new media – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Honoring Hilmes: “New Media” Historian Mon, 18 May 2015 13:36:40 +0000 old-time-radioPost by Danny Kimball, Goucher College

This is the tenth post in our “Honoring Hilmes” series, celebrating the career and legacy of Michele Hilmes on the occasion of her retirement.

So much has already been said in this wonderful series to honor Michele Hilmes and all the different ways she has had such a tremendous impact on media studies and cultural history, but there is one perhaps unlikely aspect of her legacy that I’d like to emphasize in some brief thoughts here: Michele Hilmes as “new media” historian.

I had the immense privilege of being an advisee of Michele’s through my graduate career and I benefitted greatly from her thoughtful guidance, kind nature, and sage advice. In addition, I was fortunate to have been trained by such an excellent “new media” scholar. The fact that Michele has advised many digital media scholars such as myself may strike some as odd considering that Michele is primarily known for her eminence as a radio historian. The intellectual curiosity and diversity that Ben Aslinger points to as characteristic of Michele’s approach is certainly key to this, but it also makes sense if we understand Michele’s pathbreaking scholarship as “new media” history. Indeed, Michele’s work on early radio broadcasting is a history of a new medium, just as writing about digital media of today is. From the historiographical perspective so effectively championed by Michele throughout her work as a scholar and a mentor, we can see the importance of the historical context that makes a medium “new” in a particular time and place and that scholars can only ever engage those media through traces of the past, whether the past century or the past month.

newwaveMichele may not foreground this aspect of her work — as history of old media when they were new — but her scholarship is nonetheless invaluable for new media scholars to properly historicize our work and our methods. Michele shows how to think historically and historiographically about today’s “new media” — how to see how much is not really new at all. Michele has deeply explored the historical antecedents to many of the issues at the heart of new media studies today, whether it’s media and cultural convergence (Hollywood and Broadcasting), access divides of identity and geography (Radio Voices), or transnational networked flows (Network Nations). Further, Michele’s recent work directly addresses today’s new media and its connections to Golden Age radio as what she calls “soundwork.”

The most important perspective on new media that Michele’s masterful historical work offers is an understanding of the role of culture and discourse in shaping the policy decisions and institutional structures that come to define media when they are new. In Michele’s historiographical work, how new media take the shape they do — deciding what and who media are for — is not an inevitable matter of technological determinism or economic dominance, but an ideological and discursive struggle along lines of gender, race, class, and national identity. How the dominant discourse of a medium emerges in national and transnational context shapes how that medium emerges and, as Michele shows, whose voices are heard and whose are marginalized as a result. (The constructed image of the “little boys in short trousers” that policymakers didn’t trust with the future of the airwaves is just one of the many vibrant examples from her work documenting this influence on emerging media.)

Michele Hilmes’ legacy for radio and sound studies, broadcasting history, and cultural studies is clearly profound and prodigious, but her influence extends further, as well: this quintessential cultural historian is also a profound new media scholar.


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Celebrating 25 years of Global Hypertext: World Wide Web!#♡@ Wed, 12 Mar 2014 13:01:57 +0000 TwitterWeb

Anniversaries are wonderful things. They help us reflect on our past, present, and future. Anniversaries can be complicated though. (My spouse and I have three of them, but that’s another story!) While Internet denizens celebrate the web’s “official” 25th anniversary today, we might pause to recognize how confusing and uncertain “inventions” and “births” sometimes are: is this about sowing an idea, convincing a boss of the idea’s viability, coding a computer program, connecting a web server, uploading the first webpage, logging in users, clicking links? Meanwhile, in the midst of spying, surveillance, and privacy concerns, we might remind ourselves that the web, from the beginning, has been a technology of connections. So what to make of the past 25 years?

Today’s “Happy 25th, Web” (the Web At 25) actually celebrates the publication of a document by the web’s primary inventor, Tim Berners-Lee: “Information Management: A Proposal.” Deemed “vague but exciting,” it proposed a solution to the problem of keeping track of all those little pieces that make up large projects at research institutions like CERN, the Swiss physics lab where Berners-Lee worked in the 1980s. The big idea of that proposal, and hence what we are really celebrating today, is global hypertext, nonlinear “linked information systems.” Bringing hypertext to the internet would create a single unified information space in which any document or piece of data, regardless of where or on which internet-connected machine it was located, could be instantly reached with a single mouse click.

