IA Summit 09 – Keynote

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IA Summit 2009 Podcasts

The IA Summit was held in Memphis, TN from March 20-22. Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main conference sessions (“see schedule”:http://iasummit.org/2009/program/schedule/).

| “Preview”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/when-life-intervenes | Keynote | “Day 1”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-09-day-1 | “Day 2”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-09-day-2 | “Day 3”:http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/ia-summit-09-day-3 | “Closing Plenary”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-09-plenary |

The IA Summit Opening Keynote

Michael Wesch opened the IA Summit this year with an inspired keynote that provides a fresh and ambitious direction for all designers.

He points out that our “audiences” aren’t audiences at all, but rather creators, and our job is not to lecture but to enable. With this new approach comes not only design challenges but the joy of reconnecting people to each other, which he illustrated with a series of extraordinary video clips.

The following is an outline of some of his key points; please download the audio for the complete experience.

Contrast Reveals Mediation

Wesch tells several stories about his study of cultural anthropology and how those illustrate how Western culture, and in particular US culture, has become completely mediated.

Inspiration Trumps

He then illustrates the process of how his video “The Machine Is Us/ing Us”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fboxesandarrows.com%2Fview%2Fia-summit-09-keynote&feature=player_embedded becomes an internet phenomenon and how its rise represents an alternative to the mass media machine that has developed in the US over the last several decades.

Varieties of Media Bias

Content bias (e.g. liberal or conservative bent) is only one of many types of media bias, and that all of them add up to “metaphysical bias.” The effects of this have not changed much over time, that comments made about the printing press can help us reflect on what is happening in the current environment. Wesch wants us, as the creators of the tools, to think about what environment we want to create and work towards it.

Checking Out

Using his classroom as a crucible, Wesch delves into how US culture arrived in its current state, using the assembly line as the starting place, moving through MTV, and onto American Idol. As a part of this journey, he traces the history of “whatever” and comments on the current cultural impotence.

Burgeoning Transformation

Wesch then assembles a multi-faceted picture that there is hope for our culture through the interaction of digital artifacts. He spends a significant portion of the talk showing various example of these conversations. YouTube acts as a meme-spreader and remix environment, and Twitter allows you to see yourself clearly.

4chan, the disputably infamous “imageboard,” morphs into Anonymous and plays tricks on over 9000 celebrities and groups that take themselves too seriously. Wesch makes the point that we’re in the midst of a “context collapse,” examines what that means, and shows what people are trying to do with the tools that are currently available.

Architectures of Participation

In the end, “Architectures of Participation are becoming the architecture of our daily life.” Designers will be shaping the tools that shape the culture and hopes that our community of practice can help humanity “do whatever it takes by whatever means necessary.”

These podcasts are sponsored by:

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The “American Society of Information Science & Technology”:http://asist.org/: Since 1937, ASIS&T has been THE society for information professionals leading the search for new and better theories, techniques, and technologies to improve access to information.

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The “IA Summit”:http://www.iasummit.org: the premier gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals.

The theme of the event this year, Expanding Our Horizons, inspired peers and industry experts to come together to speak about a wide range of topics. This included information as wide ranging as practical techniques & tools to evolving practices to create better user experiences.

The design behind the design
“Boxes & Arrows”:http://www.boxesandarrows.com: Since 2001, Boxes & Arrows has been a peer-written journal promoting contributors who want to provoke thinking, push limits, and teach a few things along the way.

Contribute as an editor or author, and get your ideas out there. “boxesandarrows.com/about/participate”:http://www.boxesandarrows.com/about/participate

Transcript of the opening keynote address delivered March 20, 2009 at ASIS&T IA Summit 2009 in Memphis, TN.

