Another closed-minded Apple User…

When looking at current debates revolving around Apple vs Android, I can’t help but think of my own experiences and make conclusions about what is important to me, an average Internet and computer user.

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I have owned a Macbook for over 2 years and when I was in the market for a new phone, I bought an iPhone. Music is probably my number one priority in regards to my phone and laptop use, and it is unrealistic to mix operating systems so keeping with Apple products was the obvious way to go. I will inevitably need a new phone and laptop and maybe want to buy a tablet in the future and yes, I will most likely buy the newest iPhone and, iPad and Macbook etc…

I am completely aware of how hard I’m getting shafted, swindled and made a fool of by Apple and I don’t really care. I have tried to use Android phones and didn’t like the structure and set up, I don’t wish to go back to Windows over iOS and overall, I prefer the smoothness and aesthetically pleasing usability of Apple products. I have never felt particularly ‘closed off’ by using Mac stuff and I would guess this to be true for the majority of other Apple loyalists.

 Perhaps I am part of the problem by aiding and abetting Apple’s objective to restrict and close off their products to themselves and their users, but right now, I am selfishly sticking by my decision and will probably continue to do so until I feel the need to change. While I am, in a sense, ‘closed in’ by Apple and Steve Job’s legacy, I have the freedom to jump to Android or any other open system or device when I feel that my choices and even liberties are being restricted or oppressed. I think for the average user, being completely open is not the most important aspect of their technology.

If closed systems that aim for complete control over platform, content and their users are headed for an inevitable end, I’m happy to keep using Apple until then. Most are concerned with the now and use their devices on a regular but casual basis every day of their lives. If Apple also foresees a demise of their structure, being the innovative and cutting edge corporation that they are, how will they adapt and change?

Just a sample…

The use of sampling has always been at the very core of Hip-hop. Its beginnings featured rapper’s vocals recording or playing over live bands eventually giving way to the use of synthesizers and samplers, that took sounds to be rearranged and looped for artists to rap over. These samplers were limited in what they could do and also expensive. Therefore rappers had to rent out time in a studio in order to make music and record.

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This was an extremely experimental stage of hip-hop with artists and producers/DJs arranging samples in their own particular way to achieve a particular sound. The mid to late 80s gave rappers and producers a chance to compose and play around with sampling without any worry of copyright infringement.

Most of the licensing for hip-hop samples was given after the tracks were released. At the time, copyright laws didn’t extend to sampling until rap artists started to get sued. Some producers would take entire songs and sampling became more and more widespread, forcing record companies to start policing the releases before they went out. As soon as record companies realised that hip-hop music was viable and it actually made money, they started to go after those that used samples illegally.

The cost of ‘buying out’ these samples increasingly rose, as Chuck D from Public Enemy recalls “You could have a buyout — meaning you could purchase the rights to sample a sound — for around $1,500. Then it started creeping up to $3,000, $3,500, $5,000, $7,500. Then they threw in this thing called rollover rates. If your rollover rate is every 100,000 units, then for every 100,000 units you sell, you have to pay an additional $7,500. A record that sells two million copies would kick that cost up twenty times. Now you’re looking at one song costing you more than half of what you would make on your album.”

Once all the little guys started realizing you could get paid from rappers if they use your sample, it prompted the record companies to start investigating because now the people that they publish are getting paid. Artists became forced to use different organic instruments which softened the impact of a lot of rap’s trademark early sound into the mid 90s.

There are two different copyrights: publishing and master recording. The publishing copyright is of the written music ie. the song structure. And the master recording is the song as it is played on a particular recording. Sampling violates both of these copyrights. Whereas, if an artist was to record their own version of someone else’s song, they would only have to pay the publishing copyright. When you violate the master recording, the money just goes to the record company. Putting many small fragments into a song means you have many different people to answer to. If you stick with an entire loop from one song, you only pay one artist. This resulted in, as we see today, many rap artists using just one primary sample instead of a ‘collage’ of different sounds.

We can see that observing hip-hop’s reaction to copyright laws is fairly unique to all other genres of music because it was birthed out of the use of samples and backing tracks. It is in the culture, and modern companies and their lawyers didn’t know how to deal with this. Only when it could be seen that big money was being made, were corporations taking strict action to extract what they could, even when the sample was so minor and insignificant.