Web ChartPersonally, I really do think the proposal (although initially rejected!) was a great idea and is worthy of celebration. The problem  (besides all the other major problems about encryption, privacy, surveillance, etc.) is that the popular birthday narrative leaves out a lot of other things that didn’t make much sense at the time. In his book, Weaving the Web, Berners-Lee describes how hard it was to try to explain this vision to others between 1989-93: “People had to be able to grasp the Web in full, which meant imagining a whole world populated with Websites and browsers. They had to sense the abstract information space that the Web could bring into being. It was a lot to ask.” It WAS a lot to ask. I will admit, as a big internet fan these days, that I totally did not get it at first. (At first!) And I actually think this is an important and historically relevant thing to admit.

To consider what using the Internet was like without the web, check out Brendan Kehoe’s demo (Nov 1993) on the Computer Chronicles (skip to 09:08); we see Gopher, Finger, Telnet, and using Telnet to contact Compact Disc Connection (unfortunately, the system hangs before completing purchase of the Mariah Carey CD). There is no mention of the web, nearly five years after it’s “birth.” How could this even be? Teleological accounts of history assume a kind of forward march, where the past is rewritten in ways that make sense to contemporary minds.

The W3C Team is urging web users to share their “earliest memories” today, and in that spirit, I wanted to share just how hard it was for me (and I wasn’t alone!) to wrap my head around the Internet, let alone the web, when I first tried to connect in the fall of 1995. It was confusing trying to figure this stuff out with my fellow housemates and no tech wizard friends for aid!

Looking forward to investigating this “internet” thing I was hearing about, I bought my first computer at the start of my senior year of college in 1995. Alas, my college tech store didn’t realize I wanted to use the machine to go online, and so the computer had to be returned to IT and taught to speak internet. It was elaborate:

InterSLIP and InterPPP were installed, my computer had to learn TCP/IP, modem ports were configured, many a floppy disk was run. After all was said and done, I used my 14.4k baud modem (think slow, noisy) to at last see the World Wide Web world. It looked like this:

Welcome to EWorld

It was probably a few weeks before I realized that “eWorld” wasn’t “World Wide Web.” This was Apple’s (soon to fail) commercial online service, eWorld. When I introduce today’s college students, who no longer make distinctions between the internet, web or various platforms and apps—all is just “online”—to web history, I usually ask them to tell me how they would get to the internet. We take a tour through the town and discuss metaphors, space, each building, all of which were filled with forums, resources, chatrooms available to and for other eWorld users. Wasn’t I “online”? Wasn’t this the eWorld Wide Web? Well, yes and no. I was connected to other paid subscribers of Apple’s commercial online service. This was not the web, I finally realized. (A devoted fan has recreated the eWorld experience online! However, note that this simulation runs MUCH faster than the experience I remember.)

One day, my housemate clicked that tiny little statue holding the globe in the middle of the town, and we found our way out of eWorld and into a much bigger one, a World Wide Web. Once connected to the web, we moved around by gliding across “handwoven” hyperlinks, endless HotLists of Cool Sites. (These lists were filled with the “quality” sites of 1994: the Hawaii dinosaur museum! The Vatican! The Louvre before it was renamed and taken down because it wasn’t actually owned by the Louvre!) One could not count on search engines to lead you to the “best of it,” the useful, interesting, fun stuff—the “cool” sites of the day. You had to rely on the scattered lists of pointers made by other users.

While I am reluctant to embrace a single “anniversary” of the World Wide Web, I do believe that something special was taking shape when Berners-Lee was working out that proposal 25 years ago. It was the beginning framework for a shared (technical and imagined) information space that brought hypertext to the internet.  These components—a collective imagination forged through global hypertext—were what I thought of as “the heart” of the web (once I figured out what that was!).

Today, to me, these characteristics seem considerably more elusive. As I shuffle through apps on my iPad, I’m often struck by the similarities with the pre-web internet that Kehoe demonstrated as he moved from gopher to telnet to finger and back in 1993. And likewise, as I click on links to web content shared through Facebook, I can’t help but note how hard the links work to keep me cloistered, safe within Facebook’s own little eWorld. Some of these experiences are (ruefully, to me) mandated by the affordances of these platforms. But others, it seems, are a combination of social protocols and habit, the ways we choose or refuse to link and weave our own personal narratives across our web histories and timelines. We must not let linking become a synonym for tagging or hashtags! These are very different technologies of connection. On this “anniversary,” I would just like to urge all of us to not give up on hypertext, to continue to seek new ways to make that kind of connection meaningful.