Announcer: This podcast brought to you by ASIST, the American Society for Information Science & Technology, the society for information professionals; by the IA Summit, the premier gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals; by Boxes and Arrows, visit boxesandarrows.com/about/participate to be a part of your peer‑written journal. And special thanks to Axure and Morae for sponsoring Boxes and Arrows as well as the many other sponsors of the IA Summit.
Announcer: Michael Wesch delivered a powerful keynote presentation at the 10th annual Information Architecture Summit in Memphis, Tennessee. Michael has been dubbed “the explainer” by “Wired Magazine, ” a cultural anthropologist exploring the impact of new media on society and culture.
After two years studying the impact of writing on a remote, indigenous culture in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea, he has turned his attention to the effects of social media and digital technology on global society.
His videos on technology, education and information have been viewed by millions, translated in over 10 languages and are frequently featured at international film festivals and major academic conferences worldwide.
I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Michael Wesch: I actually got my start looking at mediated culture in the most bizarre places in Papua New Guinea. So I’m going to tell you a quick little story about Papua New Guinea and how I got started there in order to frame everything I’m going to talk about. I’m going to end up talking about YouTube, 4chan, and Twitter and things like that, but we have to start in New Guinea in order to give us some context for that.
So I first went to New Guinea, this is 1999. I’ve went there off and on for the past 10 years, and ultimately have spent about two full years there in the past 10 years. And so to get to the villages where I work you have to fly into a little airstrip, like this little grass airstrip, and it takes you about two weeks to get that far because you’re usually waiting on little Cessnas and things like that. And ultimately you get here and then you walk a couple days and you end up in villages like this.
So you’re talking about places that have really nothing that we would call media in our terms. There’s no electricity, there’s no Internet and so on. Usually there’s not even working radios. Very isolated. And there’s not even money to speak of so these people are mostly subsistence horticulturists. And here you can see a garden. They grow lots of sweet potatoes and taro, they raise pigs. So this is a major feast that they would have.
They also eat anything that the forest provides them such as spiders. So after a big storm the rainwater will just wash these spiders down to the canopy and then they’ll harvest these and they’ll eat these spiders. They’ll also eat snakes whenever they get a chance. They’ll even eat what’s inside the snake. So here you can see they’ve taken out an animal that was recently eaten by the snake, and they then eat that.
And I show you this because this is where my journey really begins. This photo was taken about a week after I arrived, and it’s about 100 feet from where I was staying, which is right here. And I barely speak the language at this time. And I’ll just take you inside the hut here just to show you what it looks like.
This is what it looks like. These are actually my legs up here and this is my little sleeping bag. This little sleeping bag, I used to call it my little America because at night I would just try to wrap myself up in this thing and hide myself from the world because there were bugs everywhere and rats and all kinds of stuff.
Michael Wesch: But of course this is the tropics, it’s the equator, so in the middle of the night I’d get really hot and the sleeping bag would be off of me and there I would be exposed.
And that night after we ate the snake, I was looking around and I noticed that there’s all these little holes in the floor, holes in the walls, holes everywhere. And I thought, gosh, a snake could just crawl right in here at any time.
And sure enough that night I’m wrapped up in my little America, it gets too hot, the sleeping bag is off of me. And I wake up in the middle of the night with this thing, I can feel this thing across me. It’s this big around and it’s right across my chest here.
So I freak out, and I manage to get it with my left hand and I throw it off of me. But as I throw it, I roll with it. So now I manage to get it pinned down with my left hand. I have it pinned down on the ground like this and I try to get my right arm free so I can pin it down with my right arm, but I can’t move my right arm. And this is when I realize I’ve actually pinned down my own right arm.
Michael Wesch: What had happened was my arm had fallen asleep and it was across me like this.
Michael Wesch: So there actually was no snake. And at this time ‑ speaking of media ‑ the only thing that I could understand from anybody, I could barely understand the language, the only word I understood was the word they used for me. And the word they used for me was an English word that they had borrowed, which was “white man.” And so they would just say, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, white man,” and then I would hear just laughter roaring.
Michael Wesch: And this was my primary encouragement to learn the language very quickly and so on.
What I realized was that they had no idea who I was. I was just the white man that they could laugh at and so on. But then I started to realize that that was basically true for everybody in these villages. This is a situation in which your entire identity is made in your face‑to‑face relationships with other people. And we have become such a mediated society that we’ve completely lost sight of what that even means.
So you come to a conference like this and you are instantly displaying to people in numerous ways who you are by the nametag you’re wearing, the institution you’re associated with, all of that based on a print technology that wouldn’t be possible without those little symbols on your nametag.
Not to mention your identity cards and all that type of stuff that declare you a US citizen or whatever it might be. Even your clothes are sending a certain message. So even when you walk through the airport people will be able to identify certain things about you just by the clothes you’re wearing.
You go to a village like this and you lose all of that. And locally, the people themselves also are primarily negotiating their own identities in these face‑to‑face relationships. I’ll give you a few examples of this, which has really brought home to me in the following 10 years since after that first event, in a sequence of events that the locals now refer to as “number talk.”
What happened about 10 years ago was, just after I arrived, the government got serious about running this very remote series of villages, using bureaucratic paper‑based government. And so they went in and they actually charted every single village in the area with GPS. They actually carried around a GPS unit, marked down each of the villages.
And then they began taking a census in which every house was numbered, every person in the house got their own number as well, and they were able to count the units. And this allowed them to determine how much funding the village would get. So there was a whole formula for how much funding each village gets.
The impact of this was really tremendous in the next 10 years. The first thing that happened was they actually started eliminating their old villages, which looked like this, and are actually based on relationships. If you were really close to somebody you would face your door towards them, and if not, you would face it away from them. And instead you can see they arranged their houses almost by the book, in a linear format. And each of these houses is actually numbered just like the census book.
And if you go there today and you ask them, “Why did you build your village like this?” they’ll give you a one word answer: “Census.” And then you can see how it maps onto the census here.
And then during the census exercise itself a really interesting thing happened. They were having a really hard time getting people to say their names. They would go around and they would say, “What’s your name?” And people would be all confused. They didn’t know what their name was.
Now that sounds crazy. How could that be? But if you think about all the names that you have, you probably are referred to by at least 10 names, if not more. Imagine if somebody then came to you, and you had no idea which one was your real name, and said, “What’s your real name?”
They actually would go to some of the people there and they’d say, “What’s your name?” and they would say the word for mother, or father, or brother, because that’s what people called them in the village. And then suddenly they were like, “No, no, what’s your name?” And they’d just get totally confused by that whole idea.
So they ended up adopting another English phrase called “census name.” And now if you go there and you ask people what your name is, they’ll say, “You mean my census name?” So that’s where that comes from.
Meanwhile, people refer to this as “number talk” because their idea is that it’s numbers that talk to the state. And this becomes a certain kind of mediated reality, and they try to cook the numbers in a way. But this goes on to even more levels in terms of how print and the book were actually mediating their society.
This is what a dispute looked like prior to the incoming of this government bureaucracy. You can see what happens is when there is a dispute, everybody meets in an open area, everybody talks about it, everybody has a chance to talk and so on. But in the new era of print, they have an actual law book in which there’s a series of laws. And when people have a conflict, they’re taken into the courthouse and they’re measured against this static group of laws.
And this turns everything quite dramatically. Suddenly the focus is on the individual and the relation to a piece of paper. And their relation to the letter of the law, as opposed to their relationship with the people that are actually in conflict with.
The whole point of this is to say that media are not just tools. They are just means of communication but in fact they mediate relationships. When media changed, relationships changed. That makes today an especially interesting time. So Marshall McLuhan might say we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.
So today you look around and you see a Flickr here and a Twitter there and you have to recognize that this is a new way of relating emerging. So I’ll just give you a quick little tail from the new mediascape and then I’ll go into some more stuff about YouTube in particular and then 4chan.
So here’s a little story from the new mediascape. This is like the million‑dollar story. OK, so the reason why it’s a million dollar story is a million dollars is what it costs to make a 30 second commercial spot for the Super Bowl, which is a big event obviously. And so Doritos had an idea of how they could leverage the new mediascape to make it a lot cheaper.
So they just created a contest they allowed people to upload videos of their own little 30‑second spot and this ended up being the winning commercial. When they interviewed these guys about how they made it and what was involved, they found out that it cost them $12.79 to create their commercial, which is roughly the cost of three bags of Doritos that they had to break during the filming of it.
It was very successful. It was rated fourth by USA Today on their ad meter. So in terms of affecting the audience it was fourth. It did very well, despite it’s low price. But it turns out it’s $2.7 million to air the commercial, which brings the total cost to…
Michael Wesch: So the interesting thing about this though is that they asked these advertisers why do you spend so much money on this 30‑second spot and they say basically it’s water cooler talk. We want to be the thing that people are talking about the next day after Super Bowl. Well, the next day after the Super Bowl, if you check the blogosphere, the number one video in blogosphere actually costs zero dollars to produce.
