Saturday, October 9, 2010

Artists and the Social Media Explosion

Rachel Crowl's Facebook Portrait, 2010
Photographer: Unattributed
Lawrence's New Media & Website Coordinator
When we met Rachel Crowl, Lawrence University's New Media and Website Coordinator, last year and found out she'd learned html in 1993 and PhotoShop soon thereafter, we had to invite her to talk with our Digital Processes students about the wild world of the Web as she saw it evolve. When she gave her talk on Wednesday (10.6.2010), she covered digital progress from Desktop Publishing to RSS to Creative Commons. Referencing John Knoll, co-developer of Adobe Photoshop and Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook profile proclaims the innocent mantra "I'm trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share," we realized once again that the the digital inventors that are re-wiring the way we think are far from household names like say Edison or Bell. With the release of the movie The Social Network last week,  the FB founder and CEO may become a somewhat more familiar name after getting the Hollywood treatment. Same with Hedy Lamarr, actress/inventor, who may get her due in a rumored Hollywood biopic reminding us of Lamarr's invention of spread-spectrum encryption which lead to the wireless technology we know and use today.

by Ted Nelson
Self-published using
Books like Ted Nelson's Geeks Bearing Gifts review this history too reminding us of the impact of late 20th century inventors on our daily life. Rachel took us through this evolution and ended with Web 2.0, the ultimate 21st century tool. At LU, she uses Web 2.0 platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and WordPress to get the word out through photos, videos and newsfeeds about what goes on at the college on a more human level than prior static websites and slick brochures perhaps resulting in the college's largest ever Freshman class.

Lev Manovich,
Software Studies Initiative
California Institute for Telecommunications
and Information Technology

That Web 2.0 quickly became a marketing tool enabling anybody to blog about anything or toot their own horn becomes clearer with each passing day. But, what can artists do with the deluge? In the exhibition catalog The Art of Participation, organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2008, Lev Manovich posed the question, in a now historic essay: "Art after Web 2.0": "Modern artists have thus far succeeded in meeting the challenges of each generation of media technology, but can professional art survive the extreme democratization of media production and access? His answer: "In my view a significant percentage of the work found on these websites represents the most innovative cultural production today...Ultimately, social media's true challenge to art may not be the excellent cultural production of studenets and non professionals that is now readily available online. It may lie in the very dynamics of Web 2.0 culture: its incessant innovation, energy, and unpredictability." Certainly a safe, open-ended answer that points to that next overly obvious but completely new thing that will continue to change everyday life. In his essay, Manovich references the video "Web 2.0...the Machine is Us/ing Us" posted by Michael Wesch a cultural anthropologist who explore the "effects of new media on society and culture." We are left to contemplate the strategies and tactics artists are using to be productive digital citizens helping to form what we now know as Web 2.0. The blog Art Fag City recently ranted about the simultaneous importance/lack of importance of authorship and the rise of collaboration as a start.