Turned On but Tuned Out: the omnipresence of media screens

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Lets face it, no matter where you go today, there will be no escaping television. TV’s are now at shops, pubs and waiting rooms. Screens are placed strategically throughout our university campus, and at our local train stations. It is not uncommon to see restaurants who have television screens dotting the room.  Woolworths has screens dangling from above, advertising to their customers. Even the emergency rooms and public toilets have joined in on the media mayhem. Screens are everywhere, but are we really watching them? Glaringly colourful and often obnoxiously loud, even if the TV’s aren’t being watched they remain on. Why? Why are we so desperate for background noise?

Nothing is more annoying than serious television viewers at the gym. Leaving the televisions on around the gym filling the space with motivational music, advertising corporate partners, displaying latest promotions and offers I can understand.  However TV, as in television shows with actual episodes and content, by its very nature is addictive and distracting and I believe misplaced in a public gym environment.

As a fitness center employee, day in and day out I watch as members plonk themselves on the equipment in front of a TV, plug in their headphones, put on their favorite show and walk at a 2.5 pace. After a half hour, they have not even broken a sweat and their cardio session is complete. They feel content because, according to present-day guidelines, they just added years to their life, warded off obesity and heart disease all while enjoying the latest episode of Masterchef. Their real intent is to pay attention to the show on TV and walk. To pay attention to the show, they need to walk at a reasonable pace that will not cause them focus on maintaining balance, endurance, and effort. The very things needed to generate power output to expend the most calories in the least amount of time, thus losing fat! I am not saying this is the majority of gym-goers, but it is what I witness and it is annoying – why do televisions need to exist in this public space? It makes a lot more sense for people to bring their own portable music device, where they have the freedom and choice to listen to what they want, how they want, without the need to crane their necks up to the communal televisions. Have ordinary Australians developed an attention deficit that disallows a 30 minute workout without consuming television?

To be fair, from a gym’s point of view it is arguable that TV screens keep us occupied and inside the center for longer periods of time, therefore as logic would have it,  members are exercising for longer stretches of time. But that is not the reality. There are times when you watch people wander in, jump on a bike, watch a rerun of Friends, followed by a rerun of King of Queens, followed by a rerun of How I Met Your Mother, and they don’t even break a sweat! Technically, they may have just exercised for an impressive 90 minutes, but during that time, they didn’t raise their heart rate at all.  When in the middle of cardio hour you should be a hot mess. You should be breathing hard, sweating hard, and just one incline level away from flying off my treadmill. And if you’re not, after 3 episodes of your favourite sitcom then you’re not working hard enough, and you should hand over your treadmill to someone who will – this is about mediating public space after all.

Having the televisions on around the gym filling the space with motivational music, I can understand. Having screens placed around the gym advertising corporate partners, I can understand. Having screens around the gym with latest promotions and offers, I can understand. Screens allowing people to get into the zone and actually work out, which is what they are there for simple make sense. However TV by its very nature is addictive and distracting. Using television as a technology to watch episodes of actual content is misplaced in a gym environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brace Yourselves: Piracy is Coming

The season-three finale of Game Of Thrones set new BitTorrent download records around the world, with 170,000 people sharing the file simultaneously at one stage. It’s estimated that the finale was downloaded over a million times within the first 24 hours and congratulations Australia –  with the smallest population out of our international illegal-downloading compatriots, we topped the ranks for the most prolific pirating nation.

US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich used UN World Book and Copyright Day in April of this year to make a plea on behalf of US creatives. In a Facebook post titled ‘Stop the Game of Clones‘ He asked Australian fans to stop illegally downloading Game of Thrones.

One episode was illegally downloaded about 4,280,000 times through public BitTorrent trackers in 2012, which is about equal to the number of that episode’s broadcast viewers. In other words, about half of that episode’s viewers stole the program from HBO. As the Ambassador here in Australia, it was especially troubling to find out that Australian fans were some of the worst offenders with among the highest piracy rates of Game of Thrones in the world. While some people here used to claim that they used pirate sites only because of a delay in getting new episodes here, the show is now available from legitimate sources within hours of its broadcast in the United States.’