I know that because that was the video that I made that was mentioned here in the interim. Those of you who haven’t seen it, this is just… I’ll just show you a quick 30‑seconds of it here. It’s this one where it’s sort of a history… Thanks. It’s like a history of digital text. Starting with written texts and what it look like in terms of written text. And then the changes that are brought about as digital text comes onto the scene.
I’m just speeding up here. You don’t have to watch the film but the basic idea here is that there’s some things I’ll cover a little bit later in this talk. We’re talking about blogs, YouTube, tagging, Wikipedia, and so on. All changing things in such a way that the Web is no longer linking information but it’s about linking people.
Michael Wesch: That means that we’re going to have to rethink a whole lot of things in our culture. This is all actually inspired by my work in New Guinea, which I think surprises people but that’s what this is really all about. That’s why I thought that you’d have to re‑think things, no just like governance and privacy and commerce, I think everybody thinks of, but also love, family and ourselves.
[Indistinct voice]
Michael Wesch: We’ll get to that later.
Michael Wesch: So the interesting story behind this so is not just this sort of move the video itself but what happens afterwards. So the interesting thing about this is it was made in the basement of this house in the middle of Kansas. So here you have a video that competed with $2.6 million massive productions and it was created in the basement of this house in Kansas.
It was done in collaboration with a guy in Cote d’Ivore ‑‑ in the Ivory Coast ‑‑ because he had uploaded the music that you heard there with creative commons license. We’re collaborating across time and space. And this was then taken on Friday. I uploaded it on a Wednesday and you see by Friday I had 253 views and the reason why there’s a screen shot of this is because I was just blown away that more than 200 people had seen this.
Michael Wesch: And in anthropology that’s a really big deal when more than 200 read your work.
Michael Wesch: So, I sent this to my department head and she was thrilled. We had a party that night and she was telling everybody. She was like you won’t believe…
Michael Wesch: Then this is by the next day. This is Saturday and you can see we had over a 1,000 views. We normally think about user‑generated content and that’s what this is. But what’s really interesting is what happened next. This showed me that there was a lot more going on here.
And that was, the reason why it was growing exponentially was that it had been “dugg” ‑ you know, Digg is a site where people can give it a thumbs up or thumbs down ‑ the good stuff kind of rises to the top. It literally gets dugg up to the top. And here you can see it was rising right to the front page of Digg. Digg is just one example of what you might call user‑generated filtering.
So there you can see it on the front page. The list is of course… It was also floating around Del.ici.ous and you can see the top two links there for the most popular Web 2.0 links that day were from Del.ici.ous. So this is a situation where people are just going to the video, tagging it with Web 2.0, anthropology, whatever it might be and organizing the Web as they do it.
So this is what you might call user‑generated organization for what’s great about this. I mean, that’s nifty in itself but what’s interesting about that is that Tazz is being tagged, a lot of you in this room are probably following tags yourself on the Del.ici.ous. You might be following the tag Web 2.0, like a lot of people are and then that will instantly come to your home page the instant that somebody tags it.
So this then you might call user‑generated distribution. So what we see emerging here is basically an alternative to the massive, mass media machine that we have existed with for decades here in the US. It now has like a valid competitor, valid alternative in the user‑generated landscape here.
So then it goes through out the blogosphere and this is where humans and machines are interacting without knowing it because every time somebody links it in the blogosphere it’s getting counted by Technorati.
That’s what creates the top 20 lists that you see on viralvideochart.com as well as on Technorati. Here you can see it was, this was number four and this is Super Bowl Sunday morning. I woke up and it was number four and I was just blown away by that.
My wife and I just sat down and we started hitting refresh, refresh, refresh.
Michael Wesch: We were really worried about the viral videos from the Super Bowl coming in that night. So we thought, if we can only get the number one before the Super Bowl and here you can see this is about noon that day it was number one.
This is then the next day after the Super Bowl and you can see not only was it number one, but it was well about the others. In fact, two through 20 almost entirely are Super Bowl commercials. So this is what you might call user‑generated ratings and this also works with Google, of course. Because every time you make a link on Google, it’s just sort of accidental collaboration with machines that’s going on all around us right now.
And this is what’s driving something that can be made in a basement in Kansas to have millions of views because commented on thousands of times and creating then this alternative mediascape.
So the question then is: do you look at this interconnected mediascape that creates all this collaboration in multiple ways. So this is just like a month after it was created. You can see it was translated into 12 languages. That spread it worldwide.
The interesting thing about this is that at the center of this user‑generated landscape is us, which means that this is not just a technological revolution. This is a cultural revolution. So that’s why I say that we had to rethink all the things.
Now, there’s a certain thought bias to media. People talk about media bias in terms of Fox News and that kind of stuff, but I’m not talking about content, I’m talking about the medium itself. There’s a long history of studies of this now going back four and five decades of very serious study. But even going back much further than that we’ve come to realize that the biases are things like this.
So there’s an intellectual bias to different media. So for example just for a real basic example take the example of like communicating with smoke signals versus communicating with a book. Obviously, there’s going to be an intellectual bias. You can’t recount Plato using smoke signals. Right?
So that’s a very basic bias of media. There’s emotional biases. You can’t convey the same emotions in different media. That’s why when you have something really important to tell somebody you’ll often think very carefully about what medium you’re going to use. There’s special and temporal biases.
We saw that in New Guinea, just in a sense of face to face communication is spatially biased towards how far your voice can reach, and temporally biased towards the now, because it doesn’t last, other than how people remember it and carry it on. Whereas print has a long temporal bias, because it stays static over a long time, and spatially, it can travel over long distances.
These create certain biases of the media. Then, there’s sensory biases. Some media are visual. Others are auditory, and so on. There’s political biases, in the sense that some media are accessible to some, and not accessible to others. There’s social biases, in that every medium creates a social scene around it, in terms of how you engage it, how you receive it, how you create it.
Ultimately, this is where it gets interesting. When you add all that up, there’s actually metaphysical biases to media. They actually make you think about space, and time, and the world differently, especially as they start to seep into our institutions. That then leads to different understandings of what information is, what knowledge is, and so on. These are epistemological biases.
Here’s a nice summary of this: Lee Rainie was talking about the effects of new media, and this is the basic summary of what he had to say. He said, just for example, you have the role of experts challenged by new voices, enabled by more open platforms for the dissemination of ideas. You have new institutions emerge to deal with the social, cultural, and political changes. There’s a struggle to revise social and legal norms, especially around the changing environment of intellectual property.
We all have seen this happening. It’s happening all around us. Concepts of identity and community multiply and transform. New forms of language arise. We’ve seen all of this recently, but, of course, he was actually talking about the printing press. This is just one example, going back 500 years, and here we are in this situation.
The question is, what are the biases of this media environment? How is it changing us? And the great question for you guys, because you guys right on the front lines of actually creating this environment is how can we create an environment that creates the types of community that we want to create, and the types of people we want to create, and so on.
And so, I started studying this new media environment here, by just watching my own students. I had this great sort of research lab, and it’s just in my classroom. You sort of get off this sideways. You can’t just come directly at them and start asking them questions about how they use media and all that stuff. That’s interesting stuff, but it doesn’t get at the real changes that are happening, and the bigger picture stuff. If any of you do ethnography, you know how you have to go at it sideways.
Here’s a series of questions that was very revealing to me, that aren’t going at it directly, but are still very interesting. Here’s question one: How many of you do not actually like school? Over half of them raised their hands to that question.
Then I say, how many do not like learning, and of course you get no hands. So then, we have this problem, because we’ve created this institution that’s actually designed for learning, and yet the people who like learning don’t like the institution. It’s actually true with professors, as well.
Michael Wesch: Then there’s other problems, right? The students are Facebooking through their classes. They bring their laptop to class. They’re not working on class stuff. This is actually a spur of the moment thing. Just as we were taking this picture, her IM popped up, so obviously this is a common practice for her. They buy $100 textbooks they never open. They pay for class, but often don’t show up.
We did a survey, and found that they complete about 49% of the readings assigned to them, and they find that only 26% are relevant to their lives. So, there’s this huge disconnect in our schools, and the question is, what is this all about?
Here’s the interesting thing: You look at this room here, everybody’s tuned out, and dazed, and so on. The same group of people that we might say are having this problem of significance show up in this context like this.
Michael Wesch: We have a camera on them, and there’s the contrast.
I was looking for an answer as to why this would be, and I found a perfect quote for this, and here it is: “What we are encountering is a panicky, and almost hysterical attempt to escape from the deadly anonymity of modern life. The prime cause is not vanity, but the craving of people that feel their personality sinking lower and lower into the world, indistinguishable atoms to be lost in the mass of civilization.”
I don’t know if anybody recognizes that. That’s actually from 1926. There’s a long history of this sort of disconnect, this feeling of insignificance in the world. He was actually talking about city life. Adding to that, you might say that there’s sort of… We can do a history of insignificance here. It’s not just about city life, but the assembly line, in which people started to feel like automatons, sort of anonymous functionaries in this big machine.
This allowed us to expand and build these massive suburbia areas here, and we’re so disconnected, we’re only connected by roads, and of course TVs and radios. And then, the TV actually becomes the home of our culture. All significant conversations about our culture occur right here, on the TV. And so, therefore, it’s not just the conversations of the culture, but conversations of significance that happen here, and it’s a one‑way conversation.
You have to be on TV to have a voice. You have to be on TV to be significant. And so, obviously, you’re ready. You’re like, “Just let me on TV. Remind me that I’m real.”