 

This has had a significant effect on hip-hop, particularly in regards to creativity. Large companies are not concerned with the wonders of recreating a new and exciting piece of music using various sounds, riffs and vocals from older songs but are with ensuring no money misses their pockets. Despite this, true t oits nature, hip-hop has shown its adaptability and has managed to find a way to succeed, for example Blue Chips from Action Bronson and Party Supplies, releasing the album for free online despite using countless old music and Youtube samples.

An optimistic view could envision an increasing amount of independent artists, not relying on large record companies, allowing for more free flow and sharing of material. Artists understand the creative process more than any record company or corporation would, and therefore would be more likely to lend their music rights for a smaller fee or none at all. Something to hope for anyway…

 

References: –

Evans, T. M 2010, Sampling, Looping and Mashing… Oh My! How Hip Hop Music is Scratching More than the Surface of Copyright Law, Social Science Research Network, blog post, 9th September, viewed 17th October 2013,

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1674246

 

McLeod, K 2004, How Copyright Law Changed Hip Hop, Stay Free! Magazine, blog post, 31st May, viewed 17th October, 2013, http://www.alternet.org/story/18830/how_copyright_law_changed_hip_hop

No matter what you’re after…

I was surprised to learn that, while it seemed that big name media companies and products dominate the market, there is a long tail of more specialist and niche products that are endless and in fact hold the majority of the market.

The growing presence of a long tail, to me, is a positive outcome of how the Internet has affected media consumption. Any shift away from a dominant, hegemonic mainstream of media consumption promotes more diverse interests. Maintaining a more even spread of market share especially to authors, musicians and other independent media producers, not utilising a large marketing campaign ensures consumers are getting what they want.

It has to be conceded that this has some negative effects on smaller book stores that cannot cope with the physical demand and puts more power into large web-based companies that have almost unlimited storage space. It will ultimately be these big companies (Amazon and Book Depository Online) that will come out the best but at least they are assisting writers and artists by providing exposure and a convenient location for consumers to buy their products.

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I see the key issue is just that. People should not have to buy the best selling novel just because it is all over store’s front window and advertised on T.V. People need, and are entitled to, choice and the Internet has helped everyone achieve this by reducing our need for a physical store to buy books (eg. – closing of Borders). If something is available, no matter how obscure or niche it is, now we can find it.

Social media as a protest tool

Looking back at the revolutionary movements during the Arab Spring, Western media presented a fairly prominent theme relating to social media’s role in organising, implementing and spreading the word for political protests against the governments for example in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. Often the headline of he news story referred to social media instead of the development of any of protests.

I agree with Morozov’s article where he argues that the role that social media plays in the recent Arab Spring revolutionary movements is perhaps overstated.

Many news stories at the time of the protests were highlighting the role of social media in their operation and planning while giving much less details and information about the cause, purpose and developments of the protests. Viewers, especially Western audiences, might watch the news and think how great Facebook and Twitter is for causing the toppling of dictatorial rule in Egypt. What about the Egyptian people?  Oppressed for decades, effected by violent policing and discontent slowly bubbling to the surface. Many risked their lives by speaking out against something that has dominated their lives every single day. Showing the world the passion and courage of these people to decide to act in defiance of such regimes is surely where the news stories should directed.

egypt_socialmediaOverstating social media’s role in the uprisings denotes the role of the people and shifts the credit to Western based companies like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube simply because their platforms were used.

Maria Popova, in her article, presents some good arguments, summing up social media’s role to; to inform, to inspire and to incite. To an extent, I think it does all of these things but couldn’t be attributed to be the cause or reason these actions are taken.

A ‘tool’ is the best way to describe social media’s use in modern protesting and political organization. I believe their still would have been an uprising against Mubarak’s government even without the use of social media. It may not have happened so fast and provided the same real-time news reporting but the motivation and culture of discontent and activism was still there and social media had nothing to do with how the people actually felt about their governments.

Social media and its functions will continue to evolve and be utilised by activists around the world to gather support and politically organise against oppressive regimes. Anything that assists in delivering a message to a wider audience can also be viewed as an effective political tool. A protester holding a picket sign with a strong message written on it is utilizing it to assist in the whole cause and I believe the Internet and particularly social media could be classified the same way.

Power to the People: Citizen Journalism

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As an avid rap music listener, I have noticed a major shift in the way I view my music information. Obviously there is an abundance of music reviews, blogs and forums all containing everything you need to know and never knew you needed to know about every possible artist making music today.