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Deadline Extended: The Velvet Light Trap CFP: On Sound (New Directions in Sound Studies) Fri, 16 Aug 2013 13:00:40 +0000 469965_183965278386198_892219135_oThe Velvet Light Trap has extended the deadline for its forthcoming “On Sound (New Directions in Sound Studies)” issue to September 1, 2013. Though the initial call was very successful, the Editorial Board especially welcomes any additional submissions that address sound-related issues and topics in radio, television, video games, digital/new media, and other non-film media.

The medium of sound, long placed in a secondary position to the visual within media studies, has experienced a considerable increase in scholarly attention over the past three decades, to the point that “sound studies” is now a distinct field of scholarship. Within media studies, sound-related research today expands well beyond the film and television score or soundtrack to include a broad range of scholarship on radio and popular music.  And while sound studies still tends to cohere around media studies departments, an increasing amount of sound media research is interdisciplinary in nature. A “sonic turn” is under way across the humanities and social sciences with sound studies work now coming out of philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, science and technology studies, cultural geography, American studies, art history, and cultural studies.  Recent issues of differences (2011) and American Quarterly (2011) and anthologies like The Sound Studies Reader (Jonathan Sterne, 2012) are just a few examples of this expanding range of interest.

This issue of The Velvet Light Trap aims to build upon many of the new lines of inquiry that are coming out of this intersection between sound media and various other scholarly perspectives. In that spirit, we are seeking essays for an issue on the research and study of sound in and across a range of media.

Potential areas of inquiry may include, but are by no means limited to:

  • analysis of music, voice, and sound effects in film, radio, television, video games, podcasting, and other digital or “new media,” including significant developments in audio aesthetics and style
  • convergence of sound and visual media
  • sound art and experimental forms of sound media
  • materiality of sound, including sound reproduction and other technologies of sound
  • media industries, production cultures, and issues related to sound labor, audio production practices, or the commodification of sound
  • histories of audio media and archaeologies of mediated sound
  • aural representations of identity, power, difference and the politics of sound media
  • mediation of voices and language, noise and silence, and muteness, deafness, and other issues of the body and disability
  • listening practices and sound media in perception and everyday life
  • psychoacoustics and cognitive studies of sound media
  • architecture, acoustics, and space, including “soundscapes” and sound media in relation to public health and public policy
  • theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of sound media

Submissions should be between 6,000–7,500 words (approximately 20-25 pages double-spaced), formatted in Chicago style. Please submit an electronic copy of the paper, along with a one-page abstract, both saved as separate Microsoft Word files. Remove any identifying information so that the submission is suitable for anonymous review. The journal’s Editorial Board will referee all submissions. Send electronic manuscripts and/or any questions to All submissions are due September 1, 2013.

The Velvet Light Trap is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal of film, television, and new media studies. Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas-Austin coordinate issues in alternation. Our Editorial Advisory Board includes such notable scholars as Charles Acland, Richard Allen, Harry Benshoff, Mark Betz, Michael Curtin, Kaye Dickinson, Radhika Gajjala, Scott Higgins, Barbara Klinger, Jon Kraszewski, Diane Negra, Michael Newman, Nic Sammond, Jacob Smith, Beretta Smith-Shomade, Jonathan Sterne, Cristina Venegas, and Michael Williams.


House of Cards Has No Advertising Thu, 14 Feb 2013 14:00:51 +0000 House of Cards carries no advertising, no commercial breaks. Without advertising, there is less need to spread episodes out over time. Without advertising, there is less pressure to regularize audience attention.

Netflix’s simultaneous release of all the episodes of House of Cards has generated commentary on binge viewing, social TV, the definition of “hit” TV (and here), and business models (and here).  Netflix is disregarding conventional audience management strategies, particularly the sequential release of one episode per week. For the past 80 years of commercial broadcasting, the weekly release of episodes served at least two purposes: to fill airtime economically by spreading narratives out over time, and, most important, to secure audience attention for advertisers on a regular basis.

