Monday, February 26, 2007

Michael Wesch’s Video: Who Is Using Whom?

Michael Wesch, assistant professor of Cultural Anthropology at
Kansas State University has produced a fanastic video called Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us.  I sent the link to a few folks.  Maybe it is the music, but I find the video arresting.  I think Professor Wesch said it best in an interview with John Battelle: 

“I wanted to show people how digital technology has evolved and give them a sense of where it might be going and to give some momentum to the all-important conversation about the consequences of that on our global society. I did not know it would reach so many people, but I had hoped that for those it did reach it would spark some reflection on the power of the technology they were using. Because without proper understanding and reflection, “the machine” is using us – all of us – even those that don’t have access to the machine at all.”

It is an empowering four and half minutes that brings to life what all of us have been thinking about, talking about and doing.  It is very hopeful as it lays out new ways of communicating and understanding information. 

On further reflection, Professor Wesch has actually revealed something about technology that we have all probably suspected: our jobs and our lives are getting a little easier and much more complicated. 

I look back to college and wish I had a computer in my dorm room. (Yes, I graduated in 1986.)  It would have made my life a lot easier, and I like to believe it would have made me a better writer.  I suspect today, however, that computers have only raised the bar on what is required from students.  It puts greater emphasis on presentation, and I am sure many are still pulling all-nighters to finish term papers. 

Similarly today, new media is changing how we communicate.  Never has it been so easy to reach so many so inexpensively.  We don’t need fancy equipment, production crews and extensive distribution networks to make our voices heard.  Bloggers can begin blogging in minutes.   We now have the capacity to turn our bedrooms into recording studios and production houses.  Podcasts and videos are easily disseminated around the world — “frictionlessly.”  There is no real barrier to entry save your own pluck and talent. 

As Professor Wesch’s video reveals, blogging – the written word – is only the beginning of what is to come.  Pictures, audio and video are increasingly becoming part of the equation – not a nice to have, but a cost of doing business. 

We now have the ability to create the Internet in our image.  Customization and personalization enable us to create real and virtual representations of ourselves.  We are “da man” and big media companies are following our lead.  We decide when we want to watch something and how.  Not only that, we are creating content for them.  User generated content contributed to some of the most popular ads during the Super Bowl.  

The pressure is on.  I frequently have discussions with bloggers about whether they need to start producing podcasts and taping videos for YouTube.  Will our blogs suffer if they lack a multimedia component?  The written word is no longer enough. 

In the end, let’s not kid ourselves.  The machine, as Professor Wesch call it, is using us no matter how vehemently we say otherwise and no matter how deep our understanding of technology.  It is dictating more and more of what we say and how we say it.   

I think we have no choice but to embrace this new reality.  We can’t go back; nor should we.  Technology is facilitating connections and empowering individuals in ways that were unimaginable just a generation ago.  And the rate of change is only accelerating.  And, I for one am not returning to an electric typewriter to write press or term papers. 

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 15:02:42

3 Responses to “Michael Wesch’s Video: Who Is Using Whom?”

  1. Liza says:

    The thing I find most interesting about this video is that for those of us who are “old, in Internet years,” is how it sparks a trip down memory lane as well as curiosity about how we’re going to wind up using new technologies.

    I blogged about it too,, as did the friend who got my my first email address in 1987, and old-and-new media blogger Cindy Samuels. (If you don’t read Cindy’s blog, check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it. I strongly suspect you have friends in common if you don’t actually know one another.

  2. You need to watch the last 30 seconds (again and again and again). “We will need to rethink things.”

    No. We won’t. WE CAN”T!

    Some of the things Web 2.0 evangelists are expecting are NOT what humans do or have done. And there is NO basis to believe that we will.


    - Amanda

  3. Dan Greenfield says:

    I probably take a more optimistic view of technology and its promise. Granted, technology has caused many problems, but maybe just maybe the new machine has a soul. After all, technology was created in our own image.

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