Whereas once I would refer to (hip-hop media) The Source, XXL or HipHopDX for new album reviews, now I look to forums in Reddit, Noisey, Complex, even comment sections of Youtube. For me, there is an element of trust involved. I know that larger sites and companies are most likely connected to even larger record companies with vested interests in the commercial success and sales of that record. I know that the various opinions of the average user are valuable and sometimes more warranted than 5 mics in the Source.

This is where I see benefits of ‘citizen journalism’. Without profit driven incentive, more honesty is achieved and real opinions get heard. While one opinion doesn’t hold as much weight as a major magazine such as XXL, many of these views can stack up and rise against biased and dishonest music and concert reviews with ulterior motives.

Hip-hop in general has always thrived on being a citizen-driven genre. It formed as a reaction against the mainstream and therefore holds more value in maintaining this position. As soon as the control shifts away from the streets and to the corporations, the genre ventures away from its essence. (See – Hip-hop as a citizen media)

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Citizen control of media with the aid of the internet has, and will continue to, empower those involved with hip-hop ensuring its legacy stays in the hands of the people and not those with economic self interests absent of culture or passion in the genre.

Hacktivism in society…

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Hacking: a dangerous act only performed by anarchist web pirates intent on causing online terrorism and stealing everyone’s information or is it purely in pursuit of knowledge and truth, attempting to expose corruption and keeping governments and corporations honest? Most would agree there are many on both sides of the spectrum and with the online world lacking define borders and legal lines for which to be drawn, clear distinctions of legality are difficult to define.

To me, hacking could be looked at in the same vein as so many other acts with a potential danger, but also with some distinctions. Driving in our cars, everyday or enjoying a drink on the weekend for example involves generally accepted ethical codes of conduct. We know not to drive erratically or too fast as to reduce any risk of harming others. Most of us drink sensibly, not pick fights and well, choose not to drive when drunk. We hope and assume that society respects the ethics involved in daily activities and that is how we avoid turning into a nanny state with rules and regulations without trust of the individuals.

Hacking had much of its origins in many using hacking exploits to simply prove they could and for bragging rights to other hackers. To bring down a large company was making a name for yourself and to have capabilities that surpassed those in charge of large corporations and their operating systems was a skill that was worth flaunting. More than anything, it was and still is based on the individual vs. the institution.

Graffiti emerged in Hip Hop culture as an individual’s response to the institution. Much the same as hacking, graffiti uses an anonymous title to illegally access, alter and leave your mark on something not belonging to them. Many taggers and writers could be considered artists the same way many hackers could be seen as computer geniuses. Perhaps there are many that view hacking as an art form? An act of rebellion against a larger entity, bringing them down a few notches makes a bold statement to the public and to the entity itself. For more thoughts on graffiti and hacking see here.

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Hacktivism as a more specific form of hacking concerned with hacking in order to promote political ends such as human rights and freedom of speech. Today, many stick by what is considered to be the basis of hacktivsm which a strong code of ethics, much like the code according to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange; Don’t damage computers you break into, don’t change the information in the systems and share the information. Obviously if everyone adhered to this, we wouldn’t have a lot of the identity theft, money stolen from accounts or shutdowns of publicly used networks.

Ultimately hacking, in the wrong hands, is a potentially dangerous activity that could see your identity stolen, credit card details revealed and military secrets exposed. Striving for truth should be something we all try to do and perhaps the most admirable quality of a true hacktivist. It is promising in a world where corruption and greed runs rife in our governments and corporations. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.” Unfortunately with so many underlying issues that this statement opens up, how much truth is revealed and the content will always be contested by individuals and the institutions for some time to come…

The Mutated Medium

Record_1205328703The inevitable result of rapidly advancing technology and digitalisation is a graveyard of old, worn out and unwanted devices that have been replaced by a much smaller, faster, cheaper and more efficient tool. How quickly we went from prancing around with headphones on listening to our Walkman or mini disc players to laughing at the poor guy who has the guts to actually be seen out in public rocking one, while we jog passed him with our ten thousand song capacity iPod the size of a matchbox strapped to our arm. Society is notorious for always wanting to improve and discarding old technology as soon as its use has expired.