Something like that.
By the 1990s, we were just bombarded with imagery like this. 1980s, actually. This is the MTV world, right? Every one of these images is posted from MTV, the barrage of logos. This is actually my journal from when I was 17, in 1992. You can see, I was very much part of the MTV generation.
If you guys remember, everybody was talking about the MTV generation back then. It was things like, they have short attention spans, because they can’t last through a four‑minute video. They’re very materialistic, and we were. We spent so much money as an age group. We’re narcissistic, and one of the theories about why we’re narcissistic is because all that stuff that was being thrown at us from the TV was designed for us. That’s a very flattering thing. When you’re bombarded with million dollar images.
It costs $3.6 million to produce 30 seconds of TV, and it’s all for me? It’s very flattering, and so this kind of narcissism emerges.
But on the other hand, we’re also not easily impressed, because we’re just bombarded with all of this stuff all of the time. There’s this great line about this. “In the midst of a fabulous array of historically unprecedented and utterly mind‑boggling stimuli, whatever.”
Michael Wesch: That’s from Thomas de Zengotita. That’s a really great book called “Mediated.” I highly recommend it to anybody.
In the midst of trying to figure out where we’re going, I decided to do a brief history of “Whatever.” So I started mining the literature, doing Google searches to find out when the word whatever was used, and how it’s changed over time, and things like that. Basically what I found is that pre‑1960, whatever is generally ‑‑ it just generally means, “That’s what I meant.”
It’s sort of like you say something, and then somebody repeats it back to you, but in different words, and you just say, “Whatever. That’s what I meant.” That’s all it meant.
By the late ’60s, though, it started to become the “Whatever, man,” sequence. It’s like, “I don’t care. Whatever,” and an indifference started to emerge. Of course, this is at the beginning of TV, and especially the beginnings of color TV.
By the 1990s, though, this total bombardment of imagery, and you end up with this MTV generation, and you have not only whatever, but also the indifferent “meh” emerges. This is where The “Simpsons” clips come in. This is 1992. Some people claim this is the first use of the word “meh.”
[clips begins]
Bart Simpson: Nothing you say can upset us. We’re the MTV generation!
Lisa Simpson: We feel neither highs nor lows.
Homer Simpson: Really? What’s it like?
Lisa Simpson: Eh.
[clip ends]
Michael Wesch: You can tell it wasn’t quite a meh, right? It was more like, “Eh.”
This is 2001. They really spell it out.
[clip plays]
Homer Simpson: [excited] Would you like to go to Block‑o‑land?!! Bart and…
Lisa Simpson: Meh.
Homer Simpson: You leave me the impression that…
Bart Simpson: We said meh.
Lisa Simpson: M‑E‑H. Meh.
[clip ends]
Michael Wesch: It’s after that that on forums all over the Internet meh starts to appear. It started to appear in 1992, 1993, but it really started going in 2001. In fact, Harper Collins, just last year, admitted meh into their dictionary, so it’s now official.
1992, back to the MTV generation, this was the real anthem of the day. Kurt Cobain, “And I find it hard, it’s hard to find, oh well, whatever, nevermind.” It’s the perfect anthem of our generation.
Neil Postman in ’84 said something really appropriate here. He said, “The public has adjusted to incoherence and been amused into indifference.”
And, again, from Kurt Cobain: “I feel stupid and contagious. Here we are now, entertain us.” And, a lot of faculty actually repeat this line when they see this. They get a sense like ‑‑ they think what the students are waiting for.
So I mentioned earlier that this barrage of imagery is actually very flattering, right, and it creates a sense of narcissism. And so even as we’re sort of bombarded into passivity ‑ there’s no way to act on the images that are being thrown at us ‑ we’re definitely ready to get out there.
So in 1992, the real world starts to emerge and reality TV starts to take off, and that’s the ground for what you see in the “American Idol” frenzy today: People just desperate and ready to get on screen, to have some sort of significance.
And they really think that they deserve to be there. And so, by the late ’90s to the present, there’s a new transition in “whatever,” and it’s become much more sort of self focused and, “I am the most important person on the planet. Whatever! You don’t matter, I matter,” kind of thing. And you see that, not in the “Simpsons,” but on “South Park.” So here’s like a famous one.
[clip plays]
Michael Wesch: So you might have missed it. He said, “Whatever, I will be what I want.” And then this was, I think, a song that’s really gotten popular on YouTube lately, but actually started on MTV.
[song plays]
Michael Wesch: You see the self‑righteousness, right? There’s a new self‑righteousness there. All right. So you get the added narcissism to it all.
And then, Jean Twenge recently published a book called, “Generation Me,” which sort of tried to capture all of this. You can see the title up there: “Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled, and More Miserable Than Ever Before.” Because as they have rushed on the stage, they think that they deserve to be there, and then when there are not, they’re all like shocked ‑ you know, like, “Are you serious?”
Do you guys watch “American Idol?” It’s crazy. Like just all these people who think they totally deserve to be in a spotlight, and then they’re shocked when they’re not, and they’re in tears, and so on.
Now, this is actually very serious, though. Here’s a whole series of questions that will really bring it home. It’s not just about sort of the play on “American Idol” and so on ‑ but ask yourself these questions. Imagine asking yourself these questions now versus in the mid‑’80s. What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East, or the rate of inflation, crime or unemployment? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, etcetera?
And, this is from Neil Postman. He says, “I shall take the liberty of answering for you. You plan to do nothing.” And so we live in a world in which we’re sort of impotent. We want to be engaged and we’re sort of following the news with all this rigor, and yet, ultimately, we’re impotent in our actions. We have nothing to do.
Meanwhile, there’s something in the air that maybe is transforming what you’re seeing. And that something in the air is actually the digital artifacts of roughly of 1.4 billion people communicating. It’s literally in the air. It’s floating in the air all around you, for instance. At least you can sort of grab it with your cell phone or your laptop or whatever.
And when you add it all up, there are big numbers I can throw at you: 70 exabytes will be produced this year. That’s 70 billion gigabytes. It’s more than the entire collection of Library of Congress. A lot more. In fact, it’s 518,000 libraries worth.
Meanwhile, we’re testing our students like this when there’s all this information floating around. It’s the equivalent of 12,000 gigabytes per person. It’s equivalent to a stack of books 350 feet total. And, yet, less than 0.01% of it will be on paper.
So that was just all a metaphor, when I’m talking about how many books it would be. And it’s important to recognize it as a metaphor, because digital information is different. You guys are all trying to come to terms with that, and what it means, and what you can create out of these differences.
So, Marshall McLuhan once said: “We look at the present through a rear‑view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” There’s lots of great examples we can bring up with this, and one of them is just this idea that here we are in the information superhighway. We have to use metaphor constantly to understand what’s going on, because it’s a new thing.
So here we are in the information superhighway, looking into the rear‑view mirror, and we translate all the data that’s coming in through our screens into something we call a desktop, which is a metaphor. We put folders on that desktop ‑ again, a metaphor. We put documents inside the folders and so on.
And it’s only recently that we’ve realized that folder even was a metaphor. I think most people didn’t really get it, but it was a metaphor until they saw tagging. And then, they thought, “Oh, you can do this differently.”