Netflix has the freedom to release all episodes at once because Netflix is not in the business of organizing audience attention for advertising messages. That means Netflix does not have to regularize that attention through scheduling or measure that attention through ratings.  Linear commercial television manages “audience flow” with scheduling strategies designed to deliver certain targeted audiences to certain advertisers, as measured by ratings services. Viewers may believe television networks serve them; however, television networks’ primary customers are advertisers, and programs are a means of delivering audiences to those advertisers. Netflix’s customers, on the other hand, are not advertisers, but viewers. What advertisers prefer, a regular schedule that guarantees the weekly exposure of their products, need not shape the preferences of such viewers.

Why doesn’t Netflix schedule like HBO, then? HBO, a commercial-free premium subscription service, creates artificial scarcity by withholding already produced episodes, doling them out week by week. HBO began as a linear service designed to attract subscribers to cable services; its strategies are thus designed to build subscriber loyalty to itself and to cable operators; its announcements of audience ratings serve only to market its brand, not to measure audiences delivered to advertisers. Many observers assume that Netflix is evolving like HBO, shifting from a program buyer to program producer to ensure subscriber loyalty. However, Netflix offers something HBO cannot: asynchronous viewing of a deep catalog of programming. Although HBO offers HBO Go, that service is limited to cable subscribers and to HBO programming. Since asynchronous viewing is what Netflix can offer more cheaply and efficiently than HBO, Netflix needs to distinguish itself from HBO precisely on that basis to attract and retain subscribers. Hence, rather than weekly releases, episode by episode, Netflix has always offered audiences total control over their viewing schedule.

Some find it difficult to grasp how the seriality of House of Cards can work if all episodes are available at once. Seriality as a narrative strategy has been around at least since the Odyssey followed the Iliad, but in the modern era it has also functioned to ensure the maintenance of a revenue stream. Serialized novels enticed readers to buy the next issue of a magazine; serialized films tempted viewers to buy another ticket the next week; and serialized comic strips encouraged readers to buy a newspaper daily. By the early 1930s serialized radio dramas helped ensure that audiences would tune in daily to their “soap opera” and the soap advertisers’ messages.  More recently, serials such as The Sopranos helped build HBO subscribers’ loyalty.

Why, then, create House of Cards as a serial at all, if Netflix does not need to tempt audiences into repeated scheduled viewings? Probably because open-ended episode structure is still one of the best ways to encourage viewing of more than one episode. Increased viewership overall would help amortize the show’s high production cost–not because Netflix earns revenue on how many viewers see each episode but because viewer engagement will likely lead to more subscriptions to the service.

Netflix’s willingness to give the audience control over serial viewing challenges assumptions that the best way to control program costs is to eke out episodes over time, measuring demand, and then raising and lowering prices in response. Netflix will track viewership, not to adjust airtime prices for advertisers but to measure subscriber demand and, it hopes, an increase of subscribers. Like HBO’s move into original programming, Netflix’s strategy is risky, but it is designed to attract subscribers to its streaming service–not necessarily to a particular program. No doubt audience control of the pace of narrative consumption will affect social media conversations. But this strategy also challenges the necessity of synchronous viewing as a business model, a model based on the limitations of legacy technologies rather than on some inherent quality of seriality.

Netflix’s current business model also depends on the survival of advertising-supported networks, which are selling programming to Netflix as a new aftermarket. Thus, Netflix is not aiming to destroy linear ad-supported programming. Advertising revenue subsidizes far more programming than Netflix can currently plan to produce on its own. Instead, by offering a new profitable aftermarket for programming initially financed through advertising revenue, Netflix may become commercial television’s white knight. Netflix’s ability to expand offerings of commercial television programming will depend in part on its ability to keep attracting new subscribers. Offering viewers the option to binge, or watch multiple episodes in a sitting, or watch them over a longer time frame, may be Netflix’s best bet for attracting new subscribers.

The full significance of House of Cards, as an indicator of new business models and evolving cultural forms, is yet to be determined. Is it too much to hope that Netflix’s simultaneous release of a season’s worth of premiere episodes is a harbinger of unprecedented audience leverage in an industry too long accustomed to bottleneck control over audiences?


