A Look at the Patreon Model

The fact nobody supposedly makes a living on Patreon has never been an issue to me. It is a supplementary form of income that allows artists, cosplayers, writers, podcasters, and more, to put their work behind a paywall or to receive donations from fans. Unlike how Patreon advertises itself, it is not the ideal model for creators to survive off of freelancing. Still, it serves its purpose and enables creators with a platform to have a little bit of extra money each month. The problem that I’m seeing more and more of is the gigantic gap between Patreon’s profits and priorities versus that of the Patreon artists.

In Keith Parkin’s Medium article in 2017, he asked, “Is Patreon a Scam?” In the article, Parkins highlights the platform’s controversy where it was proposed that patrons pay an extra 0.37 cents per pledge, thus hurting less popular creators who rely on their accumulation of 1 USD subscriptions. In the quoted twitter thread, Julie Dillon argued that even those few extra dollars a month can be life changing, and that it hurts to have the platform dismiss this. Of course, the changes were rolled back and Patreon apologized, but the change ultimately revealed the core philosophy and priority behind the platform. The change would have been devastating for small creators (who make up the majority of Patreon), somewhat profitable for larger creators, and incredibly profitable for Patreon. Twitter user @Burrito_Tim calculated that with his pledges, the platform would receive 118% more after the change. Again, even though this new policy was rectified, Patreon is in a position to decide that the demands of investors and their own pursuit of profit outweighs the bad PR of small creators’ outcries. After all, according to Patreon, they only value the “truly life-changing creators.”

In 2017, Patreon received around 60 million in investment capital from Thrive Capital after already having received 30 million from them in 2016, and 17 million in 2014. According to Dan Olsen, Patreon has only actually earned 55 million in revenue since 2013, which makes it highly unprofitable expense right now for those who have invested in it, thus placing further pressure on the platform to generate revenue streams that serve neither the consumer nor the creators.

After the Patreon CEO’s recent announcement that the platform’s current model is “unsustainable,” twitter user Dan Olsen predicts, “series of ill-advised feature rollouts, like they’ll probably go gonzo and build a livestreaming platform or pivot to Fortnite or buy Teespring or something equally confusing, with a slow degradation of the core user experience. Like you’ll sign in and there’ll be six popups asking if you’ve tried Patreon Mega and extolling how it can help you mega-engage with your audience, while you’re just like “can I have a commission button so people can make one-time payments?” and they’re like “no.” Unfortunately, the increasing demand for Patreon to focus only on trying to draw more Hank Green-type clients and profit off of them means the site is often neglecting its primary user base.

There will also likely be a big push to find ways to further monetize creators and have them pay for a better experience. So what is the solution then? I definitely think there needs to be a cooperative platform version made for and by creators. The cooperative version ideally would respect both the small tier and top tier creators, have more payment options that would allow for grouping together as channels and one-time commission payments, and it would have a model that does not overcharge for payment transfer fees. It would serve the creators, rather than treating them like serfs. Until then, creators using Patreon at the mercy of a platform that is at the mercy of venture capitalists. We need more platforms for creators that will put proportionally put money into the hands of workers rather than the pockets of corporations that are looking to just expand the value of the platform so they can sell it for a profit. When the latter happens, the “target audience” of the platform becomes its venture capitalist investors, and what follows is censorship, and a website that ultimately does not prioritize its users.

Citations:

https://twitter.com/FoldableHuman/status/1092870599985123329

https://theoutline.com/post/2571/no-one-makes-a-living-on-patreon?zd=1&zi=pmnmzelf

https://medium.com/dark-mountain/is-patreon-a-scam-a9d0e38bd69e

So Much Depends/ Upon/ So Many/ Business Models

In any ecosystem, heterogeneity is a healthy thing. We love flowers and they’re beautiful, but if Vancouver *only* had flowers—no trees, no grasses, no vines or bushes, the ecosystem would collapse. Likewise, if we only had, say, Maple trees and violets and no other trees or flowers, we would have an impoverished ecosystem because only a select few other plants and limited animals would be able to survive here.

The same is true of any market. The danger of any business model—Patreon, Kickstarter, or ad-generated revenue—becoming dominant is that each of these models allows for a certain type of content to survive. Patreon works ideally for artists who have grown a platform elsewhere and have an ongoing artistic practice that would exist with or without patrons—that is, it works best when the income earned is supplemental as opposed to substantial. Of course some people do survive off of their Patreon income, but as we’ve seen, that’s an incredibly small percentage of people using the platform, and I think putting this expectation on the platform is unreasonable.

Kickstarter, on the other hand, works best when it’s enabling a project to move forward. As opposed to Patreon, which has little-to-no community or tools for discovery, it is possible to find projects on Kickstarter without knowing *exactly* who—or what—you’re looking for. For this reason, having a following is definitely beneficial but not absolutely necessary in the same way it is with Patreon. Where Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding) platforms excel is actually in building awareness and support for projects—monetary and otherwise. For this reason, it’s best suited for large, one-off projects that exist outside of an artist’s regular practice.

