What better way to spend a Sunday evening than in a hopelessly inconclusive argument with friends, such as occurred at the Life after Television cybersalon at the Hillside Club in Berkeley. What a rambunctious affair! The audience hogged the mike as moderator Sylvia Paull stomped on her own invited panel. All, I should say, but author Andrew Keen, whose last-snob-stand against the democratization of media appeals to the inner elitist in us all (I rose at one point to call video “stupid” and “a burden on the network”). Panelist Mary Hodder, whose startup Dabble, is in the thick of whatever is happening at the bleeding edge of video, slipped in a few observations about “the young people who communicate by cell phone and IM . . . they breathe the Internet.”
Let me share a bit more . . .
I’ve been attending Syvia’s Cybersalon’s since the early 1990s so they’re comfortable event populated by some familiar characters and a steady stream of people newer to me. A remark made by Michael Hauser — a conversation is developing, he said, among YouTube creators who are making videos in response to each other’s videos — led me to look up his website, BetterBadNews.com, as his voice in the “ongoing culture war.”
Culture war is certainly the main theme in Keen’s thinking, although this British-born gentleman seems to think we’ve already lost it, if by culture is meant a relatively small but pampered and presumably skilled class of creators around whom are lavished the applause of what was formerly called the audience. Now they want to get into the act. Amateurs want to make videos and some of them are good but the vast majority are well, amateurish. That troubles Keen for reasons not entirely clear to me. Is it perhaps because people seem to prefer crap to the classics. and he fears the coarsening of the culture in a French deconstructionist media environment that puts hip hop on par with Beethoven? I don’t know, but I imagine Keen’s life in these United States to be a living hell. Can you imagine speaking British amongst us? No wonder he is convinced culture is going to hell; Keen who correctly pronounces “epoch” as e-pock no doubt goes through life cringing when it is mispronounced “epic” by us colonials. Oh, well.
I raised my voice in disgust at the bandwith hog aspect of video, recalling one ad that extolled the virtues of a chip that could process either 15 minutes of digital video or 10 copies of the complete works of Shakespeare, as if these two creative works were comparable in any characteristic save the computer bytes required to render them. But I suppose there is a not-so-hidden elitism in that view, so who am I to criticize Keen. He, at least, speaks the King’s English while I curse like a sailor born in Brooklyn.
In truth I am often leery of what may be on the far side of mass media, not solely because I earn my living there but perhaps because I’m middle aged man living through a youth-propelled push toward post literacy. (I also condemned video as being useful for little beyond arousing emotion which may be a bit harsh as animation could prove useful in explaining complex phenomena). You see I shake my head when I hear believers like Brian Zisk, with the Future of Music coalition, talk about “a lowest common denominator, hit ’em short, hit ’em funny, and moves on” sort of media, as if that’s a good thing! But maybe I just have to suck it up and listen to my long-time fellow tech watcher Dan Farber of ZDNet, who rose after my rant to reply: “Is the ‘Net going to get sucked up by all the crappy video. Too bad!”
Okay, vox populi. I get it. But I cheered when Sylvia gave musician Larry Gallagher a chance to close the event. “It’s great that a Luddite gets the last word,” he said as he strummed the rhythm to, TV is Your Friend. “Not as strong as heroin but quicker,” he sang, “TV is your friend.”
Ilustration from: “After television no one dreamed at home.”