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But as smart phones become increasingly personalized, the selection of data points for cloud-based computing is itself likely to become flexible—expanded, contracted, shuffled, or otherwise repurposed for a host of algorithms attuned to ever-finer gradations of service-oriented consumption.
This commentary is grounded in a particular theoretical position, which in turn implies a kind of warning or embrace of the new socialities imbricated in technological developments. In stark contrast to Benjamin, Adorno warned against the effects of the repetitive and superficially standardized music and art of the culture industry, endorsing instead concentrated absorption as a pathway to dialectics. The idea that advances in communication technologies contribute to diminished subjectivities is taken up by the popular press as well.
The freelance journalist Chris Weingarten, for example, describes how the algorithmically defined harvesting mechanisms that trawl the web to identify musical trends and gauge popularity forgo quality in the name of quantity. Jaron Lanier describes the emergence of such optimization data aggregators, metablogs, etc. A blog of blogs is more exalted than a mere blog.
If you have seized a very high niche in the aggregation of human expression […] then you can become superpowerful. The same is true for the operator of a hedge fund. Rather, they may be the ones to collect the most music data. Although not all mathematical algorithms are equal some may not be based primarily on the logic of click-through rate-based search, others may be designed with nondeterministic or randomized elements, and so on , the task of revealing the grammar of their data-processing formalisms especially in light of the naturalized opacity by which they are experienced by users becomes increasingly urgent.
Here critics tend to focus on the socio-cultural fragmentation implied by the personalized use of mobile musical players. For example, the global surge in usage of mobile musical players is shown to corrode prosocial behavior by isolating individual users from the ambient environment, thereby flattening modern communication—reducing social contact to mere status-display practices, for example.
This simplicity also relates to the industrial demand for invisible artifacts, to which I will return. Here it suffices to point out that design elements thus project mobile devices such as the iPod, iPad, and iPhone as sleek and refined accessories, whose portals effortlessly simplify relations with an increasingly complex social system and informational network. Aesthetic minimalism here paradoxically recapitulates the very flattening of social expression to mere status-display decried by du Gay and Fortunati in their criticism of mobile technologies.
One early television ad, for example, featured an iPod-wearing pedestrian walking down the street in calm strides, but projecting a shadow-self dancing in musically immersed ecstasy. This compensatory value, however, recapitulates the very echo-chamber effects, isolation, and concomitant social fragmentation denounced by Carr and, to a lesser extent, Auletta in their analysis of digital technologies.
In almost Schopenhaurian motifs, the iPod silhouette ads shuttled between the perils of this twin logic; at once projecting an act of social distancing or withdrawal and proffering intoxicating surrogate metaphysics. In both cases, commercial advertising thereby paradoxically hitches a ride on a particular strand of cultural pessimism. Promise of Ultramobility 14 On the other hand, academic commentators and journalists have, with matching conviction, equally celebrated the new personal, cultural, and social freedoms afforded by emergent mobile technologies.
At a broad level, commentators like Yochai Benkler and Clay Shirky emphasize the positive effects of the social interactions facilitated by multiple communication interfaces today. Where mathematical automation brings down a curse on some modes of creative practice, therefore, it holds up a promise for others.
This is the flip side of the pessimistic coin advanced by Kittler, Turkle, du Gay, Fortunati, and others, which is also paradoxically invoked by various commercial branding campaigns. Enhanced technological capabilities thus allow users to adjust the amount of contact they make with interlocutors in increasingly sophisticated ways. Katz, Katie M. For example, Katz et al. Music and tunA, which enable users to share music with people in their near vicinity. Instead of being connected to the Internet, these devices are connected via ad hoc wireless networks within mobile geographical settings.
Divisible Mobility: Music in an Age of Cloud Computing 20 Although these writings have been presented here as either primarily techno-optimistic or pessimistic, most of them in fact narrate some dialectical drift between the curse and the promise of mobile technologies in our times. Michael Bull, identified here primarily with those who argue against the prosocial aspects of mobile music listening, for example, equally engages the utopian aspects of such listening.
Gianluca Colombo, L. Lawler, V. Jaron Lanier argues similarly against the spatialization of locked-in ideas about how software is constituted. The overarching intellectual focus on individual and social effects of nanotechnologies whether pro- or contra- , in contrast, manufactures disinterest in all-too-concealed macro-structures, which include the cyber- infrastructural assemblages that invisibly support the various patterns of usage, the institutional maintenance of the technical systems undergirding these technologies, and above all the economic determinants at stake in such support and maintenance.
In the words of David Ribes and Thomas A. Corporate investment in music streaming should be read, above all, against these infrastructural developments; as attempts to control the increasingly centralized computing grid. For many businesses, economies of scale now make it possible to outsource their storage needs and computer applications to these sites at much reduced cost.
Mobile computing on a mass scale has followed suit. To invoke a question I raised in the context of a critique of Deleuzian postmodernism: Is not the argus-eyed and micro-capillaried digital network, its algorithmic surveillance attuned to ever-finer gradations of resonance between consumer desire and niche market production, the very lifeblood of Capital today?
They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it. They required too much of our full attention. A good technology, according to him, functions like a tool. A tool, when properly used, disappears as a function of its use, moving to the background of our attention. In Luke Jansen, chief executive officer of Tigerspike, a media company with a specialization in mobile, for example, addressed the possibility of integrating digital chips in contact lenses and teeth.
It is as if these, basically postmodern, interpretative pluralities foster determined incuriosity toward the metanarratives that undergird fragmentation of socialities into plural dimensions in the first place. The liberatory, utopian aspects of mobile communication in our times become at most a compressed freedom; contained—in both senses—by a rigid, mandatory technological structure. Or, put differently, effortless habituation in divisible mobilities has entailed containing their emancipatory promise, bringing down a curse thereby.
