Week 12

This week features a lot of reading. We move from Burnett and Marshall’s 2003 Web Theory to Borgmann’s 1999 Holding on to reality.

Borgmann, A. (1999). Holding on to reality: The nature of information at the turn of the millennium. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Burnett, R., & Marshall, P. D. (2003). Web theory: An introduction. New York: Routledge.

Web Theory Ch. 8, 9, & Conclusion AND part 1 Holding on to reality:

Web Theory Chapter 8: “Web of informational news”-Burnett and Marshall (2003) explore how the Web has changed how new has been recontextualized in the search for information. They claim this shift has an important effect on how our society is organized.

Digital news is different from traditional news in 3 ways:

  • Short lifespan
  • Immediacy
  • Capacity to link to other sources

Interactive news allows for users to personalize their new sources and pick the time, the content and form that their news will take. Several online options for news delivery are:

  • News databases-this is basic document retrieval, users have a task oriented goal-they are searching for particular information.
  • Web browsers/WWW-following the newspaper metaphor there are news sites which divide information into sections and allow browsing of several news stories. News stories along with photos and embedded video clips are shown across the screen instead of just one document at a time.
  • News Groups-these have a very narrow subject focus with most items posted by the subscribers of the newsgroup.

There are some important differences between traditional news delivery and digital delivery:

  • Content is integrated collection of multimedia and multi-source items
  • Provider has less control of packaging and delivery
  • Reader has more control of packaging and delivery
  • Selection, classification, and prioritization functions of editing may be supplemented by 3rd parties for subscriber fees
  • Layout is dependent on display facilities (software & hardware) that the reader provides
  • Delivery is through 3rd party (telephone, Cable Company, etc.)

Constraints of informational news: Burnett and Marshall (2003) point out some problems associated with informational news.

Although there is an implication of plenty of news, information, and sources, there are limitations and problems. The biggest problem is that informational news produces the opposite of its potential for plenty of news content. It actually can reduce the content of what is viewed and read rather than increasing the amount of news content. Much of this is due to how people read on the Web. Sites that allow for the personalization of news mean that people filter out news and only are exposed to news that fits their profile. Also, when newspaper sources are converted to the Web, they are often shorter in textual content. It is perceived that people read less text form the screen than they do in print form. Therefore news sites have more pictures and less text than most newspaper copy. Users also tend to surf through and skim online news instead of deep reading news stories.

This is changing the newspaper business. In the effort to collect and disseminate the news faster and faster 24 hours a day, there is a huge loss of in-depth coverage and perspective of analysis. More news stories are over simplified and lack local perspective.

On the one hand since most news sources online are supported by advertising (rather than paid subscription) the news content has a abundance of advertisements and a focus on entertainment information and links around news stories. On the other hand, the Web allows traditional news forms of TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines to expand beyond their technical confines. Websites connected with these traditional sources can be filled with colours, pictures, sound, and hypertext.

Question of quality: “…online publishing brings…the forces of commercial television to all content publishers: the direct drive to attract audiences, the short attention span of readers and the need to produce captivating material. Quality newspapers, with their established tradition of fair and objective reporting, are at the moment forming a necessary counterweight to the more superficial news reporting often brought to us by radio and television. This same quality could be brought to the Internet …For this option to become effective, newspapers need to treat their online versions not merely as an experiment but as a serious part of their publication’s business” (Burnett & Marshall, 2003, pp. 170-171).

Burnett and Marshall (2003) also ask how we can recognize the levels of bias and accuracy in news when it is delivered in this new format. They point out that individual newspapers, TV, and radio stations gained a reputation for bias and reliability. It is predicted that a small number of larger conglomerates will dominate the mass information market. Already Rupert Murdoch owns much of what is currently disseminated.

Again Burnett and Marshall (2003) point out the shift in quality that has occurred: “On one level, the quality of news as it is now reorganized as informational news has questionable values in terms of validity and legitimacy…On a second level, the quality of news has shifted in terms of modality” (p. 172). It has become a “do it yourself” project as users become their own editors and selectors of news stories.

Web Theory Chapter 9: “Web of Entertainment”-in this chapter Burnett and Marshall (2003) focus on the influences that the internet and digital technology are having on the Entertainment Industry -with a special focus on the Music Industry. This industry was ht with the realization that the centralized control it wants to impose is impossible, and file sharing is a daily activity on the Web.

One big impact of digitalization is that the physical boundary of production which was linked to intellectual property has been broken. Cassettes, CDs, etc. are no longer necessary to disseminate music-this makes intellectual property laws tricky and distribution tough to control.

Digitalization has drastically changed the Music Industry. Musicians switched from analog recording to digital. Musicians no longer needed to be in the studio together to work on a recording. A distant musician can lay down a track in a MIDI file and send it via the Internet to the producer. Some innovative musicians are composing in cyberspace.