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On Radio: Up From the Boneyard: Local Media, Its Digital Death and Rebirth [Part 1] Wed, 30 May 2012 16:43:33 +0000 Bob Fresh, Manny Fresh and Alfredo Torres of Bob's BoneyardIn truth there are three reasons I began a scholarly interest in media studies: local radio, local record stores, and going to my local movie house. Those morning shows, record clerks, and theaters are the places that I always come back to when I write. So, when I told one student about this in January of 2012, he  asked me if I thought there could be any such thing as “local digital media.” My first response was something along the lines of “maybe, but not likely, because the web is focused on communities of interest rather than geography.” To me, the loss of local newspaper staffs and, in some cases, the actual papers themselves, were prima facie evidence of a trend out of control. Yet recent life events have changed my mind somewhat and now I think we need to look closely at how people are, and always have, successfully inscribing the local in their digital media creations. No doubt, issues of national and international scale can never leave the scope of the digital domain. However, this column begins to question some of my own assumptions and explore the issue of local digital media beginning, as I indicated above, with a loss.

Indeed, in 2011, Hampton Roads, the portion of Southeastern Virginia where I live, suffered a significant media loss when a 10-year radio drive time show and career came to an abrupt end. Bob Frantz, aka Bob Fresh of Hampton Road’s The Mike and Bob Show on 96XFM, found his show cancelled. Ten years of any media project is exceptional, but in the fickle arena of local broadcasting, shows like The Mike and Bob Show were the rarest of birds in a post-1996 Telecommunications Act context. As a staple among the region’s testosterone-fueled audience of military workers, beach bums, and working-class commuters, The Mike and Bob Show was in and about the local. Local guys doing dumb local guy stuff that other local guys talked about. Like most drive-time shows, this included stunts at the beach, appearances at local bars and restaurants, interviews when comedians came to town, and, of course, giveaways to concerts and sporting events. Describing the program to me in an interview this April, Bob characterized it as “just guys ‘dicking around’ with no real format, working with no real clock. It was just friends hanging out and being stupid breaking balls, mainly just a lot of fun with Mike and I patrolling and delegating the chaos around us as complained about our bosses, friends, wives, girlfriends.” Immature, silly, and full of dick jokes – lots of dick jokes – it was the kind of program that most of my media studies colleagues wouldn’t bother with, let alone know much about. And if they did know about it most of my colleagues would either find it repulsive or kept silently embarrassed about their enjoyment.

The Mike and Bob Show from 2007Yet all it took to produce some eye-opening results that would seal the show’s fate was a less publicized but important analogue-to-digital media move, Arbitron’s shift from diaries to portable people meters in the Hampton Roads market in mid 2010. After the first book was released, The Mike and Bob Show, a program that had routinely claimed the number-two position with persons 18-34, was now pegged at dead last in the same demographic. Repositioning the show and jettisoning staff members couldn’t save the program from this method-driven nosedive. By the release of the first book of 2011, the show was effectively dead in the water and Bob Frantz’s professional radio career was done. With a buyout package in hand and a radio career in afternoon drive that had begun quickly after he graduated with a degree in history from Virginian Commonwealth University in Richmond, Frantz decided to begin a podcast. And, thus, Bob’s Boneyard, the flagship podcast of what would be an emergent network of shows, came to be.

Of course, these transitions are never that simple nor are they out of the blue. Bob had taken some time off from his show for paternity leave upon the birth of his first child and promptly watched every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show he both loved and seemed logical to mock on the air. However, even though the program could occasionally “talk Trek,” the program couldn’t find enough room for his own personal TV ramblings. Bob began to think about a Star Trek  podcast. He had become acquainted with podcasting as his 96XFM radio show posted a podcast and online videos of the show as a YouTube channel. When the program was effectively trimmed back from talking 35-minutes an hour to only 3- to 11-minutes an hour of talking in between MP3s, Bob suggested that the show should produce a podcast. The other members of the staff didn’t find the suggestion interesting.

