August 24, 2009
Technologies Don't Transform. Societies Do.
Quick-hitting today, but here’s an important axiom from Dan Visel at if:book —
the social use of digital media is more transformative than the move to the digital itself
Visel’s responding to Eric Harvey’s “The Social History of the MP3”:
The first widespread music delivery technology to emanate from outside industry control, mp3s, flowing through peer-to-peer networks and other pathways hidden in plain sight, have performed the radical task of separating music from the music industry for the first time in a century. They have facilitated the rise of an enormous pirate infrastructure; ideologically separate from the established one, but feeding off its products, multiplying and distributing them freely, without following the century-old rules of capitalist exchange. Capitalism hasn’t gone away, of course, but mp3s have severely threatened its habits and rituals within music culture. There is nothing inherent or natural about paying for music, and the circulation of mp3s > through unsanctioned networks reaffirms music as a social process driven by passion, not market logic or copyright. Yet at the same time the Internet largely freed music from its packaged-good status and opened a realm of free-exchange, it also rendered those exciting new rituals very trackable. In the same way that Facebook visually represents “having friends,” the mp3s coursing through file-sharing networks quantify the online social life of music by charting its path.
P.S.: This observation from Harvey’s essay is a great coda to my “How the iPod Changed the Way We Read” —
This might be the most profound social shift of the mp3 era: hoarding and sharing music changed from an activity for eccentrics to the default mode of musical enjoyment for millions.