The existence of ad-generated revenue is also essential because it allows for “free” content, or at least content that is widely and openly accessible without the user having to pay money. Because the Internet is so ubiquitous in, and in many ways, essential to modern life, it’s important that there are services, communities, and content that are accessible without a fee. This is, of course, outside of the conversation about privacy and the politics of collecting information in lieu of a fee, which isn’t necessarily an ideal substitute for a fee. That being said, however, while I use Facebook (for communicating with fellow cohort members and for finding out about/RSVPing to events,) I’m not sure that I would pay for it. Personally, I’m okay with the exchange of some online privacy for a service that I feel is useful but not absolutely essential.

Part of what makes the Internet as great and useful (and at times scary) is that it allows for so many different types of content and creators to flourish. As with almost anything, however, one size does not fit all, and too much of a good thing is not a good thing. In my opinion, the Internet benefits from creators with an ongoing artistic practice, creators with big ambitious ideas, and free services, and for all of these to survive, there needs to be a variety different business/funding models to properly support them.

small>MEDIUM>large

The Medium model is a fair exchange. They provide human-curated content which is properly edited for clarity and brevity. In turn, the user pays for access to this content. Of all such sites, I feel Medium is the most transparent and elegant. Evan Williams and his team clearly voice their dislike of the exploitation of writers and thus Medium set up a pay-wall to judiciously compensate contributors and ask for a fair payment for their effort. I really like the Medium model because it benefits everyone involved: the readers, the writers and the mediator themselves.

Most of my class fellows are hesitant to pay for Medium, which is mostly just text and requires active attention. It is easy to understand why they would rather pay for services like Netflix/Spotify: these services entertain and help unwind. At the end of the day, no one wants to log on to Medium and read some well-written articles.

An article I found on Medium talks about how the platform is the same before and after a subscription. This person writes for Medium themselves and they fail to understand the entire reasoning of this pay-wall. The pay-wall guarantees that Medium’s writers get paid. Medium subscription is like monitored patronage which subscribers take part in. The user becomes a patron to the content creators.

Another reason why I like the Medium model is that it has no ads, which means users’ data is not being sold to bigger companies that will exploit said data to place pesky ads. Services like Spotify that offer “free” versions are not really free either: they take users’ data and manipulate it to place ads, interrupting the user experience. It’s a free market of content that anyone can utilize in order to share their unique thoughts and perspective.

I am especially influenced by Medium’s Do Not Track (“DNT”) browser settings. Medium explains this:

If you are browsing with DNT enabled, you can read Medium in the logged-out state and our analytics will not receive information about you. Also, embeds within a page (such as a YouTube video) will not load without your actively clicking through a DNT overlay. By doing this, we allow you to choose whether any data is sent to a third-party embed before it is sent. If you click into an embed while browsing DNT, it may cause data to be sent to the third-party hosting the embed.

Medium’s answering call to my worries about being tracked through the internet is why I have a soft spot for the platform and the decisions it has taken to keep itself afloat.

 

 

Thoughts on the Medium Model

The with growing dominance of adblock (which has decimated digital ad revenues), it is worth speculating how publishers can adapt by creating models that enable website traffic and monetization without alienating readers. Medium’s recent model changes put into play an interesting structure: a membership model that, for 5 dollars a month, enablers readers to access “the best” of Medium’s content. Before deliberating on how publishing can apply such a model, I want to first look at what is and is not working with the system.

Continue reading “Thoughts on the Medium Model”

Subscription Model in Publishing: Not Like Netflix/Spotify

This week, we talked about the Medium’s subscription model during the class. In The rationalization of publishing, Medium’s founder Evan Williams believed that since publishing could not be supported by advertisements alone currently, a subscription model will be the best solution. He compared this model to Netflix/Spotify and argued that:

  1. People who care about understanding themselves and the world will pay for information
  2. People who care about reading will pay for texts as they pay for videos and audios
  3. People will pay for high-quality content rather than reading free but poor-quality content online

I agreed with his arguments. However, I do not think that TV/music is an appropriate analogy for publishing. In my opinion, reading has a lot of differences from watching TV or listening to music. Therefore, publishers should be careful when applying the subscription model.

First, the market for publishers tends to be smaller than TV or music producers. There are fewer people who read than who watch TV or listen to music.

According to the Pew Research, “Overall, Americans read an average (mean) of 12 books per year, while the typical (median) American has read four books in the past 12 months”. Let us assume they spend 10 hours on each book (it is hard to assume the average because depending on the genre and page number, it will take a different length of time to finish a book), then an average American spends about 120 hours on reading in a year and a typical American only spends 40 hours on reading in a year.

Let us look at the data for Netflix. By the end of 2017, Netflix had 117.58 million subscribers. It also claimed that in average, its users watched 140 million hours of content on a day. According to the numbers, the averages time for one subscriber to spend on Netflix on one day is a little over 50 minutes.

Then what about the time that people spend on digital reading?

In 2017, Medium only had 60 million monthly readers (not exactly subscribers) and in total, these users spent 4.5 million hours reading on Medium in per month. This means that each reader only spends 4.5 mins on Medium per month.

A big difference, huh?

The subscription model works for Netflix or Spotify because a huge number of consumers watches TV or listens to music now. For a keen online reader, paying a subscription fee to get the unlimited access to good quality articles is a great deal but how many keen online readers are there? For people who only read four books a year, unlimited access to books is not very appealing. However, they might be one of the one-time book buyers out there in the market which the subscription model does not work for.

