for later listening, it’s a human’s voice we’re listening to. One could argue convincingly that these permutations each drastically alter the communication happening but I don’t believe that to be absolutely true. The fact that, for example, radio is definitely not the all powerful medium it once was doesn’t diminish the fact that it still plays an important role in our culture. I always fall back on NPR when I want to hear news without the advertising-driven agenda for sensational news. Add the fact that when some kind of catastrophic, apocalyptic event hits, radios may in fact be the last line of human communication. I really love this quote to that point on page 14: “A medium’s content may shift, its audience may change, and its social status may rise or fall, but once a medium establishes itself as satisfying some core human demand, it continues to function with the larger system of communication options.”

When Jenkins discusses the various boxes that live in his living room as an example of why this one box to rule them all idea is a farce I can’t help but identify. My setup is relatively streamlined at the moment with four boxes (AV receiver, DVD player, Xbox 360, and Tivo Satellite Receiver). However I think about adding a Mac Mini there or perhaps an Apple TV (I know, you’re thinking I’m indulging in typical male tech fantasizing but I swear I’m approaching a point). The reason I’m thinking about throwing one of those two last devices I mentioned into the mix is because lately my DVD player is collecting dust. I’ve got three unwatched Netflix DVDs that I’ve had for more than a month. The reason for this is web video. However, watching a movie on my laptop or at my desk is a less than ideal option. If I hooked up a computer of some sort to my television then that problem is solved. So you see, it’s not that I’ve stopped enjoying films. But the way that I consume films has changed. As a matter of fact, I could probably eschew all those devices but the computer and maybe the AV receiver and I’d be fine. However, as Jenkins mentions, my “situated context” determines the optimal way to consume media.

In my mind, convergence is less about stuffing all the capabilities of various devices into one omnipotent device than it is about seeing new ways that the media transmitted by those devices can relate to and interact with one another. To briefly touch on Hopkins and tie his article to Jenkins, if people and human interaction are the medium, Facebook and Twitter are simply different delivery systems for that medium. They will never replace face-to-face contact but they can alter (by enhancing and/or diminishing) that contact.


September 20, 2008 - Posted by | convergence, culture, tools and methodologies


  1. thought your review was insightful. I definitely agree on what you said that “it is about seeing new ways that the media transmitted by those devices can relate to and interact with one another.” In fact, up until the last year and a half I’ve been disappointed with how limited peoples resourcefulness of such technologies had been used (more passive than aggressive). The difference between someone using their cd player to listen to their favorite album and a band designing 4 different albums to be played at the same time to compliment each-other, from different positions in a room for additional aural satisfaction in listening (heh, 4 boxes performing one action to reinvent its purpose).

    I agree that in many cases the communication is still there despite the mode of spreading that word, however I am interested in using these devices as a medium themselves. The different between using the internet to inform people about villages in need of cattle, farming tools, or water pumps compared to offering a way for people to donate through the website to actively participate with the community in need (such as I look forward instead of advancing technology and continuing to rapidly modify the gadgets around us, to seeing them being used in more creative ways as a material/medium themselves. I feel like artists worked with oil, canvases, clay, and hard-materials for such a while, being inventive in their application until a new-born artist enacting performance only on the computer emerged. Well, lets see the physical and web-based arts merge a bit!! A dear friend of mine is a sculptor (Margaret Glass-Her work is currently being exhibited in Bulgaria’s National Art Gallery) and we have often had conversations over the past years not on her distaste for digital art, but how “its limiting the creative approach people have to the materials at hand,” according to observing the students she’s had over the past. Advancement of digital art and technology have made things easier (such as application from imagination to the physical world) however its taken time for people to manipulate these “materials” and use them in truly artistic ways.

    We can paint a work of art on a wall, and even take a picture of it to place on the internet. But artists like Blu (Graffitti) are taking it further and the way they communicate their work is becoming an art in itself. He has taken freeze-frames of his work after whitewashing the previous image and developing a new one to create animation. (Kinda like drawing stick figures on the corner of a post-it pad and flipping through the pages) However he’s generated animations that sprawl the distance of an entire bridge, or cityscape (white-washing the tags of other artists in the meantime) and uses snap-shots to bring these images to life longer than their finite existence for the photo before getting destroyed and transformed. And this is something that has not been done before, years after we’ve had the internet. So for me the internet is another example of people moving on from technology to technology without exploring its capability if becoming the medium for an art-form rather than just that box to carry the message.

    Watch MUTO by Blu and let me know what you think…

    Comment by kelboa | September 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for posting that link. That video was pretty incredible. I think the potential of computers and the web as incredibly powerful media for creative expression is only beginning to be realized. Hopefully years from now we’ll be talking about the Velazquez or Vermeer of computer art.

    Comment by justincharles | September 30, 2008 | Reply

  3. I also watched the video… WOW. Amazing, I really enjoyed it and I can only imagine how long that takes.

    That being said, I’m not sure I agree that this has not been done before. Animation built from freeze frame images has been been around for quite a while. I think back to the claymation animations from my childhood. That was an artist producing work and taking images of that work to link together to make animations. How has the internet become the medium and not the technology? Seems to me like animated images is the medium and the internet is the technology of distributing that medium instead of the previous (older) technologies of film and television. What do the rest of you think?

    Comment by Stacey | October 1, 2008 | Reply

  4. kelboa: Thanks for sharing the excellent video. A really fun work! Blu is definitely pushing boundaries.

    Stacey: I agree that the medium is the internet for many new types of “culture” I think the the video would not possible without the convergence of technologies as well as the way we consume content. I think youtube is a powerful grass-roots way where we can share silly pranks, bear our soul, share music, submit art, and do anything else that we want to. I think Jenkins would point out the important point is not the technology of youtube but the way that people have become really comfortable using it and sharing their culture through it in new ways.

    justin: I agree that you know the forms of communication such as the spoken word will always be around, and you’re right podcasts are just a version of the spoken word. The fact that we can load up anything we want onto our black box (ipod,etc) I think makes it a really potent way to intake culture. (I don’t think you’re supposed to use intake like that.) My life is fundamentally changed because I don’t live it depending on the traditional media (radio, non-dvr’d television), which I didn’t really realize was all that limiting until I had seen the alternative. The ease with which I can listen to, share, create, and manipulate the media through this awesome mechanism of the internet really has affected culture and encouraged this new cycle of intake, comment, create, get comments, modify, intake some more style of media creation.

    I don’t know if that made much sense, but in general I enjoyed the Jenkins reading and thought it captured today’s environment still because I don’t there’s a happy balance between “corporate convergence” and ‘grassroots convergence”. I liked when he said: “The promises of this new media environment raise expectations of a freer flow of ideas and content.” He went on to say sometimes this creates more rewarding relationships between media producers and consumers and sometimes not. I think that we are advancing in some way as a civilization because more people are getting a chance to participate and make an impact somehow.

    Comment by unoq | October 3, 2008 | Reply

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