Author Archives: emilyklaird
The internet connects us through unmeasurable hyperlinks, thus leading it to be known as the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 in hopes of creating a global network for referencing and sharing information. This is how Howard Rheingold (2012), author, professor, and proud shoe painter, begins the second half of his book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Rheingold focuses on collaboration, community, and networks both in the digital and real-world realms. He reflects on conversations he’s engaged in with other similarly focused professionals and personal experiences as they relate to communities and networks. Infinite numbers of ideas, opinions, recipes, photos, videos, how-to’s, and art get linked around the web in a practice we know as ‘sharing’. Forget the New York minute, honey, sharing is happening in a cyber-minute and it’s modern communication lightning. Sharing happens so frequently that in 2019 (a simpler time) global online users sent over 41.6 million mobile messages. Many of these were, I’m sure, simple communications, but they also included an abundance of link-sharing. The act of sharing information is why we have the worldwide “web” and the infinite number of communities and networks entangled within. Sharing is not just something one can perform online, it is truly engrained into our cultural practice of the internet. Rheingold’s (2012) chapter 5 discusses sharing at length, but he states early on, “entire communities exist for the purpose of sharing and organization” (p. 22).
DeviantArt was created to share and organize art between artists. A Web 2.0 darling, DeviantArt was a community embracing collaboration and inclusivity until a simple platform switch encouraging sharing changed everything. Dan Perkel, now director of global design company Ideo, spent three years doing fieldwork on DeviantArt. Perkel’s work would inevitably become a piece for firstmonday.org entitled Share wars: Sharing, theft, and the everyday production of Web 2.0 on DeviantArt. Amid Perkel’s fieldwork, August of 2009, DeviantArt’s platform added new “Share Tools”. The tools were a result of application programming interfaces (APIs) ability to share DeviantArt content directly into other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.
In the days following the launch of the new Share Tools, conflict erupted across the DeviantArt network. The primary issue was the loss of control for community artists. Shortly after the tool’s incorporation, community members’ original work began showing up on other websites as banners and button or as other artists own “work”. Of course, most damaging of all was community members original artwork appearing for sale on other websites. This underside of sharing, the inspiration for Tim Berners-Lee’s vision, has a very real and impactful effect on both independent artists and brands.
The story of Tuesday Bassen versus Spanish apparel retailer Zara was featured in the podcast Articles of Interest, #8 Knockoffs. Articles of Interest is a “limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible.” As a quick side note, I highly recommend 99% Invisible, created and hosted by Roman Mars. It deep dives into design features present all around us, things we engage with or see every day, but never knew the full story behind them. I digress. Tuesday Bassen is an illustrator and entrepreneur who sells her unique, pop-art sketches in the form of prints, pins, t-shirts, and most notably her satin jackets which feature saying like “Hail Satan” and “Mixed Emotions Club”.
Tuesday is made aware from others on social media that Zara seems to be copying her original work. Initially, she’s scared to go after the giant retailer – which is understandable. Just like Dan Perkel’s experiences with his field study of DeviantArt, independent artists are not prepared for legal battles, nor do they want to participate in them. Who would? Yet, Tuesday Bassen decided for the love of her brand, she would play David against the Goliath, Zara. Bassen eventually wins a settlement, only to shortly after find items similar to her originals on Zara and many other sites.
Music and video theft, as discussed by Rheingold (2012) came with heavy legality, copyrighting, and ultimately streaming serves which aided acts of piracy. Similar movements for artists online exist but don’t have the backing of the film and music industry. A growing trend in stock art websites allows anyone to purchase or obtain both knock-off and original art, videos, and stock photos. Sites like pexels.com, flaticon.com, and unsplash.com are useful resources – especially when I’m designing a website and my client doesn’t have photography in the budget. However, I’m certain their services are hurting independent artists. Technology combined with sharing within both communities and networks is a beautiful, progressive process. Technological expediency within art communities, however, may be providing shortcomings and downright theft for many.
At the present, we are living in a vastly digital, on-demand world. Gone are the days of patience and anticipation, replaced instead by instant gratification. Once entering the digital realm, all we encounter is stimulation. Perform a simple Google search and you’ll be met with links, pictures, videos, and information. This excessive quantity of stimulus warrants the advocation for both mindfulness and “crap detection” online found within the first three chapters of Howard Rheingold’s (2012) book Net Smart. The antagonist to Rheingold’s call for digital awareness is editor of Wired.com, Chris Anderson, who in his article The Long Tail, predicts the future of markets is found within niches. While streaming serves are the status quo, providing extensive offerings from standard fare to obscurity, their long tail offerings are derailing our digital journeys.
Rheingold (2012) states, “powerful technologies always entail trade-offs and while the power of a new tool is evident early, the price we pay may take longer to become visible” (p. 61). Video-on-demand, endless libraries of music at our fingertips, and a never-ending flow of social media now make up our day-to-day. Want to hear a song? Press play on Spotify or Apple Music. Want to watch a movie? Turn on Netflix and watch. Want to share a thought? Log onto social media and have at it! Of course, these activities have become effortless as smartphones accompany us everywhere. Information overload and consumer satisfaction walk a narrow line, as Rafeal Lucian details in his 2014 article in The Journal of Internet Banking and Commerce. Lucian found online customers expect the same amount of offers as provided by the last minute products that line the checkout aisles – we anticipate choices. When we choose to stream a show or listen to an album from the comfort of our phone, the options are interminable. Have you ever sat in front of a tv with your dinner getting cold because you were unable to choose something to watch while you ate? This is an example of how Anderson’s long tail is effecting your day-to-day life clouding your digital mindfulness.
There’s nothing wrong with digital rabbit holes. Personally, I enjoy a good mindless romp through social media or the little trailers that now play before you select to watch anything on Netflix. Yet, in drawing back to Rheingold’s (2012) statement, is the price we pay our time? Often easily forfeited, time is a very valuable currency. Anderson’s (2004) The Long Tail even points out the poor exchange of time spent locating open-sourced music versus paying to download instantly. With digital services able to offer us the long tail into obscurity, the tradeoff is we’re inundated with decisions. This abundance strains Rheingold’s (2012) concept of infotention, the conjoining of the brain and machine filtering, by providing the machine an advantage. The machine is providing us the information we’re seeking, but a new challenge amasses – an overabundance of information stimulus. We as the user can focus our attention, being mindful of our digital journey, but the long tail and its many offerings detract from our mission. This is not to say I disagree with the niche offerings which compromise the long tail. I am a consumer who desires both the unique and the unconventional. However, in reading Rheingold’s (2012) calls for mindfulness, I couldn’t help but consider how hindering the broad access to niche materials works against our focus.
Combating the extensive number of digital stimuli isn’t an easy task. It’s rare a day that I’m able to be truly present online, staying faithful to the purpose of being there in the first place. This dissension from my true online task is not my fault, it’s exactly what the long tail hopes to accomplish. By falling into a digital rabbit hole we’re engaging with more content, videos, or media. If time is money then someone somewhere is getting paid for my digital off-roading. Thus, pulling us away from our intention and harnessing our participation elsewhere is the goal of the long tail. This keeps us from accomplishing our digital intentions in the time we thought it might take us. The truth is the long tail is rarely, in my experience, disappointing. Thus, we’re willing to part with our time in exchange for interesting, attention-grabbing content.