Another significant difference between reading and the other two media is that there are better alternatives for readers rather than subscribing to a certain platform. If I quit Netflix or Amazon Prime today, I do not know where to find a better solution. I could go to a movie theatre which only provides me with a few options, or I could pay for a cable which would be very troublesome and expensive to get considering I don’t even own a nice TV now. Without the subscription model, I can still read a printed book, an ebook or listen to an audiobook, either bought by myself or borrowed from libraries or friends.

I am not saying that subscription model would not work for publishers. Except Medium, there are also subscription services for Ebooks such as Kindle Unlimited, Oyster or Scribd. In the article Subscription Services for E-Books, the author pointed out that the sales of physical books are “fairly stable” and he concluded that “the reading public doesn’t get subscription e-book services — or at least doesn’t get them yet”. However, I think the readers did not get the subscription model because the physical books (or the experience of reading a physical book) are still in need.

Overall, I think the subscription model will work for publishers, but only to a certain extent. In the publishing world, the subscription model will not be as dominant as it in other fields such as TV or music.

Platform Cooperativism Takes to Publishing

I’m going to take a stab at applying platform cooperativism to publishing, which I actually don’t think is that much of a stretch from established chapbook/anthology cultures.

It starts with five authors. No, it starts with only two. They’re best friends. They went through writing school together, but they haven’t had any luck submitting their work to literary journals. They’re frustrated with the gatekeeper system, so they decide to publish a chapbook together using their own money and limited understanding of design/layout. It’s a bit ramshackle, but it’s a sincere effort. They tell their friends and they bring some by to small art spaces around the city. Some of their friends express an interest in putting together a similar project, so the next time around, there are five authors. With the growth of the group, their reach also expands, and they’re gaining the interest of writers and creatives outside of their immediate social circles. They start to think of themselves as a collective. They stumble over involving people that they don’t directly know, but the city is small and the people interested are still friends-of-friends, so they start holding meetings and thinking about putting together another chapbook.

From my understanding, the story so far is one that many independent presses more or less have in common—it’s also analogous to various artists throughout history who have been unable to find mainstream success, so they’ve broken out and done their own thing instead (for one very notable example, check out the history of the Impressionist movement, following the initial Salon des Refusés  of 1863.)

How I’m imagining this venture could mature into a platform cooperative, however, is if they continued to publish anthologies as opposed to  collections or pieces written by one person. I say this because it seems more compatible with the cooperative model—in the Shareable article, “What is a Platform Co-op?” the contributors talk about the importance of the platform providing a service or selling a product, as well as the centrality of the platform being collectively owned and governed.

I think it takes a great deal of goodwill and organization to set something like this up, but perhaps the collective could be run by an editorial board and an executive board. People on both boards would be voted in, and every member of the collective would contribute a certain amount of money. Collective members could submit pieces for inclusion in that year’s issue, and the editorial board would decide what to publish. A portion of proceeds would go towards supporting the publishing etc., but anything earned beyond that could be paid back to the collective members.

Obviously this sort of idea is only scalable to a point, but I do think it’s possible. It almost feels like a hybrid between a Patreon-like model and a true platform cooperative, but I think it’s the most realistic way to apply the idea to publishing.

Work Cited

Mai Sutton, Cat Johnson, and Neal Gorenflo. “A Shareable Explainer: What is a Platform Co-op?” Shareable. August 16, 2016.

 

The Ideal Image of the web

Last week’s reading gave me an idea of how the web was originally defined and envisioned. What is it now? How is it being taken advantage of? How can we change it? And what does the future hold for us?  Before last week, I did not have a complete understanding of how the web started I never thought about it as a huge space, since I personally spend most of my time online on Facebook, Google, and other social media platforms. Along with our study readings, I am reading on the side books about the history of business which I found to be similar to the history of the web. So in this blog post, I will connect the models discussed in  these two readings in an attempt to think outside the “loop” and find the common ground. One model talks about how, before, people used to own their space on the web and the other looks at how people used to work for themselves and have their own land. Then it all changed to working for someone else and using other’s space and information.

 

During the Agrarian era, the concepts of companies and workers exploitation did not exist. There were farmers, bakers, butchers, and more. Each of them had their own space to work with and get their own income from(1). This is similar to how the web was in the past. Each website had its own domain and remained within it. Each would work, write, publish, and, most importantly, own their information and have control of it. I agree with what Kelly said when Chimero mentioned it in his article about the Good Room, the web was a boundless and shared estate. Also, as it was mentioned in the article “The weird thing about the internet today”(2) by Madrigal, O’Reilly wrote that the foundation of the web is basically hyperlinking where the “the web of connections grows organically as an output of the collective activity of all web users”. For me, that is the nostalgic idea I kept of thinking after last week’s readings.

 

Then industrial age came by and government and businesses started employing workers. Nowadays, we live in a world where we learn that there is one single right path to take: study, work hard get a great job, then retire and live happily ever after. Looking at it from my perspective, it is one big loop.  We are taught when we are young so it is not easy to change; it is very risky to move away from the normal/correct path. So basically, we are used to following what we see everyone does and what we think is normal. This is relevant to how the web is now: a space that is owned by big companies. Most of the users are in stuck in the loop because of the convenience and the easy-to-use interface. Nowadays Hyperlinking is not something we even think about. As Madrigal mentioned in his article:

most of the action occurs within platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and messaging apps, which all have carved space out of the open web”

 

The two models discussed here are comparable., and they make me think about what the web can become. People started going back and opening their own business to generate their own income at during the recession. When people are struck with the reality of being in the loop they might realize that is not the only choice they have. Thinking of the future web, am I going to wait for a huge online “bomb” to awaken us?  Or am I going to start looking at all the space that is available on the web to make something valuable again?

