Here comes everybody

originally published on by Mez Packer

The title of this lecture is actually the title of a book by Clay Shirky. You can look at his blog or follow him on Twitterread about him on Wikipedia – watch him do a talk for TED etc etc. But the core of what Shirky is saying is that through the Internet and interactive forms of digital media now is the the time that EVERYONE has a say.


Shirky acknowledges that great changes have happened in media before this point – the printing press, photography, radio, film with sound, TV – but as a contemporary media commentator (and a political one at that) he proposes that the Internet has created the possibility of active participation and the erosion of traditional gatekeepers in a way that was unimaginable even 20 years ago. (See my latest Delicious link for a TED talk about this).


So let’s take a closer look at the age of Here Comes Everybody as it has consequences for all of you in this room as photographers, artists, businesspeople and human beings.


Most of you will have seen the famous anthropological viral from Michael Wesch – The Machine is Using Us:


But Wesch is also concerned with how the Internet has allowed participation to become a dominant – if not THE dominant cultural form. Wesch isn’t as preoccupied with the political forms of participation that Shirky talks about (Shirky has very interesting things to say about governments’ interactions with citizens and the authenticity of political participation in the 21st Century). Wesch’s examination of participation is more anthropological – his research area is Digital Ethnography.

monopoly   In the past participation was something you did in real life, with real friends and family. It     was football, or board games or, at its most fantastical, it was games of make-believe in the street with proper children. Now much of that has migrated online. We now play cards with our friends online. We play fantasy games with strangers online. We play Scrabble online. We play football games and soldier games. We even mediate our experiences when we are with friends via our handheld devices (some of the time).

But despite all the sensationalism about erosion of community and the scaremongering about losing touch with the real physical environment Wesch celebrates the new possibilities and communities that Digital Media affords.

This lecture by Wesch -to the Library of Congress in 2008 – concentrates on User Generated Content (read I Tube Youtube Everybody Tubes) and participatory culture and Wesch, evidently, sees it as a new, and fascinating, cultural form. We’ll watch 3 mins or so – but please watch it all in your own time.

And bringing this right up to date is the phenomenal popularity of Gangyam Style. Everyone from Ai Wei Wei to Madonna has participated in the ‘craze’.

For you, as Photography students there are several competing strands to these developments.

Participatory digital media – +ve

  1. the internet/social media allows you to communicate directly with peers
  2. ideas can be shared/developed
  3. you can create a professional profile and brand your practice so that creating connections with communities of practice around the world is a click (or two) away
  4. you can receive feedback on your work even if you don’t have an established ‘name’
  5. creating and maintaining a profile is feasible and simple using dedicated sites
  6. you can create your own social networks using tools such as Ning

Participatory digital media – -ve

  1. your ideas can be appropriated
  2. everyone can get online and ‘present’ themselves as professional
  3. Here comes everybody!

The above lists present opportunities and issues especially for artists who find themselves competing in an unscrupulous digital marketplace. They have to stand out. Audiences are increasingly having to identify the authentic from the inauthentic. This blurring of real and virtual, authentic and inauthentic is not constrained to the artefacts themselves (e.g it’s often difficult to tell advertising from other forms of media content). But individual artists can exploit this blurring too – this grey area.

UK singer Jessie J for example, had a huge viral boost with her singing-to- camera-undiscovered-talent style YouTube video when in fact she already had a recording contract and an international profile. Only later was she tipped by pundits as ‘the next big thing’ and so her meteoric rise to fame began.

Meanwhile stars ‘talk’ to their fans via their Facebook/Twitter feeds and post comments and personal videos on their websites and blogs giving the impression of intimacy and immediacy when in fact the gulf between them and their fans is as wide as ever. Notice how many people celebs are following!

Nevertheless companies are vaulting onto the bandwagon – talking to their customers, interacting with them in ways never seen before. There are now huge online ad spends (rather than the traditional TV/press) in a desperate attempt to create content that ‘goes global’ sometimes by making things that appear amateur and/or leftfield.

The ad below however is very slick – and an interesting example of what can happen when it works. Old Spice sales increased by 168% after The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, and the advertising budget they had earmarked to promote the video was reinvested because you, me and auntie Doreen all sent the video round for them.

We participated in advertising the product rather than being passive consumers of the advert.

But as per the Wesch examples there are hundreds of reworked versions of the Old Spice ad online too, simply adding to the company’s profile. Here’s just one of them:

Some of the most exciting projects, however, are in crowdsourcing. Whether we like it or not we are all contributing (and participating in) the creation of the Giant Global Graph (an expression coined by the inventor of the WWW – Mr Tim Berners-Lee).

Some of the most exciting developments in participation have been crowdsourced. Take a look at:

Here’s how we’re doing it:

  • Facebook or Twitter update
  • Have a look at Vinepeek
  • online comments (blogs or retail)
  • Amazon reviews/ratings
  • forum posts
  • Youtube uploads
  • Foursquare checkins
  • Quora questions/answers
  • Flickr (Picassa, Photobucket) uploads
  • Blog posts

With the new semantic technologies now underpinning many web pages and DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) software running in the background we are feeding the databases of the world at a rate of knots that’s almost incomprehensible. And we’ve barely touched on games yet! If you have time, use the link below to whiz  over to a presentation tool I like to use to learn more about participation.



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