TiaTalk











{Sun 13 June 2010}   Alone Together
Alone Together

There’s something so poignant about the phrase, “alone together”. It stuck in my head after I saw this CNN video about Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir on YouTube. I presume that most readers of this blog have seen it too. I wonder whether the same phrase at the end of John Vennavally-Rao’s report has also intrigued, delighted and troubled you?

I’m putting down here some random thoughts that haven’t fully coalesced yet into a coherent philosophy, but I’m chasing something/ some things that are hard to see.

The haunting beauty of the choral sound and the inclusive arc of differently coloured faces and backgrounds on the red-curtained stage of cyberspace pleased me deeply. I smiled. I watched it again. I forwarded it to a few friends. I watched it again. I studied a few of the faces — each singing peacefully and unselfconsciously as one can only do in one’s own private space. I felt glad and privileged to have access to those private moments mixed together in an enormous public display that reached and continues to reach across continents and across time. It was/is something precious. I googled Eric Whitacre. I was pleased to read that he’s working on more pieces for the Virtual Choir, perhaps some original work…

And yet, why does it haunt me so? The sense of longing, of reaching out for connection that is communicated to me, the viewer-hearer, is largely a function of the strangeness of the presentation, not of each individual’s communication. Most of the singers look extraordinarily serene, like people absent from the world because they’re in “flow” (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990).  People who are physically together when singing together, no matter with how much joy or harmony, don’t wear exactly the same expression as an individual in private rapture. Or didn’t, anyway. As we reach out for connection in this new way, are we inviting others to steal a part of our soul that previously only revealed itself to the walls or landscapes of our private spaces?

Even as I delight in the confluence of digital media that make possible this self-revelatory joining of humans who know nothing of each other besides that all (all of those who are featured, anyway) can sing, I cannot help but be conscious of all those intervening media, “the storage and transmission channels or tools used to store and deliver information or data”. They make the fragile meaning that could not exist if the electricity failed.

But isn’t this just a logical 21st century extension of the artistic process? Artists have always used materials and techniques to transform base material into something else. It’s what artists do. Why does this seem different to me?

Partly, it’s the ephemerality of it — the is-and-notness that flickers on and off at the whim of the switch. Also, it’s the way the human sources are both enhanced by and subsumed in the media. Their “togetherness” is something that the media help us (and them) to imagine. We imagine willingly, but the compulsive clarity of video entices us to go further — to believe, despite ourselves. This mixture of the not-real and the real is disturbing. The putative “togetherness” (not-real) painfully emphasizes the aloneness (real) of the participants. We see each person’s aloneness clearly, multiplied a hundred times in an instant. Usually, we would suspect it only by extension from our own aloneness, when we can risk being conscious of that, and only one-by-one, from the occasional glimpses provided by circumstance.

On the other hand, we also see some elements that inspire us to seek togetherness… that give us hope. Despite our different countries, languages, cultures, genders and body types, we can all sing; we all aspire to make beautiful sounds; we can participate and cooperate to harmonious effect (albeit with the help of a strong guiding and editing hand); we all seek out private time or space to connect with ourselves, we can all be receptive; we can all be gentle. We also all enjoy and depend on similar electronic equipment for our communication and pleasure, so we are patient with each other as we struggle with its vagaries.

As the days passed, my thoughts turned to the creator/conductor/guide/editor — the uber-artist who put it all together. The reach of the work in terms of participants and, even more, of audience, and the fact that the harmony is created in his own private space by one over/above/outside the private spaces of those making the sounds, made me think of him in godlike terms. He is a small god, but with incredibly long digital arms. And now we can all be like him. We “little kings” are no longer held in check by the limitations of our physical resources. We are let loose with the power to make our megalomaniac dreams come true — in a sense — but we pay with the constant awareness of our aloneness.

This aloneness has always been the human condition, but before these digital joinings in eternally-preserved and universally accessible public spaces, we only dipped in and out of this awareness occasionally. Well, there is no way back, unless we have a Butlerian Jihad in our future. Until then, humanity is working out the Zen of our growth into full and constant consciousness of how we really are — just google the phrase “alone together” to see how much this concept exercises us in the current age.

Published simultaneously on www.transliteracy.com.



{Fri 4 June 2010}   Living in a Digital Economy
Living in a Digital Economy

On Wednesday I attended a great talk hosted by Amplified Leicester at the Phoenix Square Digital Media Centre, Leicester. John Stobart of Harvey Ingram LLP gave an excellent presentation titled “Legal Aspects of Online Business and the Digital Economy Act 2010”. I’ve written this up in more detail on my business blog at http://get-it-write.com, but just wanted to review here my feelings about it.

Of course I feel, as a content creator as well as a content consumer, that I want my copyright to be respected. Although it’s unlikely at this stage that any of my articles, poems, etc. will generate millions of dollars for anyone, including myself, I think I share with most artists, writers or even idea-generators who haven’t yet implemented or will never implement their ideas in concrete form, the desire for at least the bare minimum of recognition by people correctly attributing to me any work or ideas of mine when they publish them in any form.

But I don’t think that the way to enforce copyright is by introducing legislation which penalizes everybody who uses a particular internet connection just because some other user may have used it illegally. This creates fear and uncertainty and will likely hamper creativity. Rather, I think we need a massive education campaign to teach what copyright is, and which emphasizes both respect for original sources by users AND a more generous attitude on the part of copyright holders so that the wonderful creativity which new media has spawned and facilitated is not choked off. Creative Commons is the way to go!

I think my view is shared by most people who work online for a living, even when their income depends on their being paid for their creativity. After the talk on Wednesday, I had the pleasure of lunching with Jayne Childs of Creative Coffee Club Leicester and George Ballentyne of the Leicester Council of Faiths. Like others at the talk, they were more concerned about the potential for heavy-handed abuse of the DEA’s provisions than they were excited about the powers it gives to copyright holders. Copyright is already well-protected in UK law.

Notes

Here is the text of the Digital Economy Act 2010, which is now law.

You may still be able to influence some aspects of its implementation via the current Ofcom consultation on how “to give effect to measures introduced in the Digital Economy Act 2010 (“DEA”) aimed at reducing online copyright infringement. Specifically (they) are seeking views on a code of practice called “the Online Copyright Infringement Initial Obligations Code”. This consultation period ends on Friday 30th July.

For general information apart from the Act itself, the Wikipedia entry is a starting point with its selection of links to external sources.

John Stobart is a partner at Harvey Ingram LLP and specialises in Corporate Finance & Transactions. See http://www.harveyingram.com/biographies/john-stobart.aspx.

George Ballentyne is the Equality & Diversity Officer for the Leicester Council of Faiths. He blogs at http://equalitydiversityofficer.blogspot.com/ and his latest post is about the John Stobart presentation mentioned above.

Jayne Childs is the Project Coordinator for Creative Coffee Club Leicester which is based at Phoenix Square in Leicester. This is the place to meet like-minded creatives in Leicester, or meet them online at www.creativecoffeeleicester.com.



et cetera