 

References:

Kiyosaki, Robert The Business of The 21st Century,2014.

Chimero, Frank , https://frankchimero.com/writing/the-good-room/,

Personality++

I came to internet consciousness while the blogging wave was kind of dying. Things moved rapidly from there. With Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube sucking up most of my online attention. Most of my age-fellows have a similar early memory of the internet.

However, the past few weeks have given the internet a personality I could not possibly have known about. Blogging-era sounds like a very mature, intelligent online space. A space where only people with some credit and a degree of intelligence were heard and had a voice. With no pictures, videos and similar gimmicks to distract the online user, the text had to be tasty. Bloggers were intelligent people, with smart, relevant opinions and a gift of the gab. That was how you attracted an online following. It was hard work that asked for diligence, time and consistency.

The contrast between then and now is stark. This contrast only emphasizes the fact that nowadays you just need to look a certain way to be internet-famous. The authors are right to be nostalgic since they would put in so much effort into one blog post and have it reach a small, interested audience; whereas now an “influencer” need only post a well-edited image and gain a wider audience that responds fiercely.

I appreciate this fierce response. I appreciate the fact that there is a little somethin’-somethin’ for everybody. Online, an old person with a passion for Salmon runs is as catered to a three-year-old’s crazy obsession with Baby Shark.

The authors’ reflections have brought about a change in how I feel about the internet: I feel a little warmer towards it. The internet is being sculpted into something new and I might be nostalgic about something ten years down the line.

Lemme Google This Real Quick

I overheard a conversation between my coworkers, a 50-year-old guy from the Bronx and a second year engineering student, the other day where they were talking about the impact of the Internet on the younger generation. The conversation went something like this:

The 50-year-old from the Bronx: “Man you kids have it so easy. You grow up thinking that what you see on the internet is true, all of it. Because that’s where you get your information these days. My kid the other day told me to just “look it up”. The truth is, the Internet only confirms that the truth is what you want to believe. You only read articles that reaffirm your viewpoint. The internet doesn’t know everything. Back in the day, we didn’t have access to the Internet, and in our hometown, the information we got was what we got.” 

The second-year engineering student: “Lemme google this real quick.” 

It reminded me of an annotation Alex made in the “How Internet gets us” that I’m still thinking deeply about. She shares that “the internet doesn’t know everything, though, and it’s that kind of thinking that gets us into trouble. It’s not there to be a spouse, or a friend, or a person… it’s a receptacle of information that is both true and untrue, and it’s up to users to sift through that information and form their own opinions.” 

I still wonder if we use the web as a tool for our confirmation biases. I, too, used to believe that the world wide web was the infinite place where we could get answers to anything: what’s the name of the 50th president? How long is a flight to Japan? What does publishing mean? When we go on the web to search for answers to our curiosities, sometimes we go in wanting to information to support our underlying beliefs. Sometimes we don’t know anything at all, but the more times we see an article of information, the more we believe it is true. I wonder if it is the mere exposure effect that helps circulate our ideas of what the truth is. Gillian Fournier in “Psych Central” writes that the mere exposure effect is a “psychological phenomenon whereby people feel a preference for people or things simply because they are familiar.” If People Magazine, US Weekly, and Meghan Markle’s dad, and Meghan Markle’s dog shares that she hates Kate Middleton, then somehow somewhere the idea must be true right? 

We familiarize ourselves with the web, to a point where it feels a place we belong to. But I’m starting to believe that the web is not only one specific place, like a library. The web doesn’t know everything; so can it be one particular place? Does the web know the answer to what the web is? Maybe on a literal dictionary definition level, but from webpage to webpage, the web knows no more than us all. The web then feels more like little places clustered together as if a digital community. Similar to the idea we learned the last lecture, the internet was built to decentralize conglomerates of information so information can be boundlessly communicated everywhere. Can the web be the same? 

While reflecting the role of the web and the Internet on our daily lives, I couldn’t help but feel a little afraid. We have become so reliant on using the web to find answers to any of our questions. The web should not become our only lives, consuming us as a whole. The web is a place for us to create. We should hold the authority to choose the impact the web has on our lives. We can have offline and online conversations to make well-informed decisions on what truth is.

To continue my nostalgia in midst of these anxieties, I’ll do another mini digital detox by going to bed early and dreaming of a life without the web. Little did I know the nightmare is still waiting for me when I wake up. 

Yahooligans to Decentralized Communist Internet

Over the past few weeks, I have really enjoyed reading all the articles about how the web has evolved and some of the nostalgia to past times. It has led me to question whether I’m nostalgic for anything on the web.

To be honest, for the first few years of getting my computer, I used it for Microsoft Word and playing CD-ROM games. In terms of the web, I remember it was connected to dial-up internet. I definitely do not miss that. There was also that fun search engine, Yahooligans, that I was taught to only use.

Though it looks fun, what we have now with Google is a million times better.  I remember it taking 30 minutes to download one song through Lime Wire. Not fun. I remember MSN Chat fondly. But I still do the same stuff now just on Facebook messenger instead. AIso I have the added bonus of video chatting and calling. And selfie filters.