From Disintermediation to Hyperintermediation 28 Music production in the first decade of the twenty-first century has shifted dramatically from a largely commodified industrial model to a radically decentralized one, grounded in peer-to-peer connectivity that increasingly gives the slip to the authority and control commanded by the official industry. In the older music economy, the media of music its tangible forms—vinyl, cassette, compact disc, and so on were fused with its contents its sounding forms—songs, symphonies, and so on , which facilitated its efficient circulation as a physical commodity.
In the newer economy, medium and content are increasingly delinked; the former effectively dematerialized; or, more accurately, micro-materialized, which is to say transformed from an actual tangible medium to a seemingly virtual digital format.
The virtualization of music parallels the shift toward ever-miniaturized, and therefore concealed, technologies centered around mobility. Interestingly, the MP3 format itself, developed in the s by Karlheinz Brandenburger and others at the Fraunhofer Institute in Erlangen, Germany, was encoded as a commodity form, including, for example, digitally inscribed copyright protections in its code.
For this reason, Sterne insists that the MP3, for all its invisibility, retains its thinglike character. This is an important point in the context of the emerging cloud-based music economy, to which I will return shortly. With the mainstreaming of peer-to-peer connectivity in the early s, large-scale practices of exchange were no longer primarily governed by financial transactions.
According to the International Federation of the Phonograph Industry, only one in twenty digitally downloaded musical tracks was legally purchased in Web 2. The collapse of the mass-industrial music sector thus witnessed the burgeoning of an independent, and more diverse, extra-industrial sector. For LaPlante, Bracy, Byrne, and others, the new technologies ushered in a period of unprecedented musical freedoms. Music, in this view, has shifted from a more communitarian-oriented activity the age before the technological reproducibility of sound to a more a privatized one the age of the recording industry and now back again the age of disintermediated network connectivity.
One might say this urge is part of our genetic makeup. By , the listening habits of a new generation of listeners had shifted. Illegal file-sharing rapidly decreased and online music streaming became the norm. Indeed, as Weingarten points out,95 self-mounted digital musical downloads are not in themselves lucrative: despite the hundreds of blogs, thousands of downloads, and millions of views of OK Go songs, for example, the band cannot effectively sell their music online.
In his book Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture, for example, Aram Sinnreich extols the virtues of the new nonlinear modes of intertextual music-making, whose patterns deftly recapitulate the networked architectures of new digital technologies. Online culture is dominated by trivial mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media. Everything is retro, retro, retro.
Arguably, by leveraging a kind of reflective techno-terroir, these genres critically engage with the consumer culture upon which they depend. Lanier, however, would regard this kind of artistic practice as derivative and reactionary. It is in the context of new business opportunities associated with cloud computing, where millions of computers and servers are linked to human and nonhuman agents invisibly harvesting, processing, and analyzing data, that free work should be scrutinized.
Aside from the winners known as Bellkor, a global alliance of some thirty members , three years of labor, involving thousands of teams, from over countries, missed the mark. Likewise, the website Crowdspring acts as an interface between companies and graphic designers and writers, promising an average of entries per project.
The economic logic is evident: for every successfully purchased design, we find about one hundred redundant ones. The list of platforms providing crowd-sourced opportunities goes on. This is the unpaid labor that increasingly delivers content and data to profit-oriented mainstream platforms. Quite apart from the well-established legacy of anti-establishment credibility afforded by countercultural rhetoric for the advertising and branding of commodities and services, brands themselves have also leveraged the tactile-behavioral logic associated with new technologies for their own ends.
While iTunes still represents an older model for the commercial delivery of music in bit-size chunks, instead of cloud-based streaming , it is worth noting a downward trend as far as the per- unit revenues received by actual musicians is concerned. Byrne notes, for example, that, while iTunes returns a higher percentage of its revenues to artists 14 percent , Apple itself receives 30 percent; furthermore, the actual amount received by artists is less than what they would receive with a traditional CD.
As mobile technologies coupled with subscription-based streaming services become mainstream, and the concomitant stockpiling of music in user-controlled digital memory dissipates, unit-based revenues for artists has diminished much further, if not withered outright. While the economics of streaming are vexingly opaque, the measurable revenue streams toward actual artists indicate remarkably meager returns.
Mode Records, for example, received less than one third of a penny for every stream on Spotify. Instead of monetizing per stream, music labels tend to be invested in equity shares in the streaming services themselves. This means that revenues generated by advertising and subscription fees are proportionately divided up among equity holders and only then distributed to artists, according to variable agreements between artists and labels.
Just as consumption is delinked therefrom, remuneration, in the era of streaming, is therefore delinked from the unit-based legal model meant to guide it. Given the mismatch between the flow of capital and investment, it is not surprising that the most powerful music streaming platforms, such as YouTube and Spotify, are also the lowest revenue-producing platforms for artists.
As a result, even stars like Lady Gaga were locked into recording label deals that generated no revenue for the artist from streams on Spotify. Far from tending toward disintermediation, the old industrial intermediaries have effectively been transformed into or substituted by a handful of cloud-based hyperintermediaries. In this sense, the crisis of intellectual property in the context of information production today could signal a terminal danger for capitalism itself.
In other words, creative work that may have fallen off the radar of searchability under older technological conditions exists on the market, and, newly visible, may even migrate up the long tail. Lanier, for example, argues that the alliance has resulted in a new kind of social contract: The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind.
Reciprocity takes the form of self- promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising. It is not the long tail of the Beast of Commercial Profits.
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