Archive | June, 2013

Essay in lieu of exam: The Publishing Society and it’s Struggles

13 Jun

‘It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves—the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public—has stopped being a problem.’ (Clay Shirky, ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’)

Clay Shirky (2009) stresses an interesting point. And in this essay I will be stressing the notion that the publishing industry is becoming more of a publishing ‘society’ with the push of digital and networked media. However, to say that the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public has ceased, I find, an overstatement. In fact, what I see is the core problem of publishing becoming ever more relevant in this unforeseeable future. In fact, that issue will remain the core issue as publishing becomes more prevalent and confused in the network of things and free sharing; because the public is changing at an unpredictable rate, and will not cease to exist but change indefinitely.


The dismantling and shifting industry

The publishing industry has changed significantly over the years, specifically with the rapid rise of digital and networked media. From the traditional forms of publishing such as newspapers, books, and the television, there was a strong sense of ‘making something public’, an act performed by intermediaries and companies that someone without that power could not achieve. This was because making something widely available to the public was expensive, and strongly attached to the politics or culture of the time. For example, in the 1980’s political oppression meant most Korean networks’ news media was identical. This inferred a kind of broadcast society, which like the apparatus theory suggests that the structure of the medium inherently maintains and imposes ideologies on the viewer (Baudry, 1986). In this case like cinema, the television modeled spectatorship. This gave little power to the public and its limit for creative expression. This powerful industry chose what the public should hear or read, and gave a clear definition of who was a publisher; it was a profession. However digital and networked media have given rise to ‘internet freedom’ with the ability to post whatever you want, wherever, whenever, in this growing circus of data. Digital media made it particularly clear the visibility of content and how user friendly the content becomes. For example, Lehrer (2010) illustrates that despite books being time-tested technologies that endure, reading is going to adapt and accept ereaders because digitization means the format is more legible such as fonts and visuals, that the reader will be more comfortable with. Networked media particularly means ‘Everything is open and free’ (Mindmeister, 2009) in the connection of new media platforms, distribution methods, mediums, products, and overall connectedness to all parts of data. No matter what, this free content will be preferred to society than having to pay for it. Therefore, as the amount of data continues to proliferate online and over many different mediums such as facebook, ereaders, professional magazines, government websites, the public is continuously shifting in nature. Arguably the public are now more concerned with the visibility of publishing rather than the content itself, like it was in the past (Lehrer, 2010) and the distinction between professional publishing and self publishing is being blurred or mixed in the crazy mess of digitization and networked media. Here I would like to stress that the industry of publishing is being dismantled however not replaced but changed. The process in which it is unavoidably changing can be understood by the struggle to preserve the old technologies.

Shirky’s article (2009) highlighted the fact that publishers were trying to solve the problem of a shifting public who wanted free content and free sharing, by trying to instill the traditional technology better; more stringently. This meant for example payment for publishing platforms, payment for creative work or exclusive access. However, all this proved was the increasing demand of publics to ‘free themselves’ and established new black markets such as piracy, and therefore declining sales. For example, the rise of illegal digital downloading and torrenting popular drama and music. Hence, in this inevitable dismantling of the publishing industry and growth of a new public, there was a sense of conflict and even media panic; the notion or skeptics that one cannot trust the medium because they believe it wont result in reliable information (Drotner, 2006), which made the transition difficult. For example, questions on whether tv shows were good quality or articles were legitimate such as Wikipedia. Yet, the skeptics of older generations such as stopping young people ‘facebooking’ (yes, it has been appropriated into a word) because ‘it’s taking over our children’s lives’ would only fuel a passionate and potentially reckless generation to demand free rights. In fact, you could say it encouraged more piracy and ‘illegal’ free publishing as it was particularly easy under the light of trillions of data platforms around the internet, all networked together. Hence attempting to save old publishing technologies rather than save society potentially damages society. Changing and emerging publishing tools bring about these changes in publishing and the social (Mrva-Montaya, 2012).

Furthermore, with the publishing industry erratically shifting towards a publishing society of free sharing, we can witness the integration of both professional publishing platforms and social or personal publishing platforms. This merging or potential to be fully integrated into our lives suggests a society shifting towards an internet of things, the semantic web 3.0, and djing just to name a few commons that the industry, is becoming. I further stress then, that the publishing industry is not being replaced but shifting and evolving into a publishing society.


The publishing society and what it is becoming

The fact remains that in this transition and dismantling of the traditional structures of publishing, in its form of broadcasting and, to an extent, dictatorship, we are seeing publishing change from being an industry through which mediums connect the public, to a publishing society where free file sharing and publishing are in control of everyone from anywhere. However in saying so, it must be understood that the nature of the publics are significantly changing, and that it still implies great difficulties, complexities and expenses in making something available to the public. In a digital and network society, information can travel faster over space and time, whilst rendering the intermediary irrelevant. This can be seen in the Actor-Network Theory which models that all human and non-human actors within a publishing system have equal agency and relational ties. Thus if one tie is changed, the entire assemblage is affected. In this model it becomes evident that a change in the network, by anything or anyone, can make significant impacts on publics and publishing technologies. However more importantly this has stressed the importance of distributing and aggregating technologies; such as archiving and visualizations, as relevant to how publishing is achieved as an assemblage. Networks can become very complex and confused, with the overload of data available. There is a strong need for infotention systems (Rheingold, 2009), or other forms of meta-communication as the public becomes less concerned with publishing content and more concerned with how to make the data more visible, how to distribute and aggregate, and therefore publishing systems of archiving, visualizing, and types of media platforms. We can see this with the semantic web 3.0.