I was still a kid when the Web was becoming widespread and I didn’t really use or understand its full potential or what people were hoping to do with it. I definitely wasn’t thinking critically about it. So reading articles from those who used the Internet as adults is really interesting. Similar to learning history, it is important to know what the Internet was like. So I don’t mind these nostalgia pieces. Even if they do romanticize it a bit – but that goes hand in hand with nostalgia.

Ther user-experience, user-interface, the speed, and our global connectedness has definitely improved over the years (at least I think so). I don’t mind the commercial aspect of the web as long as there’s transparency. Many of my friends have made a living off of the web by building an audience and selling content and I commend them for it.

I think what’s important to keep in mind is that these articles on the past are useful tools in looking towards and shaping the future. What comes next? In the Alex Singh twitter thread, there were some ideas thrown around: “decentralized communist internet”, “Industrialized internet”, “a shift to smaller communal and more personal or private online experiences”.   Looking at one of the B-side readings there was an article about peer-to-peer community run networks. The idea of looking back to the past to form a new future is highlighted in this quote:

“One thing that inspires me is that the original idea of the internet was a network of networks,” Hall says. “Different organizations like universities or the Defense Department would form their own network, and then they would join them together, and that is how the internet formed. We’re just getting back to the idea. We formed a network, and we join our network with other networks, and get rid of the ISP layer that we don’t really need.”

Using an idea from the past, people have been able to create their own mesh networks, changing the current systems in place.

I believe the same thing is happening with some new innovations such as Web 3.0 or decentralizing the web. In this Guardian article, it explains how Tim Berners-Lee (the founder of the web) is coming up with technology to store our data so that it remains our property. We are then able to move it around to different apps and websites without surrendering any control. It seems like a reinvention of what the web used to be where people owned their content and there was more privacy involved, just with some new technology.

I’m generally someone who enjoys change. So I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for the web. In the grand scheme of things, we’ve only had the web for such a short amount of time so we need time to make mistakes, improve, make mistakes again, and keep it evolving.

There’s No Place Like (A Digital) Home


When the web was in its nascent years I was too young to understand the possibilities it held. Although I did grow up digitally, and I think it helped that my dad was a computer programmer and our basement was packed full of PCs (at least 6 or 7) that he was constantly rolling his chair back and forth to. The whir of the fans was audible from the hall. Aside from coding he also ran a blog, one of those original blogs that Kottke reminisces over. According to my mom it was a place for him to vent and rant about all the things he disliked about the world, and there were other bloggers who hyperlinked to him and joined in the conversation. These are the times Derakhshan, Kottke, Meyer and Kolbert are nostalgic for, that they remember as golden years where the web was the next open space to pioneer. My personal anecdote was taking place in the late 90s and early 2000s to give context. To me, reflecting back on this now I see my dad as the equivalent to a cranky old man yelling at the kids to get off his lawn (digitally). At the time, I was none the wiser and was tinkering away on my own digital expeditions, dutifully typing in the URLs I knew by heart to take me to the websites deemed safe by my parents.

Since I was five-years-old I was learning the way of the World Wide Web and discovering the places I fit in. There was always something tangible about the web for me, that each webpage had its own feeling and some were more welcoming than others, so when reading Frank Chimero’s “The Good Room” I deeply identified with connecting physical space with digital space. At eight-years old I was already coding my Neopets page to my liking with simple HTML (putting in a little MP3 player, changing the background and type colour etc). At 10-years-old I was starting to explore beyond the designated websites to meet my curiosity and needs. I was (and am) a writer, and I wanted to find other writers because I wanted to get feedback and not feel like I was just writing into the void. A need to find a digital space that meets my current creative needs is always what has pushed me to migrate from platform to platform.

This is when I found a community of writing RPGs, where you could collaborate with other writers and develop your characters in the agreed upon setting. The platform we used was a repurposed chat-board (for the life of me I can’t remember the platform’s name), but the URL would look like www.RPG_name.platformname.com. There were limits with the look and construction of the website, but as I got older and found more digitally experienced communities it went from the default structure and colours, to a more customized platform where programmers had worked their magic with HTML to the point where these platforms barely retained their original structure. Of course, this added to the “feel” of the place, but what made the website home or not was the community who existed on the platform. We never knew each others real names, only our created monikers (which is a whole other tangent I could go on, about having the ability to rename yourself and create a persona that you want without judgment). But what we did know, was that we were a supportive network of likeminded writers who helped each other hone our writing styles. Where are they now, who knows? And those URLs have long since expired or turned to digital ghost towns.

With the fallout of these RPGs I migrated to Tumblr at 15-years-old, where I began to code the digital nook I’d carved out for myself. The complaint here, as discussed by Alex Singh, is that this nook isn’t really mine, that this nook that I’d created really belonged to Tumblr and I was a visiting guest while they profited off the content I created. Which is true, because look at that nook now. Since Tumblr went on a censorship kick it removed over half of the content I’d curated, and so what if I’d spent hours coding my “blog” to look and feel the way I wanted it to because Tumblr didn’t care. They don’t care about artists’ creative expression or the need to have a community to express that, all they (aka Yahoo, who owns them) care about is turning a profit and getting back on the App Store. These benevolent overlords are only benevolent so long as it serves them, and this is what happens when they decide a venture is no longer profitable: you get kicked off your digital plot of land. Now here I am, wandering the digital landscape again. I’ve been a nomad all my life, and the metaphor I’d use is more like a traveling bard hopping from village to village… and moving on when I either get evicted or the village burns down.

