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Making the Digital, Scarce…

December 3, 2010

If there is one thing about digital media we are all having to come to terms with, it’s abundance. Scarcity is no longer the issue:

If the shift from previous media technologies and distribution platforms to software has challenged our most basic concepts and theories of “media,” the new challenge in my view is even more serious. Let’s say I am interested in thinking about cinematic strategies in user-generated videos on YouTube. There is no way I can manually look through all the billions of videos there. Of course, if I watch some of them, I am likely to notice some patterns emerging.. but how do I know which patterns exist in all the YouTube videos I never watched?” (Manovich 2008:195)

Never mind analysing it all, I can’t even watch all the video uploaded.   Not only that but it’s connectivity is ubiquitous and pervasive.  It’s finds you:

As Pew has pointed out, young people especially (and people of all ages) act as conduits as much as consumers. And they expect to watch video themselves. This is also a clear example of how the peer replaces the editor. My favorite line:

Ms. Buckingham recalled conducting a focus group where one of her subjects, a college student, said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

So it is always great to find an example of people doing it differently, going against the grain. In this instance, in making the pervasive and ubiquitous, less so. But not for reasons for aping the physicality of analogue media, but to capture its sense of presence.

Witch-house bands go even further: they put their music up for free on places like SoundCloud, but remove the files after a certain number of listens or downloads, creating scheduling and scarcity in a system that’s otherwise about abundance and time-shifting. Aside from the fact that some of these bands are really good, witch house is interesting to follow because it’s a sort of ad hoc Darknet — the places where you can hear this music move around. One week, it’s a private group on Last.fm. The next week, it’s a public message board. The week after, they’re all living on a blog entry’s comment thread. To keep finding this stuff, you’ve really got to want it. Modern networking tools are mobilised in pursuit of an atemporal way of gathering a fan base.

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