Despite the fast tracking of TV shows from the US, as Bleich mentions,  Australia is still behind the play. Without paid TV services like Foxtel, the show is often unavailable to the average fan. If you want to watch Game of Thrones in Australia, it turns out, you can’t just pay $33-odd per season any more, at least for Season 4 and beyond. You’ll need to pony up a cool $47 per month for Foxtel’s essentials package, plus another $25 a month for Foxtel’s Movies and Premium Drama offering. Lets be honest – who’s going to pay for a whole pay TV package just because they want to watch one series from HBO? You can see why people aren’t willing to do this.  If HBO and paid TV services allowed a pay as you go or an on demand service they would see the number of illegal downloads dropping significantly.

They seems to think that “fast-tracking” shows on to Australian screens will combat piracy, but really they’re missing the point. Australians don’t download TV shows simply because they’re impatient. They also download their favourite TV shows because they’re unwatchable on free-to-air television. Australians stealing Game of Thrones aren’t rebelling against free-to-air networks, instead they’re rebelling against the cost of a Foxtel subscription.

The issue of piracy could represent a massive opportunity in the TV industry to increase their audience and reach. The best example of this shift to a pay as you go service is in the music industry with companies like Spotify and other music streaming services enjoying success and gaining considerable market share. The question is if people are willing to pay for a music streaming service like Spotify rather than illegally downloading music, does this mean they would also buy television and movies in the same way? Two years ago I would download all of my music for free. Perhaps it would be a viable option for HBO to provide a live streaming service for a small fee so that Australian’s wouldn’t need to waste money on hundreds of unwatched Foxtel channels. Despite there being plenty of alternatives thrown out there as piracy is at the forefront of current political and social debate in Australia including fast tracked shows, cheaper alternatives and live streaming, the reality is that pirating will continue because ultimately, no business model in the world can compete with free.

References

Delimiter. 2012. Despite quick, cheap, legal option, Australia still top Games of Thrones pirating nation – Delimiter. [online] Available at: http://delimiter.com.au/2013/04/03/despite-quick-cheap-legal-option-australia-still-top-games-of-thrones-pirating-nation/ [Accessed: 10 Sep 2013].

Twi-hards and Fanpires

Paul Booth author of ‘Fandom Studies: Fan Studies Re-Written, Re-Read, Re-Produced’ believes that Fandom has become mainstream: ‘fandom seems to have become a common and ordinary aspect of everyday life’. Interestingly, through his studies of ‘fandom’ Booth notes that there seems to have developed a difference between an expert or ‘aficionado’ and a cotemporart ‘fan’: Compared to the “aficionado and as something no “respectable” book collector would consider himself, fans are “vulgar,” are “miserable wretch[s],” cannot distinguish “the line between fantasy and reality,” and are akin to “innocents and children.”  Twilight Fans are, in other words, the ignorant vulgarities of popular culture….

Lets rewind to June 2003 – Stephenie Meyer, then a 29-year-old Mormon housewife living in Arizona woke up with the fading afterimage of a vision in her head – a young woman and a vampire, talking, in a meadow.

Now lets fast forward to 2008- buzzing with teenage girl excitement we jumped on the bus straight from school and headed to pick up our pre-ordered new release book.  In the same year, again, buzzing with teenage excitement we eagerly awaited the midnight screening of the first movie release, which we would then proceeded to watch 7 times (our local cinema loved us that month).

One last fast forward to the present and the Twilight franchise has grossed over $3.3 billion worldwide. Stephenie Meyers books, and their subsequent films, have achieved a phenomenal level of popularity. But lets face it, even as a self confessed twi-hard and fanpire – the books were horrible, as were the films. Indeed the great Stephen King himself has been quoted as saying ‘the real difference between J. K. Rowling and Meyer is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer, and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn’. The popularity of the Twilight saga is definitely not due to the supreme quality of writing or engaging characters and plot lines, but undoubtedly a result of its cult fan following

Because of the explosive success Twilight has become a highly commercialised brand, and even now it’s hard to avoid coming across Cullen crests, Twilight towels and even Twilight toilet paper. As of October 2010, the series has sold over 116 million copies worldwidewith translations into at least 38 different languages around the globe. The four books have consecutively set records as the biggest selling novels of 2008 on the USA Today Best-Selling Books listsand have spent over 235 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list for Children’s Series Books. Economically, the town of Forks, Washington, the setting for the Twilight series, has improved due to tourism from fans of the books. Forks is visited by an average of 8,000 tourists per month, and has been described as a “mecca for Twilighters”. Just when you thought it wouldn’t get any weirder, in response to plans for the aging Forks High School to be renovated, Twi-hards have teamed up with Infinite Jewelry Co. and the West Olympic Peninsula Betterment Association to collect donations in an attempt to save the appearance of the building.  The Twilight series has also been a visible presence in many conventions such as ComicCon, and fanpires banded together to even hold their own ‘Twicon’.