And it’s not that we are going give up folders, because folders are actually a great technology. They’re actually an invention, too. They are not that old themselves, even in the physical space. But, when we get sorted of blinded by the rear‑view mirror, we don’t see the new possibilities.
In terms of the Web, of course, there was the Web pages era. So, in the early days of the Web ‑‑I think probably most of the people in this room remember a certain frustration with the creation of Web pages, or even like working for somebody who wanted you to create a web page and like really had the image of a page, a paper, and you were to create something like that.
The response to this was to create more things that were more dynamic. Does anybody remember the DHTML days? Yeah, when it was like really big deal. I will just zoom in a little bit here. Now, look at the new metaphor that was being brought in. It was said with the advent of DHTML, Web pages are one step closer to its cousin, TV, in terms of special effects.
So the new metaphor was like “let’s copy TV.” First, it was, “Let’s copy print, now let’s copy TV.” And you can see down here at the bottom. These things would make your images fly, light up, turn static, slow down loading time.
So this is what people were after. But the problem with this code, it was really complex and it often went into one document. It wasn’t like separate into multiple documents. And so form and content became inseparable, and it was basically almost impossible to upload content without knowing a whole lot. And, just even updating the content was really difficult, because you have to go into the code to actually update anything.
So Tim Berners Lee was really upset by this. And, by the late ’90s, he had a series of talks, not just one. The first one was December ’97. He said, “Look, it’s not supposed to be a glorified television channel,” because he had actually set it up so that people could share information and this kind of thing. He thought that people had really missed it.
If you click on one of these, you could really get a sense of the problems, because here ‑ I’ll just go into special document effects. And you can see it has like “IE” on the sides. What that means is that it only works with IE. And then you had to put this other script in there that would actually tell it, like, “If it’s not IE, then do this.” You’re basically building like two and something even three different websites all in one document ‑ really complex.
So these browser wars ultimately led to a new dedication in standards. And the reason I use the Firefox emblem is because towards the end of the nineties, Netscape and IE were like in this race basically to adapt themselves to DHTML, to have more effects and all this type of stuff, at the expense of all standards. So CSS wasn’t even really adopted. Even though it was created many years earlier, it wasn’t truly adopted, because there were racing to accept more and more DHTML.
So Netscape actually scrapped everything, rebuilt from scratch, and that become the base of what is now Firefox. And what happened then is that with form separated from content, you no longer needed to know complicated code to create content for the Web.
In that, once the standards were in place, CSS was alive; XML was able to grow at that point, and suddenly you had this very simple form. And this from Blogger, of course. Anybody can fill out this form and hit the publish button.
And, I’ve timed this before, it takes like 19 seconds to set up a blog these days. It’s just that easy to create your own website now. So, of course, it’s no surprise that there’s 184 million blogs today, and that’s almost 184 million more than there were in 2003 ‑ we are keeping track. And, I suppose it’s because we’re ready. We are just like desperate to come on and participate in the culture that we are a part of.
So, here we are in this new mediascape. I want to make a big point here. And that is that the medium shapes the message. So as we look back at this, each one of these is a different type of community with different ways of relating to each other and so on.
The reason why I’ve put this in the blogger format, is because blogger itself, was a big aha moment on the Web. It had just a signal box. The early blogs… first off you had to know HTML, if you were doing really early blogging.
And then there was a few platforms that emerged. Those early platforms, usually had a title space and then a link space, and then a comment space. The early blogs, were actually commenting on material that was already out on the Web. Because you’re sort of required to put this little link in the link space.
But Blogger did something different, they just said, “We’re just going to give you an empty box.” So you can do whatever you want with it. That led to the proliferation of all these different types of communications on blogs.
So the medium shapes the message, it shapes the conversation, it shapes the possibilities then, for community, for identity construction, and ultimately for self‑awareness, so that the medium, the media that you guys create, those sort of platforms, that you guys create for people to connect on, are actually shaping really profound things in people’s lives.
So this is where things will get interesting. We’re going to jump in here, and just look around in this new mediascape to see how different media shape the way we connect with each other today.
So first we’ll jump in to YouTube. Some of you may have seen some of these clips before. First off, we’ll start off…
[YouTube clip plays]
Michael Wesch: This is just a quick tour of what’s on YouTube. So first off, it’s not just young people right? Here’s 92‑year‑old, Erving Fields, signing about YouTube.
[YouTube clip plays]
Michael Wesch: But the most common videos on YouTube, are actually home videos. About 33% of video’s are just people uploading stuff from their family and just sharing these videos.
[YouTube clip plays]
Michael Wesch: So this is where it gets fun right? People start remixing this stuff.
[YouTube clip plays]
Michael Wesch: What’s really interesting, sounds sophisticated. It’s actually a bit more sophisticated, so this is obviously like a hip‑hop remix of the thing. These are done by amateurs because it’s that easy to do.
Even a better example, this is a free demo version of this Fuity Loop loop software that you can get online. And this is De Andre Cortez Way, April 2007, creates this little riff along with this dance stand. You guys may have heard this before. Post this to YouTube under MySpace, and within months, everybody around the country is doing this dance same.
Michael Wesch: These are prisoners in the Philippines. This is an MIT Professor and some graduate students, who studied for his historical theory. These are high school teachers, and then there’s all these remixes too. This is the “Harry Potter” version. This is the “Lion King” version. Vincent, Winnie the Pooh, Spongebob, and this goes on and on.
So obviously, the major sort of record labels are on to this, and they decide to buy “Soldier Boy” and make this video.
In the video, you sort of mocks their own kind of cluelessness, in the new mediascape right? You’ll see the imagery here, showing how the video spreads, and ultimately, finally found its way to these record executives.
You’ll see the use of cell phones and so on. But what really gets me excited about YouTube, is another aspect of it, and that’s that about 10,000 video’s a day are actually addressed to the YouTube community.
These are people that are getting on the webcam and talking to each other. It’s a unique form of community. Me and about 15 students have been getting involved in the YouTube community. There’s Rebecca Roth, from 2007. She immediately started coming up with insights into the YouTube community. Here’s what Rebecca was displaying and this is really cool.
[YouTube clip plays]
Michael Wesch: We started really thinking carefully about what it means to create a community through a webcam, and then through a screen. Everything is literally screened in this community, right? We started thinking about what that means and came up with a series of insights about what it means for identity and self‑awareness, and so on.
Here’s one.
[YouTube clip plays]
Michael Wesch: This is Marshal McLuhan, talking about recognition, and it applies well to YouTube, even though he’s not talking about YouTube.
[YouTube clip plays]
