Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/06/07/remixing_utopias/

Neurosis as a lifestyle: remixing revisited

Can't they sit still?

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Media, 7th June 2006 20:31 GMT

Analysis "We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the impossible ? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed" - Fillippo Marinetti, 1909

When a year ago we looked at some of the strange attitudes to copyright and creativity that abound on the internet, vilification followed swiftly.

We wondered what was behind odd assertions that "the power of creativity has been granted to a much wider range of creators because of a change in technology", which grew, without pausing for punctuation, into even odder and grander claims, such as "the law of yesterday no longer makes sense." 'Remix Culture' as defined by the technology utopians wasn't so much a celebration of culture as it is of the machines that make it possible, we noted. But most people simply find such thinking quite alien.

Nevertheless, evil motives must surely behind such innocent questions.

"There's no real difference in motivation between Dvorak & Orlowski trying to scuttle CC licensing and Microsoft's attacks on the GPL and Linux," wrote one Slashdot poster. "Ad hominem, impuning motives and infantilization of those you don't agree with," agreed another, before acknowledging, tongue in cheek, that much more of this was needed.

So it's heartening to see writers like Nick Carr and, today, the Wall Street Journal's columnist Lee Gomes join the debate that so animates Reg readers, and question these silly assumptions too.

Gomes hears a dot com executive sell his movie editing service with the claim that, "until now, watching a movie has been an entirely passive experience."

You heard a similar, silly claim from Kevin Kelly recently, only about reading.

Kevin Kelly in the hot tub

Kevin Kelly in a hot tub [ * ]

Passive? Not at all, Gomes explains today.

"Watching a good movie is 'passive' in the same way that looking at a great painting is 'passive' - which is, not very," he writes. "You're quite actively lost in thought. For my friend, though, the only activity that seemed 'active', and thus worthwhile, was when a person sitting at a PC engaged in digital busy work of some kind."

Which is the world view in a nutshell. The future in which the scribbles of the digerati adorn every book or movie is a nightmare, he agrees. It's also rather presumptious. Who does this self-selecting group claim to represent?

We've had a glimpse into this "future" with Google for the past three years, where to reach some original source material, one must wade through thickets of drivel, some of it generated by bloggers, the rest by machines pretending to be bloggers. It's hardly anyone's idea of enhancement, and Gomes calls it "dismally inferior", and has a lovely simile.

"Reading some stray person's comment on the text I happen to be reading is about as appealing as hearing what the people in the row behind me are saying about the movie I'm watching."

Rather daringly, Gomes attributes this to ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder. But is ADD a cause, or just another symptom?

Readers had several excellent theories (read them all here), with Andy Toone taking the laurels.

Firstly, said Andy, was the view that "the geek experience somehow supplants all previous culture and creative expression" - hence "piss-poor blogs, flash-rendered animals dancing to looped samples and ultimately the Crazy Frog."

Secondly was the idea that "process is more important than the result, cooler still if it involves a new computer and coolest if blue LEDs are involved."

And thirdly, he reckons, is the belief that accompanies all innovations in media technology - that they'll lead to a utopian future. Revolutionary rhetoric follows new media as sure as spring follows winter.

What makes 'Creative Commons' so emblematic is that it marries a failure to value creativity with its corollary, that creators need not be rewarded - and that's the part that seems to rankle in the artistic community. As another Andy wrote -

"I'd like to see the looks on the faces of these people if their employers decided not to pay them anything anymore. I wonder how many would keep working, and yet they expect artists of every sort to keep producing music, movies, books, paintings, or whatever for free for the benefit of everyone except themselves."

But we may all have a missed a trick or two.

The passion for empty phrases such as "the democratization of the media" - which in practice really means the right to speak but not be heard - has become a proxy for progressive politics itself. The society-changing ambitions of the technology crowd end with the media - and doesn't quite extend to, say, eradicating Hepatatis C on our streets, or preventable infant deaths. But all must have blogs!

NPR is perhaps the best example of this. Listen to this Talk Of The Nation segment to hear how Nick Carr is given a grudging few seconds to rebut half an hour of gibberish about Wikipedia from Wired's Chris Anderson, Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales, and the presenter himself.

Faced with funding threats and a hostile opposition, NPR has decided that singing hymns of praise to technology is an adequate substitute for a tackling real social and political questions. But they don't go away.

The internet evangelists' love of technology today is clear enough - as was, once, the disdain of some of the more extreme modernists for their cultural heritage, and for discussing reality.

This exhortation by Italian Fillippo Marinetti might ring a few bells -

"So let them come, the gay incendiaries with charred fingers! Here they are! Here they are!... Come on! set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to flood the museums!"

And thirty years later, the trains were running on time. ®

Bootnote

Our Kevin Kelly competition remains open for another 24 hours - hurry, the standard of entries is extremely high. We'll announce the best and the prizewinner on Friday.