Friday, December 25, 2015

Best Of This Blog: 2015

Tis the season to look back at the year that was, and for many that may also mean asking ‘what was I thinking?’. 

Actually, I have a pretty good idea what I was thinking this past year, because a good portion of it has been captured here on the blog.

And what a year it was. 2015 was the year this blog broke 100,000 page views, a milestone I could never have imagined when I started this experiment of thinking made visible just under 3 years ago. 2015 was also the year I started teaching at York University and the year I returned to Austin, Texas for SXSW after a gap of 17 years. Not coincidentally, both of these events play a role in the ‘Best of this Blog 2015’ list that is the point of this entry. So let’s get down to business and crunch the year-end blog stats, not audited by Price Waterhouse Coopers (you’ll just have to trust me), and look back at the year’s most popular posts. And because I believe in delivering just a little extra to readers of this blog, I’m not serving up a Top 5 of the year, but a Top 6. Let's get this party started.


One of a handful of posts I wrote about YouTubers, those new faces of the Internet famous. In the early days of YouTube it was anti-heroes and weirdos with one-off videos gaining popularity in the then new, non-broadcast realm. But YouTube is now ten years old, and as is the case with so many things as they get older, to a sizable extent the weird is being supplanted by the commercially friendly on the video free-for-all that is YouTube. In this post we took a look at some popular YouTubers in 2015 and find out that building personal brand is now as big a part of the game as the provision of online content.


This one is a post that originated in a bit of classroom kerfuffle, when debate broke out during a session I was teaching on the impact of digital technologies on the creative industries. What happens when disintermediation gets dissed? Find out by clicking here.


Here we have a post – one of two on this list -- that comes from conference sessions I attended at SXSW Interactive in Austin in March 2015. This one is the story of Buzzfeed, truly a media company for the 21st century. Their content gets about 5 billion views per month, and 95% of those views come not from their own website, but on OPP (other people’s platforms). See the whole post on Buzzfeed and the wisdom of decentralized media here.


Coming in at the third most popular post of the year it’s Tai Lopez. Who? You know, this guy:

And be honest, who among us didn’t encounter this ‘get rich like me’ pitchman this past year, barging onto our screens as we tried to watch videos on YouTube. And as annoying as he was, the guy had an ineffable something. Blog readers seemed to agree. To read this year's third most popular post, about the man who reimagined the infomercial for the YouTube era, click here.


Now it’s time for the runner up, and it’s the story of platform capitalism, the concept that explains how companies like Uber and AirBnB can be worth billions, without owning a darn thing. For the full post on platform capitalism aka why your parents don’t understand the Internet, aka the WTF economy, click here.

And now, the most popular post of the year, one that also originated at SXSW Interactive 2015.

This widely shared post looks at the shift in PBS’ strategy from owned and operated to distributed media, a hallmark of this era of attention trumping brand, broadcaster, and many of the other logics of the old media world.


Where attention goes first is where the content follows. And it's not just digital native companies like Buzzfeed that get this, but also traditional broadcasters like PBS. Read the full post here.

And there you have it, the top posts of the year here on the Demassed blog. Thank you, as always, for your clicks, thumbs ups, and assorted endorsements of this blog. I’m undecided as to how things will take shape in 2016, now that I’ve written well over 100,000 words on the topic of digital disintermediation and the creative industries, and technologies, form factors, and marketplaces continue to evolve, but stay tuned. Like they say on the big box, more news as it happens.

Monday, December 14, 2015

When media is everywhere where are we?

There used to be this thing called media, that happened on fairly expensive, unwieldy equipment, almost always kept indoors, and created by an elite group of people that presumably knew better than the rest of us. It was transmitted to us at first be relatively few channels, later by too many, and still it seemed there was never anything on we wanted to watch.

Today there’s this thing called media that still resides in our homes but it also resides in our workplaces, in our social spaces, and in the palms of our hands, where, each year, increasing amounts of it are created and consumed.

This means many things, some culturally significant, others entertaining or bad for our health. Or both. For example, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices we (or is it just me?) often find ourselves annoyed in public spaces, at stores, and on transit; all because some people don’t consider that the world does not want to be privy to their extended conversations.  

Chiropractors of the world may rejoice, but many of us suffer from, or are apparently about to suffer from, ‘text neck’. 

And otherwise (presumably) rational people are succumbing to face plants in conspicuous places.

But beyond the ubiquity of communication – and the psychological and physical discomfort noted above – what are the ways in which we can better understand the effects of mobile media in relation to our environment?

Seeing that it’s the holiday season, the Demassed blog is offering up a platter of miniature cognitive sandwiches in the form of some issues on this topic that were recently discussed by the group assembled for the Monday night seminars, a tradition started by pioneering media theorist Marshall McLuhan during his teaching days at the University of Toronto

The topic on the table was: In the mobile world is there a sense of place?  Taking it on were:

Some thought starters were introduced to frame the discussion:

The concept of acoustic space: A space with no centre, no front, characterized by an “all-at-once-ness”, in the parlance of McLuhan himself.

The work of theorist Joshua Meyrowitz, who, 30 years ago, wrote an incredibly forward looking book on the impact of electronic media on our behaviour called "No Sense Of Place", introducing such ideas as the blurring of public and private experiences and the creation and merging of new identities created through our exposure to broadcast media. Bold thoughts indeed for 1985, and definitely following in the footsteps of McLuhan’s work on concepts such as the de-tribalizing effects of media; e.g. the printed word took us away from our ‘tribes’ because we could consume information privately, in isolation, away from our communities. Similarly, broadcast media has the power to re-tribalize disparate, large groups of people, on the basis that they are exposed to similar cultural expressions and norms. In other words, looking at our relationships with the world as media-ted.

The question of the evening was then posed: In the mobile world is there a sense of place? The discussion went on for an hour or so but in the name of brevity I'll bring you a handful of highlights.

Ferrara of the Institute Without Boundaries urged us think about, for example, big box retail as a response to the end of the physical world we once knew. It may be that mobile, rather than creating placelessness, allows the injection of place into everything. We are nomads and every place is part of our life as we move through it. Placelessness = industrial society and we are now post-industrial.

Cognitive Neuroscientist Ellard pointed out that the hardware in our brain wants to recognize particular places. Mobile devices intensify our sense of place; a new kind of awareness results. We now carry media-ting devices and the ability to insert and extract information on the go. This adds place-ful-ness to what otherwise might be placelessness.

Journalist and author Silcoff put it this way: We’re all armed with digital Swiss army knives, so how does this change our relationship to the world? Possibly by what we no longer have, such as the disappearance of things like the banks on the corner, that at one time were some of the grandest architecture in our everyday environments.  Instead we get decentralized, specialized cityscapes. Kids find their place in this world early, via screen time. Note that many of the younger generation don’t know how to use a paper map, because digital maps bring the world to wherever the user is and zero in on that location accordingly, whereas paper maps require the user to find his/her place in the larger landscape. 

Such inversions of context and power structures are typical of the Gutenberg revolution, as well as such McLuhan-inspired ideas as 'we shape our tools and then our tools shape us'.

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