The Web allows better connections between the musicians and their audience. A Web page can promote an artist, offer audio clips of music, promote concert tours, and even stream video clips of a concert. The Internet can give the musician much more control but could potentially end music labels as we know them-they are fighting back.

As Burnett and Marshall (2003) point out, it is easy to give away music on the internet, it is harder to arrange a system where artists get paid for what they create. Companies such as itunes have developed such a system.

Industry Response: The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claims that 95% of MP3s downloaded are illegal. The music industry is concerned with the amount of piracy that goes on in web available music. It is this battle over music on the internet and the legal battles of RIAA and Napster which generate much of the news.

3 Mistakes of the music industry (Burnett & Marshall, 2003):

  • Music industry underestimated the massive effect of the internet and the rapid speed at which it would develop-instead of getting exited about the internet hype in the 1990s, corporate leaders attacked the Internet and strengthened copyright laws. They missed a huge opportunity to bring music to the digital age.
  • Music industry saw the arrival of MP3 format and Napster as a threat rather than an opportunity-companies feared they would lose their investment in CD pressing plants and that musicians would bypass them and sell directly to their fans.
  • Music industry chose to view file sharing music fans as criminals rather than early adaptors and innovators-the music industry did not create an early virual marketplace to sell music so individuals started trading their collections with one another. When the music industry clamped down and closed fan sites and prosecuted individuals they alienated a whole generation of music fans.

Gift economy and the loose Web: Some artists such as the Grateful Dead have proven that artists can do well by virtually giving music away. The trade of bootleg recordings often causes fans to purchase more music and to pay for concerts etc.

Lessons for the Web of Entertainment:

  • Content industries need to pay attention to what happened with music-as other products become digitized similar situations might happen with software, film, games, books, etc.
  • The battles over intellectual property rights reach into a variety of different areas. If entertainment companies want to stay competitive with pirate sources, they must accept lower profit margins for digital sales.
  • The fight over standards is the most intense struggle and has the most far reaching effects on many segments including artists, producers, publishers, and consumers.

Digital technology and the web have changed the relationships among producers, distributers, and consumers. In this environment it is important to have proactive policies rather than reactive policies.

The arrival of P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing has threatened the traditional economy of the music industry. File sharing is an integral part of the internet and will not go away. Five mega companies control the global flow of music and conglomeration and corporate concentration has spread to other entertainment industries. However, if we do not allow for innovators and people willing to experiment and push the boundaries (hackers, pirates, etc.) then the industry might become irrelevant and disappear.

Web Theory Conclusion:

Unlike past forms of media, the Web has so many exceptions and inconsistencies that make determining an “essential nature” close to impossible. Burnett and Marshall 92003) have worked on the premise of 2 core concepts: the loose web and the cultural production thesis. They encourage people to think about how we routinely use the Web and how it has been normalized and integrated into our society.

The Web offers a variety of connection and communication functions: emails, chat, video phone, etc. It is also a source of information both authoritative and anonymous. The loose web allows the user to be involved in private chats and simultaneously be an anonymous searcher of information. The user is also part of the web economy by being a potential consumer of goods. While the user browses and consumes “free” information and communicates with others, they are often bombarded with advertisements for goods and services which can be purchased. The Web serves as a large agora for global peoples. While users might feel anonymous, a great deal of information about them and their needs is being collected from every site they go to and every query they type. The virtual nature of the Web makes it difficult to maintain intellectual property rights. Digital files (music, image, text, etc.) can be sassily shared with multiple users instantaneously and is very hard to control. Thus the user is much more active and actually produces the Web itself. It is this ability of the Web to allow users to produce content that has made it such a cultural phenomenon. This is part of the cultural production thesis.

In the field of news there have been huge changes. News is no longer just produced by journalists and consumed by the masses-on the Web it is a blend of professionally produced and user produced. The same is going on in the entertainment field. Digital files are passed from one person to another and modified for their personal use into something different.

The Web has been integrated into every part of our society. We speak the lingo of the Web. “I Googled it” is a common expression now and has become second nature to a large portion of society.

Holding on to reality Intro: Borgmann (1999) introduces 3 types of information:

  • Natural information (Information about reality)-an example is a report; it informs us about what is out there.
  • Cultural information (Information for reality)-a recipe, score, plans-these are instructions that tell us how to create reality (how to make a pie, construct a building, play a piece of music or in the case of a constitution, build a nation).
  • Technological information (Information as reality)-our new technologies rival reality as we have known it. A piece of music on a CD is not telling us about the piece, nor is it telling us how it should be played (as the score does); it IS the music itself and is a rival of reality (a live performance of the piece).