Bob's Boneyard promotional Spring 2011 photo Whatever their reasons for not producing a podcast, Frantz shortly found himself without a job, time to kill before the paychecks and benefits ran out, and time to find a new batch of reasons. Let go in Spring 2011, Bob Frantz quickly decided within days to  follow the path of other displaced on-air personalities, such as Marc Maron and Adam Carolla, and begin a podcast. And like Maron and Carolla, Frantz drew from radio talent he once worked with on terrestrial radio to bring the podcast to life. Working with Alfredo Torres and Manny Fresh, the three decided to produce the podcast, Bob’s Boneyard, a program that would essentially produce much of the same banter – odd, offensive, and localized – that used to take place over the airwaves. Working with Stephane Frantz, Bob’s wife and soon-to-be podcasting colleague, the the four formed an LLC and moved forward with what would become a successful Kickstarter campaign that netted enough starting capital for computers, a board, and recording equipment and promotional materials.

What digital taketh, digital giveth, albeit one without any cash-flow and health care benefits. Trying to grow a profitable local podcast with advertisers and cultivate a significant audience would prove something different altogether and is the subject for the second part of this three-part post, which is forthcoming. In the meantime, those interested in listening to the Bob’s Boneyard podcast can visit their website or find them in iTunes.


A Report from CCA 2011 Tue, 07 Jun 2011 14:08:32 +0000 The Canadian Communication Association held its annual conference in bucolic Fredericton, New Brunswick this past week. The conference was one part of a much larger event, the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences that draws scholars from variety of disciplines to a different Canadian city each year. More than 70 different disciplinary associations participate on an annual basis, which allows for a range of difference conferences as well as the provision of broader receptions, dinners, and addresses that meditate upon the event’s particular theme. This year’s theme of  “Coasts and Continents: Exploring Peoples and Places” resonated strongly with the questions and issues raised at the CCA event.

The CCA began in a stirring fashion with a pair of panels entitled “The Crisis of Universities, Parts I and II”. These panels were related to a special issue of TOPIA that is set to focus on these issues. Ian Angus addressed the diminishing availability of standpoints for reflection at a moment in which these institutions are changing extremely rapidly. He utilized changes to the form and function of university libraries, citation systems, and the rise of the network society to interrogate the effects of three decades of neoliberal policies on the university. Bob Hanke applied cultural theory to pedagogical practice in order to conceptualize the changing nature of pedagogy in these institutions while outgoing University of Western Ontario Faculty Association President James Compton drew on his recent experiences in labor negotiations to address the pervasive trend towards micromanagement and rationalization in the Canadian university system. Alison Hearn then addressed the emergence of various metrics to measure performance in this new ‘spectacular economy of the university’; her talk on performance audit and promotion practices clarified some of the key changes occurring in our educational institutions. These panels affirmed the extent of the threat that the neoliberal political climate poses to the university and confirmed the need for broader collective action as the university enters a time of increased scarcity and scrutiny.

Darin Barney gave a thought-provoking presentation about the Alberta town of Battle River’s purchase of its branch railway line as a democratic act constituted through the collective embracing of an uncertain but self-determined fate. Calling his work ‘critical agricultural studies’, Barney inquired into how infrastructural technologies mediate the experience of geographical spaces and what happens when communities refuse to embrace the twin poles of the imperative of technological progress and the nostalgia for lost lifeways. Tamara Shepherd, Sara Grimes, and Leslie Shade combined to offer a stimulating panel on youth engagement with digital spaces, the gender dynamics inherent in those activities, and the pressing need for adequate policy initiatives in these areas.

The CCA also featured excellent keynote addresses by Lisa Nakamura and Charlotte Brunsdon. Nakamura’s talk, entitled “Race, Labor, and Indigeneity: The Birth of the New Media in the American West”, presented a pre-history of ‘new media’ that focused on the ways in which various dominant groups or entities in American society (i.e. adherents of the counterculture movement, technology firms) have appropriated or exploited Native American culture to suit their own ends and interests. Examples included the application of Navajo weaving skills in the production of complex tech hardware and the fetishizing of the native American’s authentic relationship to the natural environment on the part of hippies, which Nakamura adroitly connected to discourses of techno-utopianism. Nakamura utilized this discussion to explore the social relations involved in the material production of digital devices and to expose the race and gender dynamics involved in those processes. Suggesting at one point that women were the first form of software for the ways in which female workers operated the first mainframe computers, Nakamura drew an insightful distinction between ‘free workers’ (those who possess various forms of mobility) and unfree workers (those who do not). This discussion reaffirmed the persistent need to write against overly optimistic assessments of digital technology and the utility of historical work in this endeavor.