Michael Wesch: So you can see new types of self‑awareness emerging. I’ll talk a little more about that in a second. There’s also, not just while you’re creating the videos, then there’s this other side where you’re watching the videos, and there’s a certain anonymity in watching because the people you’re watching can’t see you, and this leads to some interesting effects.
First off, Lev Grossman once said that, “Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity, just for the spelling alone. Never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.”
I’ll show you an example of this. It’s just a random example here. The comment comes like: “Douchebags, you suck.” This is responded by Wingman8788, “You guys are so gay, it sucks.” Qwertyu121 says: “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Frickyougirl114 says, “YouTube comments make me angry. Grr.” Then Qwertyu121 responds: “Then don’t comment on YouTube.” It’s interesting.
Michael Wesch: So there’s this anonymity and physical distance, and the rare and ephemeral femoral dialogue. It creates hatred as a public performance, but it also creates a space, where people have the freedom to experience humanity, their co‑humanity without fear, or anxiety, as you’ll see here.
[YouTube clip plays]
Michael Wesch: So it’s almost like this state of aesthetic arrest where you really connect with people and you know in our society we kind of have this cultural inversion or cultural tension, you might say.
On the one hand, we really have a lot of individualism, independence and commercialization all around us, and yet we seek then the opposites, right, so we’re just saturated with individualism and independence and commercialization.
Therefore we want community, relationships and authenticity. And this becomes a certain tension and in reality it turns out we want sort of both of these or some balance of these. And these are constantly in tension.
Now, what you see in new media a lot is that people want to find connections, bridging their isolated lives, but they also see these connections as constraints on their individualism, on their independence. So, ultimately, they want connection without constraint. That’s like the ultimate. YouTube actually offers this possibility, as you’ll see here.
[YouTube clip plays]
Michael Wesch: All right, so that’s like a little brief version of how the medium of YouTube effects our self‑awareness, our ways that we negotiate identity and community and so on. And then you think about something like Twitter, just as a counter‑example, and think about what you’re doing in those 140 characters.
So one version of what you’re doing is life casting, and the nice thing about Twitter is it’s always with you. You can text to it from your cell phone, and that means it’s very different than what we see in YouTube. It’s very different than a lot of other media that we are familiar with throughout our lives. So you can actually sort of lifecast your life out there.
Jay Rosen likes to think of it instead as mindcasting. Actually, he hates lifecasting in which you tell people about brushing your teeth. Instead, suggests that we actually sort of have quality content out there. That’s what he calls mindcasting.
Lisa Reichelt has this great idea that in fact what we’re doing is creating ambient intimacy, that these little details of our lives are sort of connecting us. So even while you’re sitting here, you might get buzzed with a little Twitter update and you can check it and it’ll say, “Just woke the kids up,” or something like that. You’re kind of ambiently connected with your family, even while you’re sitting here in this room.
But what’s really interesting is when all of these updates start to line up. Laura Fitten has this great quote about this. She says, “In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself,” because you end up having this record.
If you just go to your own Twitter page, you have your own little record, all written in little 140 character little blips, about your life and you see yourself back to yourself, as you present yourself to other people because this is a very public space.
So it’s a very interesting mode of self‑awareness. And there’s one other idea floating around out there from Theresa Sindt that you’re actually becoming a microcelebrity. You’re managing your microcelebrity‑ness, whatever you might want to say.
And this is actually true for everybody. This isn’t just people who have thousands of followers and follow very few people. This is really true for everybody in that most people who are on Twitter end up having several people following them. Maybe it’s only five, maybe it’s 10, whatever.
But you’ll have people following you who you don’t know, or you just barely know. And in a sense then, when you use Twitter, you’re sort of releasing press releases of yourself out to these people. Everybody in a sense is famous, has that weird relationship with others where they know you and you don’t know them. So that’s kind of what Twitter can do.
Now here’s where things get really interesting is in this world called 4chan. How many people go to 4chan? Ok, there’s a couple. So this is a really great, interesting place. We’re actually going to zoom here on a random board.
What 4chan is is just an image‑based bulletin board, or image board. And the field where you upload your image looks like this. And you can see there’s name, email, subject, comment and then you upload a file. And it ends up looking like this. Now, one interesting thing about this is on the “/b/” Forum, this is where the medium becomes interesting.
They actually have basically no rules for posting, including you don’t have to use a name at all. You don’t have to use your name. You can change your name each time you post. You don’t stay signed in and registered. So this is a very different type of thing than on Twitter, where you have a fixed identity. It’s also very different than on YouTube where your identity is basically designated by your face and so on.
So here you have the basic comment field. You end up with a little dancer like this. So the forum is called “/b/.” So here somebody has shown up and they say “Is this /b/?” and then somebody responds, “No, this is Patrick.” “Wait, is this /b/?” It says, “No, this is Patrick.” And it keeps going and going. This is actually from Spongebob. And it keeps going. It just keeps going and going and going.
Michael Wesch: This is the type of banter you get. And so /b/ and 4chan itself sort of becomes this interesting world where everybody is anonymous. And so they actually become sort of a collective known as Anonymous. And also, each individual is also known as Anonymous. And this becomes like the primordial ooze from which so much of Internet culture is born, because it’s this very creative space.
Think about when you’re at your most creative is usually when you sort of let go of your identity, right? Usually you’re drunk. And you sort of like forget it. You know to forget who you are and then this enormous creativity comes out, great jokes, funny stuff. 4chan is almost always like that.
And so they started posting pictures of cats with funny sayings on them. And this would tend to happen on Saturdays, so they started calling this Caturday, and Caturdays were born. And a lot of you have probably heard of this because they’re the LOLcats that you see all over the place . There’s now a whole website dedicated to them at icanhascheezburger.com.
But here, it’s Caturday. They have a whole series. I tried to select ones that kind of represent the type of humor that you would see on this site. Now think about this, this is really interesting. I’m glad you guys all know what that is. I didn’t want to show it. But if you don’t know what it is, just look it up. Or not. Or not.
What’s interesting is this is totally anonymous. When people post, you don’t even know who they are. And so they have this whole language that’s emerged to determine in‑group and out‑group. And it looks a little bit like this. And when it gets really deep, it looks like this. And it’s the same thing that I just put up.
So there’s all these new languages emerging. I think this would d be a good time to show this. They have all these shared memes and things that go around. So one of them is they have this great book from Dragonball Z, which you guys may have heard before. You get a sense of who’s visiting the forum by the memes that they write.
[clip plays]
Michael Wesch: Ok. Now, what’s interesting about that then is whenever people ask them like who are you and how many people are in anonymous, they always say “over 9,000.” Again whenever anybody asks for a quantity of anything they say over 9,000.
