Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Little Hope w/ Social Network Conversations like These

I've taken a pretty pessimistic viewpoint re: the future and Set-Top Cop issues. However, over the weekend, I procrastinated extensively and engaged in conversation on Facebook's group page, UCLA's UCPD Brutality. This exchange was one of three over the weekend - the other two were interesting in different ways. The other two involved calling out participants whose conversative comments elicited group reaction - one from New Orleans, another from the Air Force Academy. Both times my comments began in the third person and at the end, switched to direct 1st-person opinions addressed to these "gentlemen." When confronted directly, the individuals backed down.

Here's the exchange that transpired between myself and Faryan Amir-Ghassemi @ U. of Maryland. I started with a general comment to no one in particular:

I agree with folks who think that this involves larger issues, for me, of power (violence & cops) and technlogy (posting on Gootube).

These issues play themselves out all the time. I know LA County Juvenile County Defenders and their stories are heart-breaking. The level of violence in these neighborhoods makes what happened at UCLA look like a slap. People may not want to see a connection, but on a societal level, it's there.

We'll have to decide whether we want a "free culture" or not. This would require sustained energy, one that we can't feel will be resolved so easily like "investigating" isolated UCLA Library cops is.

We all lives restricted by technology and most of us are lucky not to suffer violence because of it (we just have limits on things like our Ipods - I'm sure no one would want to be able to transfer songs from 1 to another).


Faryan responded:
Re Lewis:

There are several issues at work here besides just technology and power. The fact that the student is an Iranian American and he cries out expletives about the government and the Patriot Act. It raises questions about the nature of the act, just as LA race riots raise questions beyond socio-economic issues, into the realm of racial and affinity superstructures.

I think technology plays a vital role in mediating the power structures. We witness brutal acts of violence all the time, as a populous. Many of them are abusive by members of the police. The Youtube link helps galvanize the community's ability to respond via social influence. I think without the video, this story dissipates through word of mouth and an inability to create an empathic understanding/following.

The power of unadulterated mass media is in full effect here. Compare this youtube phenomenon versus the Rodney King beating. The parallels are stark yet the transformation is equally glaring...

to which

I agree with your comments completely. The one addition is we need to look at how technologies like Gootube, like our lives, are multi-faceted and exploit the users while being a force to mobilize the masses. That is, Gootube compared to sites like Revver are what some really intelligent critics like Lawrence Lessig call "fake" user sharing sites since they're restrictions built in and users/creators receive no compensation (like
or's+Picks which posts video and let's the creators share the ad revenue. Gootube exists solely to benefit its shareholders, which is fine and give people exposure, which is also fine. But there are alternatives which are definitely "free-er" and more empowering.

I'm trying to track it down, but the UCLA footage was first posted on a LA anti-police abuse site, which has been omitted from the story.

and then,

Re Lewis:

Yes, Gootube is a power structure in itself. We will see more of this as the corporate influence will mediate the content presented and clearly the lack of revenue sharing is beguiling. They are the gatekeepers of this so called "free" content, just as news media was a generation before. The concept of intellectual property has become far more convoluted as a result...

Are they held accountable for this? No, the content will simply dictate their success. But, it is still the best alternative we have at the moment. An anarchist system devoid of revenue whording, advertising and asymetries goes beyond youtube/media. It delves into the nature of capitalism and our society's conception of time/work/i.p.

Nevertheless the negatives (assymetrical power structures) sometimes get outweighed by the positives (exposure)...

to which I responded,
Yes, these are complicated issues, but the only thing I disagree with is setting up a choice between the status quo and an anarchist, "Pirate" party, only off-the-grid alternative.

There are people like Joi Ito, a major venture capitalist, trying to create empowering forms of "true" sharing business models.

The Free Culture Student movement is another example, We're trying to imagine real alternative and make them a reality. Check it out.

I blogged about Joi Ito and some amazing new models that were discussed at a USC Remix conference. It's a long post, but worth reading as the alternatives are out there and they're inspiring.

sounds interesting, and I would need to read more about it to comment further, but take facebook for example:

They provide a communal system for members of a populace (what once used to be elite universities, became all universities and now is open to anyone, practically). However, their success is mediated upon the user's interaction within the community. If people don't chat/share with facebook, they don't use it. If they don't use it, it doesn't grow/become profitable. Are users of the system being reimbursed sufficiently through the service?

Same could be said about any IP service/community. Are the users, in effect, the "shareholders?"

and closing, for now,
I'd argue there are what we're called "Set-Top Cop" issues involved that require new paradigms. So we're not talking about binary relationships. It's better to think of it as tri-partite. There's appliances (Ipods, computers), content makers (whether big media or ind. users) and then the networks (Facebook, Youtube). The inter-play is complex, but basically they're also three scenarios: one a system gets closed down like cable (can't share anything), two the status quo with the off-the-grid pirates and some sharing (but the systems of closed off from "true" sharing. Wouldn't it be nice to have one meta-social network instead of being over-networked with Myspace, Face, et al. Or three, new forms.

Either way, violence will come as people confront the system like at UCLA. I'd argue what we saw is the next form of civil disobedience.


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