Ignorant vulgarities of popular culture? Or just die hard fans engrossed in Meyers, albeit poorly written, escapist fiction? Either way Twilight’s megafandom is paving the way for new and upcoming media franchises to make their mark on generations to come.

 

Twilight Fans

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References

http://www.smosh.com/smosh-pit/articles/worlds-6-weirdest-twilight-fans

Booth, P. 2009, Fandom studies: Fan studies re-written, re-read, re-produced, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

 

Nomophobia

 nomophobia — as in nomo(bile) phone-phobia—— that rush of anxiety and fear when you realise you are disconnected- out of the loop with friends, family, work and the world.

 Work and play no longer exists in a separate realm of space and time. The problem of the smartphone’s ubiquity is not a principled objection but a practical one. The common dystopian argument of smartphone addiction and the hyper connectivity that comes with it is that people are addicted to their phones to the detriment of their family and friends.

Many of us have seen the funny YouTube videos of a person entering a shopping mall fountain or even a clear glass entrance because they were so engrossed with their phones. From all the ‘funny’ YouTube videos, it appears that ‘distracted walking’ has become an opportunity for internet-goers to savour some good quality slapstick comedy. However as a self confessed iPhone addict I wholeheartedly reject these arguments that we are becoming less connected, less involved with the world around us and have become dangerously consumed by what is on our tiny screens. These hilarious clips we see on Youtube or the bizarre mishaps reported on the news as a result of smartphone ‘addiction’ are the exception- not the rule.

Ordinary smartphone users are able to mediate their technology usage dependent on space and place in order to modify the impact of the media. If I was on a train platform, for example, I wouldn’t be walking along staring at my screen: even though I could be checking the train timetable, before transferring money to buy the ticket, while texting my friend to let her know what time I’ll be there as I take a photo of the scabby pigeon, upload it onto Facebook, then Instagram, then tweet about my day – it would be insanely stupid.  People are only consumed by the media so much as they let it. It’s not the media that is impacting our behaviour – its our behaviour that impacts the media.

 A dystopic view of the media such as described in Dr Dale Archers article ‘Smartphone Addiction’ published in the Psychology Today focuses on the negativities of the technology once it has infiltrated once deemed private or personal matters, Archer even goes as far to use the example that 12% of users in a recent study admitted to using their smart phone while in the shower (how!?). However when used appropriately, in the right context, and by that I mean not at the dinner table, not in the middle of conversation, not in the middle of class, in the middle of sex, not while driving, not while in the shower – smartphones are the most useful technology we have to date and we would be lost without them. Does that last sentence make me a nomophobe? 

References

Archer, D  2013. Smartphone Addiction. [online] Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201307/smartphone-addiction [Accessed: 29 Aug 2013].

9/11: A defining moment in our television history?

It’s hard to believe that TV only became a part of the Australian home lifestyle after 1956. Late to adopt following America post WW2, television became an image of the post-war suburban family lifestyle.  Sonia Livingstone in her 2009 article Half a century of television in the lives of our children explains this in what she calls an ‘accident of history’, television reaching the mass market ‘showed a collective ‘coming together’ of the family around the set, with domestic living space being rearranged to create the ‘family room’. In the early days of television, watching was also a public event – not private, in your own home as we mostly view it now. The television would be watched in community halls, in someone else’s home in the street or through a shop window.

In 2013 the image of television is very different. TV is no longer just a technology, but often a symbol of times past and a signpost of memories tied up with where we were, whom we were with and what was happening during certain events in time. The prevalence of television news media in Australia means that a lot of Australian turn to television for information on the latest events. Big events in our lives are often remembered in relation to memorable TV moments. As a 20 year old I have always had television in the home. Some of the biggest moments in my lifetime I can remember in reference to television. Events such as the Beaconsfield mine disaster, black Saturday bushfire, London bombings, Bali bombings, the 2011 Japan tsunami, Prince William and Kate’s royal wedding, the triumphs of Olympians and of course, 9/11. My views of the events happening around me have been shaped by the coverage that I see on my home television. In a way, the television in the home is our personal window to the world.