Michael Wesch: And then they go out to another people’s forums and other people’s blogs and they troll there, right, so they call it trolling. Where they go out and they basically say these obscure little things, or really outrageous things, to basically get a rise out of people. So in one of the most famous examples recently, they went to a forum on child predators on Oprah and they left a comment there and Oprah responded here.
[clip plays]
Oprah: Let me read you something, which was posted on our message boards from someone who claims to be a member of a known pedophile network. It said this, “It doesn’t forgive, it does not forget. His group has over 9000 penises and they are all raping children.”
[clip ends]
Michael Wesch: She is like very serious about this. Right?
Michael Wesch: And of course, the people at 4chan, they call themselves /b/tards because the place is called /b/. They call themselves /b/tards. They just go crazy.
[clip plays]
Michael Wesch: And this goes on and on. There’s hundreds of those online if you want to look at those. So they come up with these great lines. You know they are actually in that sort of primordial ooze. There’s all sorts of insights there about the nature of Internet culture itself.
So here they say, “We are anonymous, we cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances, we deliver your mail, we are everyone, we are no one.” And then they go on, “United as one, divided by zero, we are legion. We do not forgive, we do not forget.”
But there is a certain sort of insight there about, in a way we are all anonymous online. It’s a really weird experience in the sense that these digital artifacts from 1.4 billion people are sort of floating in through our screens and stuff.
We connect with them generally not knowing where they came from. So we are all connecting anonymously in many ways, and not always, but often. So it’s an interesting insight there and you know leads to that.
Now, maybe they might be most famous for the past year for their protest of Scientology and there’s this great, great image that you see floating around about this. “Oh! Fuck, the Internet is here.”
And you can see there actually all their sort of playfulness comes out in real life as well when we have these real life meetings. So here is actually a LOLcat spelled out on a banner. And Fox News picked up on this recently and just to the great amusement of 4chan‑ers said that they were hackers on steroids. But they are not really, I mean they are great hackers and in fact if you are thinking about visiting 4chan, do it on somebody else’s computer.
Michael Wesch: The first time I went there, I just went onto 4chan and within two seconds all of my windows just collapsed, my computer turned off and then restarted and informed me that I had a virus and that I should download Microsoft Antivirus 2009, which actually doesn’t exist. That was the virus itself. So it basically shut down my computer and then scared me into thinking I have a virus, so I would download it. So they do all sort of interesting things like that.
But, what’s really interesting is they clearly like this really interesting culture but ultimately they are not a they because everybody is anonymous. So you can’t really identify who is part of it and who is not.
Chris Landers did a story on them. He found out they are only a group in the sense that a flock of birds is a group, that are traveling in the same direction. At any given moment more birds can join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely. Again think of the way that sort of reveals so much about the Internet everywhere, right?
I mean most internet groups are actually like this in the sense that they are very rare that there are like these fixed groups that you really belong to and in the sense of that sort of tight community and instead we are almost like flocking to different things throughout the web.
What’s really interesting is where they’re going with this. They say, “We will stop at nothing until we have achieved our goal: permanent destruction of the identification role.” Meaning that they’ve actually grabbed on to this idea of anonymity as a virtue.
It goes all the way back to the 1920s poets like T.S. Eliot, who were also into anonymity as an aesthetic ideal. They felt like we were becoming too much of a cult of celebrity, and even T.S. Eliot felt like too much of a celebrity. People would flock to him and read his work only because it’s T.S. Eliot, not to actually see the work. T.S. Eliot hated this, and actually wanted to be more anonymous.
Here we see, 80 years later, the same thing. People battling against this cult of celebrity. They do this in a number of ways. One of the most famous, or visually interesting ones is what they do on Second Life. They have a whole group of people that attack Second Life at various times.
For example, this is an event for Anshe Chung, who was the millionaire Second Lifer. She’s sort of a real estate mogul inside Second Life. CNET set up this very official looking press conference to talk to her about this, and some people on 4chan got together and decided to attack with flying penises. This totally disrupted the whole thing, of course.
[“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” plays]
Michael Wesch: Now, there’s also a famous attack on John Edwards. I don’t know if you guys remember this. John Edwards had a Second Life presence, and they attacked that. You can see, down at the bottom, they have a little conversation going on. They said, “Vegeta, what does the scouter say about his power level?” and he says, “It’s over 9000!” They just keep doing this kind of thing.
Now, here’s the interesting thing. You don’t have to read this whole thing, but just note the impetus behind this. The reason why they’re doing it. This was posted to the John Edwards blog after they had blogged about this.
It says, “As the Internet has grown in popularity, a disturbing phenomena has occurred. Everyone thinks they are special. We have news for you: You aren’t special. You aren’t unique. You are a mindless horde, traversing the universe on a small ball of dirt.”
It goes on to say, “We are here to remind you of this.” Down here at the bottom, it says, “Wherever someone takes themselves too seriously, we will be there. Wherever someone has an inflated ego, we will be there. We will do it through madness. We will remove you from the high place you have built for yourself.” So again, this sort of attacking, the Internet sort of celebrity narcissism that appears there.
One of the most famous examples here is Tay Zonday. I don’t know if you guys have seen this. I’ll just play a brief thing to remind you guys.
[“Chocolate Rain” plays]
Michael Wesch: I don’t know if you guys would think that this could be a video that could get 33 million views, and up, and make him a millionaire, but in fact, it’s happened. The reason why is because 4chan, the people on /b/, sort of make a mockery of our cult of celebrity. They will sometimes actually pick somebody out and launch them to stardom. This is one of those examples.
Here you can see, it got so popular that YouTube had Tay Zonday Day, in which the whole front page was nothing but Tay Zonday, and if you look it up now… I forget what it is. I think it’s in the thousands of remixes of this, the Tay Zonday thing.
I think what 4chan is most famous for in the last year, though, is this thing here. Wherever someone takes themselves too seriously, they will place a link, and this has become a very common thing to do. You click on that link thinking that it’s going to be part of this serious discussion, and you get what is called “Duck Rolled.” This has transitioned into the “Rick Roll.” You guys might remember this.
[“Never Gonna Give You Up” plays]
Michael Wesch: You can imagine why they would choose this, based on their sense of humor, but here’s where it gets interesting. There’s all these remixes of it, right? This is Hugh Atkins.
[clip plays]
Michael Wesch: This points to something even bigger and more important, in the way that this was created. He was actually using a search system on Google that actually indexes every word in every video ever stated by any politician, which allowed him to put this thing together.
This means that the capacity for making videos has now gone up tremendously. He’s John McCain with a blue screen behind him, and of course, this is just too good to pass up.
[clip plays]