Charlotte Brunsdon’s talk, which was co-sponsored with the Film Studies Association of Canada, focused on British Film and Television history and emphasized the need for an historiographical re-assessment of the audio-visual arts in Britain. Brunsdon focused on the issue of medium specificity and the ways in which various media forms depict other media forms and thus help to fix their discursive meanings for populations. Her focus on this area was in part a function of her belief that, as platforms become less important in the face of digital convergence, it is becoming more important for texts to assert or specify the sort of attention that they require. Brunsdon contended that medium specificity is a function of accumulated textual gestures rather than a property of media themselves. She analyzed examples of the ways in which British films have depicted television at different points in time in order to make the case that television has evolved from a force that constitutes a threat to the domestic space to an institution that often helps to constitute ‘home’. However, this progression has lent the medium a socio-cultural meaning that tends to overpower it. Brunsdon argued that British television in the late twentieth century carries a metaphorical weight of banality and liveness that overwhelms any sense of historical fact. Thus, as the films Brunsdon featured demand a mode of engagement that is ‘not like watching television’, they also reiterate discourses of medium specificity that obscure our actually existing relationships with those media. Brunsdon then concluded by making the historiographical claim that Britain’s audiovisual culture is properly located on television and not on film, as has often been argued. “We’ve looked in the wrong places,” she said, as a sort of exhortation to use digital convergence as a means to look anew at historically-established discourses of textual specificity.

CCA 2011 featured an abundance of papers, gatherings, and activities that stretches far beyond my limited space here. It was a deceptively intimate conference that was defined equally by a fierce sense of intellectual curiosity and political urgency and by a pervasive sense of warmth and conviviality. This was my first CCA, but I can already say that I am eager to return for CCA 2012 in Kitchener-Waterloo.


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Do New Media/Social Media Distort Political Reality? Tue, 04 May 2010 13:00:29 +0000 Count me amongst those who argue that new media/social media are having an enormously beneficial effect on politics. The evidence seems overwhelming that through digital networks, citizens now have the means of enhanced political participation and engagement. But I have increasingly begun to wonder if all this participation has a distortion effect on our conception of political reality. Do blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, websites, and the array of other new media and social media forms in the hands of partisans, ideologues, and just-plain old political junkies transform that which is considered meaningful? Do such media platforms and sites of engagement provide the means through which citizens now focus on the trivial, the outlandish, the spectacular, while missing larger and more important political issues. Is the tail wagging the dog?

Take the Tea Party “Movement,” for instance. By most level-headed accounts, this “outpouring” of populist rage, right-wing hatred, and visible anger is less a “movement” or political tsunami than a media event. What is worse, it is something that liberals have played an important role in constructing. Certainly cable news has played a big role here as well, helping craft the movement (see Glenn Beck), then supporting and promoting its activities at every opportunity (Fox News, but also CNN and MSNBC). But is all this attention merited? It is hard to imagine other “movements” of much greater importance—immigration reform, for instance—receiving the amount of attention these folks have received (that is, until Arizona rightwingers overplayed their hand). The same holds true for the specific politicians and wingnuts that populate and animate this “movement,” from Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann to Glenn Beck and Michael Steele. Liberals—myself included—rant, rave, scream, laugh, and gesticulate over every idiotic statement and boneheaded hiccup these folks emit, positioning ourselves somewhere between amazement at their stupidity to outright fear and terror that the clowns might end up running the circus.

By focusing on them so intently, their extremism doesn’t marginalize them, as should be the case. Instead, their nuttery becomes the center of gravity, pulling other members of the minority party toward them. And why not? Given the attention they receive, what better way to make a name for themselves when their party really has nothing else to sell? This is true whether we are talking about Jim Bunning, Joe Wilson, or Michelle Bachmann. They easily become the party “stars” of the moment. Why? Because their ideas make sense? No, because they attract attention and loathing from the left, which attracts attention and fawning from the right, not to mention money. Furthermore, they fill a media hole–reminding citizens that the Republican Party is actually alive and seemingly “standing for” something.