As Mcluhan suggests, the medium frames how we view and use the message. Unless there is a use for a medium, it will unfortunately meet an untimely demise and cease to be of any benefit, unless for nostalgic purposes. We see this in the defunct floppy disc. I remember transferring no more than a megabyte and a half worth of word documents in high school onto one of those bad boys and writing my name on the sticker. The compact disc quickly made a joke out of the floppy disc the same way the USB stick has now done to the CD, in terms of storage space. It is a rarity, but occasionally an old medium, at risk of becoming completely outdated and useless, can be mutated and reemerge as a completely new form of medium altogether. We see this in what is recognised as the  instrument of Hip-Hop: The turntable.

A ‘turntablist’, as described by John Oswald, is “an artist who plays a record like an electronic washboard with a phonographic needle as a plectrum, producing sounds which are unique and not reproduced – the record becomes a musical instrument”.

The way in which the turntable was radically altered and turned into a musical instrument, giving birth to a revolutionary new genre of music, is astounding. Certainly Emile Berliner, the creator of the gramophone that eventually became the turntable/record player, never intended on anyone making music out scratching records and making strange sounds to a break beat.

So it is a user-generated mutation of an old medium that can give a new use to an old medium, completely changing the way the medium is viewed and framed. While scratching vinyl is a method perhaps used much less today than it was in the late 80s-early 90s, it is forever cemented in hip-hop history as a foundation of the genres creation.

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One of the revolutionaries: DJ Kool Herc

Ultimately, the way hip-hop culture mutated the already-established medium of the turntable represents the culture itself. Hip-hop is based on altering and individualising something that exists, making it almost unrecognisable and giving birth to something fresh and innovative.

[Joke time…..They’re making a new website for DJs and scratchers that has information on turntablism. It’s called wiki.wiki.wikiwikipedia ]

 

Also, recently there has been a DJ version of the extremely popular ‘Guitar Hero’, called ‘Scratch: The Ultimate DJ’.

 

Social media at work: Time wasting or efficient networking?

I previously hadn’t thought of there being much of a link between work and social media. Perhaps scrolling past someone on Facebook complaining about the length of the working day or thanking G or F that it is Friday. Only recently have I been hearing and reading that a large number of companies are utilizing social networking into their everyday employee operations.

 

I certainly see the benefits of social media at work; enhancing client network, advertising opportunities, time efficiency, increased communication. But, I would almost guarantee that it is not being used in this way by the majority of users today. Right now someone is at work wasting time on Facebook or Twitter when they could be working!

 

I speak from experience, I was with a company when I was much younger and got to the point where I could complete my work early in the day and comfortably browse Ebay or check Myspace (it was a long time ago) and plod along with day to day jobs. Was I looking for ways to increase a customer’s service and overall satisfaction for the good of my employer? Nope. I could’ve been doing any number of much more productive tasks. (Future potential employers: Be advised, this is no reflection of my current work ethic!).

 

There is obviously a lot to be said, as I’ve touched on, for the way social networks can be incorporated by companies and businesses. As I have recently learned, Google has certain policies allowing their employees free time to work on personal social networking or other extracurricular ventures.

 

When the modern workplace catches up with social networking, I believe it could make way for some extremely exciting and interactive possibilities, transforming the way we view our work. Finding a balance between social media used in the workplace and maximum worker efficiency still has some way to come.

Times they are a changing…. But I’m still for the ol’ school

Ok ok so there is currently a lot I’m reading about the positivity of ‘presence bleed’. One could describe it as the ability to multi-task, completing numerous jobs in less time, being time efficient and resourceful and so on. I will concede that I agree it’s important to be able to compete in todays workplace, that one needs a degree of this to compete, and also that it is a completely inevitable progression in this day and age………But, I would hate to see the days of face to face interviews, work socialising, client lunch meetings etc etc give way to half of the work force doing everything from home simply because it is more time efficient.

 

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I fear the robotic world we see in the movies. Where we become machines typing data just like everyone else and never leaving our homes to chat and have a coffee with workmates, build quality relationships, and be a genuine part of the everyday lives of each other. As much as I dread it, I accept it. So much of it is positive for our lives but I like to hope that there is a limit on such developments.

 

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Unfortunately what I see as the driving force behind it all is competition. It will inevitably be the companies that utilize these features of time-efficiency of the future and hire workers willing to be ‘everywhere always’, that are most successful. If you are not going accept that you need to be contactable or be able to contact 24 hours a day, soon there may be no work for you…

 

I just hope the ‘human’ side of work will remain and prosper, not completely giving way to the digitalization of the entire world. I think companies that have a positive combination of healthy social interactions as well as the efficiency of new media and evolving technology will have high staff retention, happier workers and, I think, better output overall.