Asking people around my age the response to what television event stands out the most for them seems to unanimously be 9/11.  Interestingly, I asked my younger sister who would have only been 4 years old at the time and she, almost instinctively replied 9/11. It wasn’t until I questioned her about it that she realised – she didn’t remember 9/11, the day, more the legacy as it has reported on television afterwards (her response then changed the London bombings. Interestingly, my mum’s response was also 9/11. Despite the fact that her earliest memory of television was sitting in the lounge room in their family home in Wales, UK, and her parents having to put tokens into the back of the television for it to work, her most prominent television moment was also 9/11.  When prompted to name other big events she replied with Princess Diana’s wedding and Princess Diana’s funeral (maybe she’s just a hardcore Di fan?). All in all this had me wondering – has the impact of 9/11 been exacerbated by television in the home? Is the fact that the atrocities of the world now reach so far into our personal lives and spaces; we cannot escape them, a product of television in the home? And if so – is this a bad thing? Or are we becoming more aware of global issues and events because of this? In the future will our memories of events be in real time? Or how/who/when we saw it reported on television?

 

References

Livingstone, Sonia (2009) Half a century of television in the lives of our children. The ANNALS of the American academy of political and social science, 625 . pp. 151-163. ISSN 0002-7162

Comfort & Convenience > Cinema Experience

Our ability to study audiences in a traditional market based ‘quantitative’ manner has become much more difficult following the advent of multiple media platforms, making it important to study audiences with a more ‘qualitative’ focus. According to researcher Sharan Merriam ‘Qualitative researchers are interested in understanding the meaning people have constructed, that is, how people make sense of their world and the experiences they have in the world’. With the rise of and the fluidity of accessing content and platforms simultaneously, audience observations are increasingly fragmented and diverse.

There is no mystique surrounding the cinema experience- sitting with strangers, crinkling packets, watching what could be a horrible movie while the teenagers behind make out. Audiences now have the opportunity to create their own media space. Sit at home, Facebook, flick channels and interact with friends all at the same time. This is quite a conundrum for those who wish to study audiences for market research. Quantitative measurements of how often, when, where and how a viewer watches a movie, for example, is so varied it makes quantitative research impractical.

This had me thinking about my relative freedom as a 21st Century movie-goer, and when reflecting on my dad’s first experiences of cinema, made me realise how different audiences have become and also question – has the availability of content on so many platforms murdered the kind of romantic ‘cinema mystique’ our parents enjoyed? In 2013, is there such things as a traditional ‘movie audience’?

Growing up in Western Sydney, my dad remembers the day he first went to the cinema. It was the early 1970’s, taken by his older sister (11 years his senior) they travelled by bus to their local Liverpool Picture Theatre and watched The Towering Inferno.  Given that he can’t remember any of his 3 daughters’ birthdays, I thought that was pretty special.  To be able to identify his first cinema experience over 30 years ago must have made it a unique occasion. To me this illustrates how different audiences have become. The common catch cry used to tarnish Gen Y’s reputation is that we ‘take everything for granted’, and while at risk of self-deprecating, in this context I think it is definitely true. I take my cinema experiences for granted.

At the humble age of 20 I don’t even remember the first time I went to the movies. Maybe it is because I go so often? Or that it’s such a normal social event we think nothing of it?  From around the age of 12 many Friday nights were spent at the local Greater Union, not necessarily seeing movies that we wanted to see but just going with a group of friends on an outing to the cinemas. It was/is fairly normal. Our parents would drop us off, we’d be text them when we knew what time the movie finished, and they would be right there waiting to pick us up. This sense of normality also ties in with what we discussed in BCM240 last week about the ‘safety’ of cinema space. How our parents were so willing to leave us at the local movie theatre but wouldn’t be too keen to drop us off late at night in the local park I find, is quite telling.

Now, I find I will only go to the movies if it’s a movie I really want to see, purely due to the ease of being able to access it by other means on a rainy day. It’s not because I’m a cheap skate or because I don’t like the atmosphere of the movies, but the simple ease of being able to suss out whether it’s worth watching or not via friends often very insightful critiques (i.e. Magic Mike has no plot line at all but hey, Channing Tatum is so hot) on social media, and then being able to download it and watch at my convenience makes it so much more enjoyable. Gen Y take cinemas for granted, however despite that fact that it hinders all of the advertising gurus out there as they struggle to find out who’s watching what, where and when, I don’t see our blasé attitude to cinema as a bad thing. New media technologies have given us the choice to become an audience at our own discretion and the ability to consume a mass-produced Hollywood film within our own media space.