The types of information are layered, but Borgmann (1999) claims that technological information is more than a layer-“a deluge that threatens to erode, suspend, and dissolve its predecessors” (p. 2).

Borgmann (1999) questions whether the flood of information we have been experiencing is good for us. People question whether the new technology will deepen the economic gap between the haves and have not’s, but now it seems as if everyone is in danger of drowning in our information overloaded society. Borgmann (1999) sees a need for both a theory of information and an ethics of information and acknowledges that “a good life requires an adjustment among the three kinds of information and a balance of signs and things” (p. 6).

Holding on to reality pt. 1: “Natural Information-information about reality”

In chapter 1 (Decline of meaning and the vise of information) Borgmann (1999) sums up the history of the term information; from its old form in Latin to 1948 when it became a prominent word. In the middle ages it was reality that mattered and had power over people. In the modern time period “Eloquence and meaning began to drain from reality” (Borgmann, 1999, p. 10).

With the influx of science many spiritual and moral edifices of our society collapsed. But the scientific reality of molecular structures seems to be lacking meaning and structure. Borgmann (1999) cites Donald MacKay as pointing out that information is the ingredient to add order and structure to our world of matter and energy-“information… is that which determines form…”(p. 11).

Borgmann (1999) also points out the difference between having information and knowing. There is a difference between direct knowledge and indirect knowledge:

  • Direct knowledge-have a direct experience (to know someone or some place because one has met them or been there).
  • Indirect knowledge-this is the same as having information about something (to know ABOUT someone, or know ABOUT some place because you have read about it).

As distinguished by Bertrand Russell, there is knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. Information is knowledge by description or indirect knowledge. Borgmann (1999) believes that this distinction is eroding away because there is a decline of meaning. Cultural landmarks dissolve as everyone becomes indifferently related to everyone and everything and this process has been culminating through information technology (Borgmann, 1999).

Ch. 2-Nature of information:

Instructive information is about a distant thing. It does not bring the reality of the thing to someone but it does provide someone with the sense of a thing. There are signs or objects about things which provide us with this sense. Borgmann (1999) points out that information is the relation of 5 things: “Intelligence provided, a person is informed by a sign about some thing within a certain context” (p. 22).

Ch. 3-Ancestral information:

Borgmann (1999) claims that: in our modern world we have been confused and distracted by “the intrusion of signs into the presence of things. By now we are so inured to the blight of untrammeled information that it takes a deliberate withdrawal to something like the ancestral environment if one is to notice the damage done” (p. 26).

Ch. 4-From landmarks to letters:

Oral cultures did not have as many physical signs as our modern society but this was balanced by a greater ability to retain information and “a fuller engagement of the person, and a greater intimacy of the context” (Borgmann, 1999, p. 38).

By using counting devices (pebbles, beans, shells, sticks, etc.) people did not have the burden of remembering numbers of things and were removed from the confinement of context. These devices could be taken from one place to another unlike a monument or a wall. However, this also meant a diminishment of information-the devices only served as a reminder of a number, not a symbol of the context. Writing and alphabets combined the best of both worlds. The writing was portable, saved people from having to keep so much in their memory and could convey and symbolize important information.

Writing leaves behind the fluidness and context of speech and provides “a rigid, permanent, and detached piece of information. In fact, writing extricates information from persons and contexts and sets it off against humanity and reality” (Borgmann, 1999, p. 46).

Ch. 5-The rise of literacy:

Literacy has never been resisted. It enters and transforms oral cultures. Borgmann (1999) mentions its transformation in Ancient Greece, its effect in the early middle ages, and its effect in the European conquest of the “New World”. It is a very compact and powerful form of information.

At first people were suspicious that writing would make people forgetful as they would not be actively using their memory. Plato recognized the fear that people had that people would be mistaken for knowing things merely because they had a book on it (not having read it). However as Borgmann (1999) relates “…the Greeks soon came to realize that ownership of a book will enhance one’s reputation only if one has read the book comprehendingly” (p. 49).

Writing does upset the balance of things. In the natural information scenario, natural signs appear and then shrink away-a bend in the river alerts one to a campsite area, but then becomes the river again. Writing creates a massive accumulation of information. Too much accumulation can be confusing.

While writing and literacy can drain some life from an oral society, writing can be extremely powerful and transcending. In oral speaking one takes what is at hand and in the mind at the moment; it can be monumental or it can fall flat. Writing can be a work of art. Borgmann (1999) compares writing to carving marble. It can be worked and reworked and refined and polished until the result is an incredible work of art.

Websites reviewed:

None this week

Week 12 references:

Borgmann, A. (1999). Holding on to reality: The nature of information at the turn of the millennium. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Burnett, R., & Marshall, P. D. (2003). Web theory: An introduction. New York: Routledge.

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