As time goes on I find myself seeking more and more “open” spaces where I’m free to build the place and community that I like, or to at least create my space where an already established community exists. This is why I currently feel un-homed, because for the first time in nearly 20-years I don’t have a digital space that feels like my own. Alex Singh’s twitter thread claims that we’re working under a digital feudal system––Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. where we create the content and the platform reaps the reward. Alex pines for the time of digital nomads, where we were free to roam. I can understand the desire to have a non-commercialized webspace that is that limitless space of possibilities it once claimed to be, instead of feeling like your choices are limited to bouncing between the various social networks. Because what happens when you don’t fit into one of those networks? Where does your digital-self belong? I’m still searching.

Less “What Was”, More “What Is” and “What Can Be”

This readings for this week, in conjunction with the previous week’s readings, have encouraged me to think about the web more critically. I’ve grown pretty tired of the “something precious has been lost forever”, good-old-days rhetoric, but these readings have caused me to think about the web in a way that recognizes its fluidity as opposed to taking for granted a static sense of status quo.

I wrote last week about my frustration with the aforementioned something-precious-lost narrative, but for the purposes of this entry and this topic, I want to mention one other issue, and that is the rose-coloured-glasses effect of nostalgia. While the web of yore did definitely function in a way different from the web of today, and while some of the differences could probably be seen as a decline in [insert virtue here], I think it’s also important to recognize that romanticizing the past often has a tendency to focus on what was good instead of what was not-good. I’m a little out of my depth in this subject area, but I’m sure that there were things about the Web that Used to Be that aren’t so desirable.

That all being said, this examination of the history and evolution of the web has shifted the way in which I think of things in a way that I’m more mindful of the the fact that the web is a structure with architecture and technology behind it. It seems obvious, but the way I conceived of the web before was a lot more like a mountain—an inevitable landform resulting direct and indirect forces, but essentially inevitable, fixed, and to a certain extent, organic. The readings from the last few weeks, however, have encouraged me to think of the web more as a series of scaffolds—intentionally built and maintained by human engineering, very much un-fixed, and essentially mutable. The web as we know it today may not be functioning exactly in the way that the original architects envisioned, but the functions and structures that exist exist because someone (or, more likely, a team of someones) decided that this function or structure would benefit the overall whole of the structure or user base. No part of the integral design of the web has been accidental or organic. The web does not design itself.

This paradigm, where the web is fluid and built by humans (it of course seems so obvious when you put it that way). Is a much more empowering relationship to have with technology in general. It’s easy to take technology and the web especially for granted when you’ve grown up with it and you’ve also sort of grown and evolved in step with technology—it’s easy for it to all feel inevitable and fixed, but it very much isn’t. And if it isn’t, then it can be better.

 

On Using Historical Metaphors for Technological Change

Overall, the reflections that this weeks reading inspired in me haven’t necessarily changed my perceptions of the internet rather than strengthening a lot of my old perceptions and beliefs. I’ve known for a long time that the internet is not the ideal that a lot of people want it to be. That isn’t to say that it is bad, it just isn’t necessarily a place of free information where kings & popes have the same rights as serfs & fools, so to speak. Based on that horrible joke, you can infer which of the metaphors I liked most for the internet in this week’s reading. 

I really enjoyed the twitter thread by Alex Singh that compared the internet of the early days to the nomadic system and our current situation to a  more feudal system. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that summed up and clarified my image of the internet better. I must admit that I am a major history nerd, particularly medieval history, so I found this reading to be very interesting. I particularly liked the observation about the internet “nomadism” where people “had to navigate the web like nomads: from point to point, from link to link” and the comment about more tech-savvy users working as a kind of priestly privileged class that can navigate more freely than other users (Singh). This metaphor does a brilliant job of illustrating the power that companies like Facebook and Google hold over the proverbial layman of the web, ie the common user. The feudal lords do everything in their power to limit the power of the people by offering them something like a house, land or free internet space. The layman has no idea that he is getting the bad end of the bargain, only that he is being supported by the feudal lord. I think this idea makes it very clear just what kind of system we’re working with. 

It also makes me excited for what possibilities exist for the future. If we are now in the feudalistic part of the historical timeline, how will we advance? Will we become a democracy? A communistic system? A meritocracy? A constitutional monarchy? I think that by examining tech through the lens of history we revitalize it in many ways. We also give it historical significance, which is super important, especially in days like these with the news mirroring the 1940s and 50s in dark twists. 

I also really liked the fact that Singh didn’t really favor either of the systems. He had pointed things to say about both nomadism and feudalism. I really like this perspective, as I think it is the most realistic and unbiased, allowing readers to make their own judgments about both systems. 

Work Cited

Singh, Alex. 2018. On the Web’s transition from nomadism to feudalism. Twitter.

Where Do I Stand?