Michael Wesch: All right. I like to think of this as a seriously playful participatory media culture. It’s not just like that people are playing around. It’s not just like what you see on 4chan, where it looks like it’s just all a bunch of play. There’s also a serious element to this. There’s a constant commentary on our culture appearing there. It’s like finally people have a way to talk back, and they’re using it.
It’s not just in terms of how easy it is to make video, and create these things that they’re doing, but also in the ubiquity of video, so for example, here’s John McCain not knowing that he’s on camera.
[clip plays]
John McCain: …an old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran? Bomb, bomb, bomb… Anyway…
Michael Wesch: This is then three days later on YouTube. This gets picked up and made into several remixes.
[clip plays]
Newscaster: No apologies, though, for a musical parody that many around the world took as a true sign of his thinking.
John McCain: When veterans get together, veterans joke. I was with veterans, and we were joking.
[clip ends]
Michael Wesch: This is what you might call a context collapse, which is happening all over in our environment, now, in a sense that you never know where you are, who you’re talking to, and where you really are, because it can be picked up at any time.
Here’s another example from the advertising world. This is from GM. You’ll see here, in a second. GM thought they could leverage this participatory media environment by allowing people to make their own commercials for the GM Tahoe. It’s real easy. Steps one, two, three, four, and then there you are. This is what was made. Stuff like this.
[clip plays]
Michael Wesch: Just to show you how sophisticated this can get, this is a remix, obviously using a lot of Hollywood films and repurposing them. It’s set to Regina Spektor music. You listen to the lyrics, it’s a very powerful message. Talking about slightly used parts.
There she says, “We’re living in a den of thieves, rummaging for answers.” The reason why she’s discussing this is because, in fact, the things that she has done should not be illegal, but they are, in the sense that if she ripped the DVD, it’s illegal. There are these sort of constraints on our participation, even today.
Here’s Lawrence Lessig talking about this.
[clip plays]
Lawrence Lessig: We need to recognize you can’t kill the instinct that technology produces. We can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from using it, we can only drive it underground. We can’t make our kids passive again, we can only make them quote “pirates.” And, is that good?
We live in this weird time, and age of prohibitions, when many areas of our life, we live life constantly against the law. Ordinary people live life against the law. That’s what they are doing to our kids. They live life knowing they live it against the law. That realization is extraordinary to us, extraordinarily corruptive, and in a democracy, we ought to be able to do better.
[clip ends]
Michael Wesch: One of my favorite things about this is actually not the video itself, which is amazing, and very artistic, and a beautiful work, but at the end, you’ll see that there’s some people’s comments. There’s all these comments on YouTube. If you read the comments under there, it says, “My God, are you doing that for a living? I’ve never seen anything like this. You’re an artist.”
To which she responds, “No, I’m a housewife.”
That’s the beauty of YouTube today, sort of the environment we have today, is that so many people are able to create for a broader public, create these beautiful things.
There’s also the possibility of creating together. We see it on Wikipedia, but we also see it, even in the video space. Here you see somebody donning the anonymous mask, Matt V. here. He actually invites people to collaborate with him.
I think by being anonymous, he actually becomes sort of a platform for this collaboration. All he asks is that people put a message on their hand, and then upload the video. Well over 2, 000 people did this, and then he was able to take all of these videos and create this final little bit.
This is kind of an interesting moment here, to think about what people will reach out to their webcams with, right? You have one message to put on your hand, and you reach up to the webcam.
[clip plays]
Michael Wesch: You’ll see, generally in this age, people are thrilled that they can finally connect with each other across these great distances, right? At some level, that’s just amazing in itself. And then, of course, there’s the self‑reflection that you saw earlier. Sort of love yourself, and that kind of thing.
Also, I think whenever you see messages like this, people deliver messages like this because they don’t feel like they have truly come to fruition. These aren’t just saying, “This is the way things are.” They’re saying, “This is the way things should be. This is what we should strive for, and so on.” We’re not there yet. These are not messages of celebration, as much as, “Let’s do this.”
[clip plays]
Michael Wesch: So in that context then, look at where you guys come in. So, here we are in this landscape. We have this possibility for a seriously playful participatory culture, but it’s enabled by very specific architectures of participation. Every single architecture actually elicits a different type of participation, and you guys are the ones who are creating these things.
I only want to spend two minutes on the future. Make it 20 seconds. I’ll do this really fast. Instead of telling you details, where things are going, I’ll just point out the futurists all agree on one trend, toward ubiquitous networks, ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous information, and unlimited speed. Everything, everywhere, from anywhere, on all kinds of devices.
Nobody disagrees with that. I think everybody in here would agree that that’s the general trend that we’re headed for. That means that these architectures of participation are increasingly becoming the architectures of our everyday life. It’s like information architecture is blending with the architecture of the real world, and in fact blending with the architecture of society itself.
And so, when you think about information architect, it’s not just an architect of information, but an architect of human relations. That means that you then have this capacity to build architectures for a new future of whatever.
If we go back to where we started here, in the ’60s, it was, “I don’t care, whatever you think.” In the ’90s, it became, “Whatever. I don’t care what you think.” In the future, we can hope that we can create architectures of participation that will allow people to feel a sense caring, and they’ll be able to say, “I care. Let’s do whatever it takes, by whatever means necessary.”
Announcer: To hear even more presentations from the 2009 IA Summit, point your browser to boxesandarrows.com, and click on the podcast link. There you’ll find access to the iTunes feed, and more information about each presentation.
Our heartfelt thanks to the organizers and sponsors of the 10th annual IA Summit, the presenters, and of course to the global community. We look forward to feedback about future episodes that will be of greatest value to you, our listeners.


  1. The way Michael Wesch pulls everything that we know about media and the web together into where we are today is simple;y incredible, this podcast has really inspired me to think deeper about the technology and architectures I develop every day.

  2. @Jonny – Glad you enjoyed it. You’ll notice that there are points in the talk where the audience is very, very quiet. Several moments during the talk it was hard not to be deeply touched by the gravity and responsibility that we are blessed with as UX pros.

  3. It is great to listen to this presentation, but I am curious if there is anywhere on the web where his presentation is synced to the audio? Thank you.

  4. @China I’ll let him know that you’d like to see that. And if it happens, we’ll post it here. Thanks for checking it out!

  5. How about adding transcripts to provide accessibility for those who cannot hear? That is a serious problem because it is one of requirements for W3C accessibility guidelines which is to provide text alternatives for all online audio components.

  6. @ux 09 – a little late to the game, but i’m working to get ias 2009 and ias 2010 transcripts ordered and posted to b&a, stay tuned for the results in the next few months (it takes 1 month to get transcripts back after we order them). right now, we have 2 up.


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