 

References

Merriam, S. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

When does the private become public, when should the public be private?

The distinction between public and private space is increasingly blurred, a division difficult to make, and this is very much a product of our convergent culture and online lifestyles.  A public space, by its very nature is a social space that is generally open and accessible to all people regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age and sex.  Compared to a private space which most people would automatically relate to their own home or space owned or controlled by the individual. Annet Dekker  in her article PPS: PublicPrivateSpace: where the public space turns into private space and the private space opens up to the public notes that “the rise of digital technologies has changed our ways of communication….these technologies, from iPods to mobile phones and GPS receivers, have a large impact on our feeling and use of spatial dimensions, leading to the observation that the area of our cities is no longer determined by physical space alone. Moreover they transform our public space into a private space and vice versa” So when the two become intertwined, when we take activities traditionally kept and exercised in a private space and suddenly thrust them out into the very public, incredibly scary and sometimes misunderstood world wide web – when does the private become public, and when should the public be private?

Is the distinction between public and private space a malleable concept when it comes to social media and online sharing? Or is the distinction still there, just ignored by those who feel protected by the safety and shielded by their perceived anonymity while sharing in a public space but maintaining physically present in a private space?This is an interesting concept fleshed out by blogger Senthorun Raj in his article Grindring attachments: Loving, Hating, and Dating, published on The Vine in September 2012. Currently a Churchill Fellow investigating the constructions of sexuality and gender identity in refugee law and policy, Senthorun (Sen) explores , Grindr, a social networking application for same-sex attracted men with over 6 million users worldwide, in an attempt to illustrate how online dating has not only reframed the way we think about sex and love, but also invited us to rethink the associated distinctions between public and private space. What I found most interesting about Sen’s exploration was this idea of people being completely blinded by the public/private distinction when sharing online.

Social media is a public space, but at the same time our online profiles are entirely created and mediated by the individual. Even if it is a virtual platform, much like Facebook and Twitter, Grindr is a community of people (or more specifically profiles) interacting so why then is it ok for people to act differently in a public online forum than they would in an ordinary physical public space or even on public television. Sen gives the example on Grindr of when “personal preferences” take shape in rhetorical statements like “NO FATS, FEMS OR ASIANS” or “Be younger than 26; or the block button becomes essential,” Lets be honest, if you were out at the pub on a casual night out and a guy walked on up and started conversation by saying he was looking for someone to take home but ‘no fats, fems or Asians’ or made a similar crude remark they would most probably be met with a fist in face. The pub is just as public as an online forum is it not? Are we bound by social etiquette only because we are physically present in a public space? Does the fact that you are controlling your own social platform blind people to the fact that what they are posting is still in a public space?

According to Dekker “the contemporary city has moved into virtual space. A virtual public space that enables forms of sharing and exchange that was previously unimaginable” . Using Grindr as an example Sen’s article has left me with some questions. Where is the distinction between public/private space when it comes to the internet and social media? How is it recognised clearly by us as a culture that certain things are okay in private but no so much in public and why don’t the same standards transcend the boundaries of our online and offline worlds? It seems to me that our physical, tangible presence goes a long way in mediating our shared attitudes and behaviour in a public space.

References

TheVine – Grindring attachments: Loving, Hating, and Dating – Life & pop culture, untangled. 2013. TheVine – Grindring attachments: Loving, Hating, and Dating – Life & pop culture, untangled. [ONLINE] Available at:http://thevine.com.au/life/thoughts/grindring-attachments-loving-hating-and-dating-20130423-241801. [Accessed 7 August 2013].

Dekker, A, 2008. PPS: PublicPrivateSpace Where the public space turns into private space and the private space opens up to the public. 14TH INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ELECTRONIC ART, [Online].  140-141. Available at:https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/105904/mod_resource/content/2/Where%20the%20public%20space%20turns%20into%20private%20space%20and%20the%20private%20space%20opens%20up%20to%20the%20public.pdf[Accessed 07 August 2013].