 

I have tried all kinds of personality tests to find who I am and where I stand. Funnily enough, learning about your own personality is not very easy and we are in need of tests and algorithms to tell us what we can do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t use these tests. On the contrary, with all the different point of views and opinions we hear and arguments we have, we (or at least  I) sometimes lose track of what we are standing for and who we are. Wondering where am I going with this? Well, for me, when I asked myself where I stood and what I believed in after reading the article by Adam Gopnik, How the Internet Gets Inside Us, I instantly thought I was Ever-Waser. I believe in technology and what it can accomplish in the world; I used to be the type of person who immediately updated her phone applications (I am now prioritizing). I also want my career to be solely focused on data and technology. Does that mean I am one of the Better-Nevers? I’m still not quite sure.

Two years ago, I did a presentation in my class about the utopia and dystopia of the internet, social media to be specific. I watched two Ted Talks before presenting. One showed how social media can end up taking over someone’s life and the other one how the Internet and technology were creating a better space for people. After that, I watched a video that talked about both, the utopia and dystopia of the internet, technology and the web, Digital Dualism, how some people differentiate their online self (not authentic, not the real you) and their offline self ( that show authenticity and reality). The video pointed out that we should look at the issue in a different way: what if our offline is our online life? Maybe we should start seeing the technology as a place we actually exist in instead of a space we go to.

 

Now, going back and relating to the main idea of this blog, where do I stand? Better-Never, Never-Better or Ever-Waser. One of the highest personality traits was a Mediator. Maybe I am actually a mediator; I cannot take an extreme side in most of the arguments I have, I always try to provide a solution that suits both sides/parties. So when it comes to choosing where I stand, I directly went with the Ever-Waser because I looked at it as a choice that combines both the better-never and the never-better.  It is the option that made sense to me. Hanna from the video mentioned that we sometimes live in a society that is “influenced with a dualist mindset” choosing between good and bad, black and white, offline and online instead of focusing on the connectivity and the opportunities the technology can provide us. So for the third time, where do I stand? I think for the sake of my technology passion and my inner thoughts, I will not be a mediator this time and although I 100% believe there is more to this than classifying yourself into three categories, I see myself in a new category. One that combines both the Better-Never and the Ever-Waser.

 

Reference:

Spegel Hanna, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uddoLwk6Ay8.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ever-Waser

It’s easy to put sets of beliefs into neat little categories, and I’m not saying this is a bad thing when Adam Gopnik does this in his article “The Information.” It’s a natural thing for us to do, to try and make sense of a complicated and confusing world by simplifying it. Our relationship with technology is complicated, so there’s relief when we simplify society’s relationship with it into three camps. On one extreme of the spectrum there’s the Never-Betters who hail the power and innovation of technology––they’re positive and optimistic. On the other extreme there’s the Better-Nevers who mourn for the past and fear the rapid change of technology––they’re negative and pessimistic. Right in the middle there’s the Ever-Wasers, who like the neutral party they are, believe that technology has always been a thing in modernity and that some people are going to enjoy the change and some people won’t, that these advancements bring positive effects and negative ones.

Like many binaries in life (sexuality or political preference for example) this Never-Better-Better-Never-Ever-Waser categorization falls on a spectrum, a sliding scale if you will and you can fall anywhere in between. These socially constructed binaries are a way of simplifying complicated relationships, and while they’re nice and easy they’re only a start to understanding these relationships and that while we may fall on the spectrum, we can also fall totally outside of it.

I’m not going to spend this blog post deconstructing binaries, and if we’re using Gopnik’s Never-Better-Better-Never-Ever-Waser binary then I’d have to say I fall in the Ever-Waser box, with a slight inclination to Never-Better (but I don’t sport rose-coloured glasses). As for society as a whole, well they’re all over the map and I don’t think you can make such a sweeping generalization to where they fall on the spectrum (or outside of it). As for myself, I don’t believe in new technology being inherently good, and I also don’t believe in it being evil. New technology simply is, and it depends on how we use it that makes it good or bad.

Whenever we’re debating the positives and negatives of our relationship with new technology I always have Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man running through my brain. Yes, this is crazy dated since it’s from the 60s, and wow times certainly have changed, but I think the core of what he was saying still remains. Mark Federman breaks down this phrase in his essay “What is the Meaning of the Medium is the Message.” The “message” is not “the content or use of the innovation, but the change in inter-personal dynamics that the innovation brings with it.” The “medium” is any extension of ourselves, something that allows us “to do more than our bodies could do on their own.” The point that McLuhan is trying to make is that we can understand the nature of these innovations through the behavioral changes they create within our society. It’s not the content of the internet that matters, it’s how it changes our behaviour that reveals something about us and therefore the medium (the internet). The medium is neither good nor bad, it’s how we interact with it that decides that.

Which brings me to Frank Chimero’s piece “The Good Room,” where he writes “technology’s influence is not a problem to solve through dominance; it’s a situation to navigate through clear goals and critical thinking. Attentiveness is key.” It’s this critical thinking that is key when we engage with technology. We need to consider if what we’re doing is for the betterment of society or not. Unfortunately, what a “better” world is depends on the person you ask. This blog post is not going to deconstruct the values of good and evil and the subjectivity of that either.

Technologies live and die, change and evolve and they are always going to benefit someone, and simultaneously be a detriment to someone else. It all depends on who you are and how you’ll use the new innovation. One can hope for that utopian vision of open knowledge and the infinite expansion of the mind, and hopefully prevent a Terminator-esque robot take-over dystopia but in the end the choice is yours.