One might argue that this is a good thing, exposing the idiocy and downright hatred that might have been hidden in the old system of party or think-tank-driven agendas. One might also argue that such attention means the right is overplaying its hand, and therefore will alienate independents or more moderate voters who will, in the end, give such nuttery the cold shoulder it deserves. Yet new media users nevertheless participate in drawing attention away from more moderate voices, ones that could be helpful to all pragmatists interested in seeing our attention devoted to solving common problems. Again, I count myself guilty as charged.

To be sure, I am not making a technological determinist argument. New media are not responsible for this change. But given the opportunity to share, discuss, participate, explore, expose, ridicule, and foment, citizens increasingly are shaping what the political landscape looks like by focusing on things that may not deserve their place in the spotlight or may not deserve to be taken as seriously as they are taken. Maybe we should all check our dismay at the door and move on.


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Watching Twitter on TV Thu, 25 Feb 2010 18:01:06 +0000 Ever since the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) closed its doors in early January the gadget press has been nearly unanimous in identifying 3DTV as television’s “next big thing.” But lost in all the hype surrounding 3D is a potentially far more exciting development: the inclusion of web widgets into television sets’ operating systems. Widgets are the mini-apps that bring weather forecasts to our computer desktops and display real-time news headlines and stock tickers on blogs. With the introduction of web-connected television sets with built-in widgets, the same functionality comes to television, so that instead of changing the channel during an insufferably slow segment of an American Idol elimination show, you’ll instead be able to hit a button on your remote to bring up your Gmail inbox or to play a quick game of Lexulous. In other words, you’ll do what a growing number of viewers already do on laptops, only without having to shift your attention away from your television set to do so.

Compared to 3D, widgets promise to have a much more immediate and meaningful impact on television’s programming, audiences, and economics. For while few current programs would benefit from presentation in 3D – in fact, more than a few would actually suffer, many shows will become vastly more appealing when overlaid with dynamic web content. I first realized this when I started watching television with some of my colleagues at other universities and colleges. Mind you, I wasn’t actually in the same room with them at the time. In fact, technically speaking I’ve never “met” a number of these people. Rather, when I say that I’ve been “watching television with my colleagues,” what I really mean is that I’ve been following – and responding to – their Twitter updates as we watch television on our own.

Each night between 8 and 11 pm EST, Twitter lights up with television-related chatter, making my TweetDeck “All Friends” column look like a meeting of the SCMS TV Studies Special Interest Group. These nightly discussions have brought media studies professors and students into closer contact with some of the nation’s smartest television critics, including The Onion’s Todd VanDerWerff and the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan, as well as the thousands of fans who provide running commentary on their own viewing via Twitter. Throughout the night links are exchanged and retweeted, plot twists are dissected, evictions are second guessed, and past and present NBC executives are excoriated, all in 140-character bursts. By the time the 11 pm local news has begun, tomorrow’s columns or blog posts (or next year’s SCMS panels) have already started to take shape.

It makes sense that Twitter widgets, along with other social networking apps, promise to be major selling points for the new web-connected televisions, in so far as television, along with celebrity death rumors, already seems to be Twitter’s main topic of discussion. The launch of these widgets is also in keeping with ongoing efforts by television networks to incorporate real-time text-based viewer feedback into their own programming. The advantage of Twitter widgets over past programming gimmicks is that widgets enable us, the viewers, to select the feeds that will be overlaid on our screens, as opposed to leaving it to the network to make these selections for us. So while we still can’t use digital technologies to customize the television programs we watch, we can at least use them to chose who we watch with. The outcome, I would wager, is no less satisfying.

Having pretty much given up on “live” (that is, not time-shifted) television when I first got a TiVo in 2004, I now find myself motivated to tune in on schedule by the prospect of participating in these nightly Twitter sessions. Even more surprising, on a couple of occasions I’ve actually turned on my set to check out a program that I thought I had absolutely no interest in to see what’s making “Vienna” or “Merle” or some other meaningless-to-me term grow larger in the TwitScoop tag cloud. Mark Andrejevic has argued that within the contemporary media mix television programs are but “the raw material to which value is added” by the individuals who analyze, debate, and ridicule them online. The new web-connected, widget-equipped sets acknowledge as much, affording what are ostensibly secondary forms of televisual discourse a place of prominence on the television screen. By doing so, these new technologies make a compelling case for the old argument that television’s real attraction is not its programs, but the discussions they inspire.


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