The Semantic Web 3.0 refers to how the internet needs to take a more ontological approach and focus on how to organize and aggregate data from the web, rather than create new data. In this sense the semantic web 3.0 forms a whole new ontology of publishing for the sake of organizing rather than competing for ‘better’ content. This is because the semantic web understands how the overwhelming nature of data is creating new attention and distraction systems, or moreover distorting our perceptions. To elaborate, Steigler (2010), outlines how our attention to certain data is under siege because publishers are trying to create consumers rather than citizens. The medium itself distorts and changes our perceptions of data and influences what we take in as data. The Semantic Web 3.0 attempts to clarify what data we want to take in so we, as society, are back in control.

We can also see that the need for careful structures of aggregation is affecting our everyday lives through the growing ‘internet of things’. The internet of things revolves around how the internet is becoming incredibly connected with our everyday lives as it attaches itself to our everyday objects, off the computer screen. For example, running shoes can send messages to social media outlining where one is running and how far they have run. Networking and digitalization have brought this compatibility between physicality to the Internet as the nature of the public desires more ‘real-time’ and real-life publishing (Kopetz, 2011). Here the collection and gathering of data takes place in the physical environment through the footsteps in the shoes, while the distributing is posted online to social media, further aggregated into effective archives and visualizations on the Internet. Innately, humans are ‘hunters and gatherers’ who distribute and aggregate and desire more and more compatible and easy mediums for living. This shift in the public to mark the significance of data distributing and aggregating between the physical and digital world, highlights the new agenda of real-time and real life publishing as new difficulties for the publishing society.

Example of shoes tracking when you pass the start and finish line

Example of shoes tracking when you pass the start and finish line

Therefore, such publishing systems attempt to solve the difficulty of what we are really seeing because it is invisible, the complexity of what we actually see because of our distraction and attention systems, and the expense of powerlessness due to the current inability to fully maximize and organize data intuitively, as publishing entities continue to compete to become the most coherent distributor and aggregator.


New difficulties, complexities and expenses: Visualizations and Archiving.

Therefore, publishing by nature is very competitive. It has always been about visibility, and making the invisible visible in the most appropriate or relevant way to a publishers desired goals and the publics desires and needs. This calls for the increasing need for better mechanisms of attention and distraction with all the trillions of data online and the advance of digital and networked media. Bernard Stiegler (2010) points out that “intelligence must wage a battle for intelligence” as a disorderly array of systems attempts to control and capture attention. This can be achieved through effective and appropriate visualizations and archiving.

Visualizations structure new relationships and new forms of knowledge from images drawn from data. Usually there are aesthetic pattern recognitions that shape the data we see, as people hunt for patterns. Then there are patterns as method, which uses aesthetics to pinpoint patterns  (Shermer, 2008). For example, the use of dotted lines to draw an invisible dimension to 3D objects, has a different connotation to a single straight line. This means it becomes extremely critical to capture attention to the patterns that the publisher intends, particularly through appealing visualizations that capture the target market and making sure that the ideas in the visualizations draw appropriate conclusions. This is increasingly difficult with the various methods to visualize data such as abstractions in video, infographics, photos, 3D maps, writing, and graphs. Therefore this adds new dimensions to the difficulty of publishing. Another new example is Vjing as a visualization, which is a form of music and real-time moving visuals played together, to create a whole new immersing experience. This new form of publishing understands the notion that capturing attention is becoming more brief and fleeting as attention spans are seemingly becoming shorter with various converging technologies and publishing tools in this networked and digital society we live in.

Archives are also providing new difficulties and challenges as the publishing world finds itself overwhelmed by the amounts of data. There is a sense of archive fever as the public strive to control their own attention and organize data, such as constantly re-arranging one’s iTunes playlist. But in conjunction, since archiving has the ability to store past, present, and future information, it also means it can choose which information is more visible in the structure of the archive. For example, one cannot access what mood configures with the song on iTunes. This is why competing publishers such as a ‘Stereomood’ can access your mood and choose songs suitably. This shows the new difficulty of competing archives to store data as archives lay the basis for authority and politics in data.

Furthermore a shift to a publishing society underscores the fact that ownership and copyrights are diluted. There are arguments between who owns what and what necessitates a commons.

Therefore the publishing industry is being dismantled in old publication technologies like the newspaper and books. However digital and networked media technologies have formed and changed the publishing industry rather than replace it. There is a changing nature of archiving, visualizations, and media platforms that brings about changes in the public. Digital and networked media like the web 3.0 and the internet of things change ways in which society shares data and publishes data freely, more organized, in real-time, which is integrated into our everyday lives.

The fact is, we don’t know what will happen to publishing. It’s nearly impossible to predict but we know it will be changing. Most likely, publishing will be paving the way for great distribution and aggregation systems that capture attention both beneficial to the publisher and public. It will make increasingly less sense that the public are seen as consumers rather than as citizens. As long as we don’t try to preserve the old, I assume societies relationship with publishing will be striving for the better of humanity. However, this difficulty, complexity, and expense will never stop being a problem.




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