Utopia or Dystopia? – PUB802 REFLECTION

“I do not fear computers. I fear lack of them.”

— Isaac Asimov

 

Isaac Asimov’s quote puts him in Adam Gopnik’s defined category as a “Never-Better”: an optimistic who has embraced technological change. The issue with this overly-trusting approach is already highlighted in the quote that the reliance on computers and other technology that has the internet is a serious concern for the modern age. At a first glance, the fear of not having computers sounds extreme, but I am one of those people who has a miniature panic attack when I reach for my pocket and realize there is a possibility I may have forgotten my phone in class or at the restaurant I just left. There was a time when phone calls were exclusively done through landlines, but now? To leave one’s phone behind during a night out? Unthinkable. My phone is what I use to track which bus stop to get off at, to listen to music or podcasts during my commute, to alert my friends of my arrival, to take pictures documenting my night, and to order an Uber if need be. Being without my phone makes me feels uncomfortably vulnerable. And it is not just me — this is major cultural change. I like books, but I have never felt dependent on them.

So I will be the first to admit that I am reliant on technology. But does that mean that I trust technology? Am I a Better-Never; a believer that we are living in the Golden Age of technology and that every advancement signifies progress, an evolution worth celebrating? Not necessarily.

Upon being given the prompt, my first instinct was to say that I align myself with the Never-Waser’s. It is an imperfect binary, but I do not think modern technology will be our ruin, nor am I ready to start mourning books when my own collection of hardcovers is large and steadily growing. In many ways, I think what is happening now is not unlike what has happened throughout history where the older generation is nostalgic for a time when things worked differently and human connection was less complicated. There was a time when the older generation feared collecting information in books would mean having a less impressive memory palace and that reading was an antisocial behaviour that should be discouraged. Back in my day, kids used to play outside with their friends! I do not think it is unrealistic to assume that one day a new mode of technology will come out and those in my generation will share tweets and Facebook posts about how different things are. We already do to an extent—hey guys, remember when everyone had to wait their turn to use that one family computer and it used to take forever for one page to load? At present, my generation’s mentality has been “you kids have it so much easier than we did.” We are nostalgic about the shows we would watch during our childhood, but the technology we grew up with has only gotten faster and more intuitive, so maybe there has, in fact, been a recognizable shift.

I cannot conceive of my life without the internet, but not every change it has brought has benefitted humankind. Departing with the Never-Waser mentality of continuity, the following is a list of capabilities that distinguish the computer or the internet from any technology that came before it:

PROS:

  • Greater capability to bring people together
  • Widespread access to knowledge (knowledge of abuses, protests, revolutions)
  • Passive social connections
  • Networking
  • Near-immediate access to food, clothes, and anything else
  • Cultivating communities of people who share a common interest or goal
  • Fundraising (aka America’s healthcare system)
  • Portfolio visibility
  • New accessibility services and a job market that enables freelancing

It is amazing to reflect on how many creative projects and medical procedures like transition surgeries that the internet has made possible. The Parkland Teens’ protest for gun-control that went viral would not have been possible without the internet. It has enabled the global, widespread sharing of information in a way that far exceeds print. But at the same time, it has allowed for the spread of misinformation on an equally astronomical scale. Fraud has never been easier. Sure, there was a time when Johannes Gutenberg would print out indulgences and sell them to God-fearing Christians for a pretty penny, but that is nothing in comparison to how many Nigerian Prince scams have been ran since the advent of the internet. Catfishing is a serious problem and one that can lead to major trauma and depression for those who have experienced it. There has also been the advent of a new type of celebrity – the influencer. My generation loves them. The majority of them are young women who post pictures of themselves living and idealistic lifestyle full of travel, eating, shopping, and visiting anywhere they can to get the perfect shot for Instagram. Their online pages are full of hiding promotions for sponsored products that their followers are encouraged to buy to mimic this unrealistic lifestyle. The Kardashians are a good example of this phenomena.

One of the many issues with capitalism is that it profits from making people feel as depressed and unfulfilled as possible in order to sell them products that promise to provide happiness and fulfilment. Influencers are amazing at creating the envy and disillusionment that capitalism thrives at and they are professionals at promoting materialistic solutions that are packaged as “inspirational.” But these influencers are not reliable, and many are willing to promote products that are dangerous and unethical. The internet has been capitalism’s playground, which leads me to my con list:

CONS

  • The widespread sharing of false information
  • The gathering of racists and misogynists who validate each other
  • Sponsored advertising parading as content
  • Catfishing and general fraud
  • Cyberstalking and general lack of privacy
  • Anonymity
  • Revenge porn
  • Filters leading to increased dysphoria
  • Repaying labour with “exposure”

It is frustrating to be both skeptical of and reliant on technology. Like Never-Betters, I am optimistic that technology will continue to evolve and enable new forms of knowledge, connection, communication, innovation, and art to emerge. Like Better-Nevers, I am pessimistically concerned that our technology will continue to be abused and exploited by scammers, neo-nazis, and capitalistic companies like Amazon and Ticketmaster. In a way, the internet is like the megaphone. It is not inherently good (sorry, Never-Betters) nor is it an inherent threat to our humanity (sorry, Better-Nevers). Instead, it is a tool that is unmatched in its capability to magnify and enable the very best and worst of human behaviour.