This week's studies have seen me introduced to a new term: produsage - a term coined to describe the function of the modern day concept of Web 2.0, the idea that the roles of the consumer and producer (once isolated from one another via a very firmly drawn line in the sand) have now been blurred. The old method of media being dictated to us by industries, controlled and delegated by powers-that-be, purchased by the consumer - but not in any way controlled by them - has now become, for want of a better word, obsolete.
Why have the product fed to us by faceless corporations when we - the common people - can take control? That's about the most layman-like way I could interpret it - a foundation or series of foundations where us, the people, collaborate on and contribute to ongoing sources of media. There's no boss, no owner, participation is open to all, and the development is forever ongoing, with existing content being built upon and constantly improved.
Who needs a published encyclopedia when we can contribute to and collaborate through Wikipedia? Why write a letter to the editor when we can Tweet at a politician or a celebrity, voice out thoughts in 140 characters or less, leaving open the possibility of being Tweeted back by them?
We live in a world where people can share photos of their own cats and see them ascend to celebrity or meme status. A world where we can upload videos of ourselves saying pretty much whatever the hell we want, where someone from the other side of the globe can see these videos and comment on them. A world where two people who aren't even sitting in the same room and collaborate on a piece of fan fiction, hit the publish button and watch as it develops its own niche fan base.
The people have more control than they have ever had. Technology is more accessible than it's every been. Screens are everywhere, there's an app for everything and if there isn't, a kid with an idea and a respectable amount of tech savvy can see himself getting rich off the creation of one.
This can be viewed as a magical thing, and I've found it an immensely thought provoking concept in light of Week 2's other required 'reading'.
Black Mirror seems to be a real thing at the moment. Everyone is talking about it. It seems to have surpassed The Wire as THAT show which has everyone saying: "Hey, have you seen The Wire?"
I'd only seen one other episode (I tend to be a little bit resistant and stubborn when it comes to having a TV show recommended to me by literally goddamned everyone stop it OMG seriously), but that one episode ('San Junipero' - a little more uplifting than the one I'm about to talk about) I ABSOLUTELY loved. And I had similar feelings about this one: 'Fifteen Million Merits'. What a great show THANK YOU FOR RECOMMENDING IT EVERYONE, I LOVE YOU!
The episode hit home in several ways.
Firstly, the whole portrayal of a world completely and wholly consumed by screens and technology was way too real (I've previously mentioned my own struggles with the screen). We meet a protagonist living in a universe where literally everything is ruled by the screen. The screen is the first thing he - and everyone else - sees when upon waking (there's a reason I no longer charge my phone on my bedside table). Humans are drably dressed, soulless robots who spend their days mindlessly peddling away before a screen portraying a false world of animation. People select and craft their image and appearance from a menu in order to suit how they wish to be portrayed. Creativity and passion seem to be non-existent and any sort of minute manifestation of either is stamped out, filtered and presented in a way that suits 'the machine'. Throughout all this, large portions of the dead-eyed population dreams of fame and fortune.
It's a pessimistic representation of the worst possible outcome of technological takeover. Technology's current causes of worry, taken to the absolute extreme. Some might call it over-generalization, though I like to think of it as a possible scenario, a piece of art to be considered. Today's international current events have seen a number of classic artworks - works which, at the time of creation, were seen as the potential, dystopian outcome of a future gone wrong - start to seem a little more documentary-like than many of us are comfortable with them being.
With all these thoughts out of the way, the episode got me thinking about some other things. Namely the way it connects to the idea of produsage - a concept that is supposed to fuel collaboration, a concept that is aimed at driving away the tyrannical hand of industries and corporations and giving the power of the media back to the people.
Technology has played an integral part in the development of such a concept, an integral part in allowing anyone, anywhere to become involved in something big if they so choose.
Right now we life in a world rich with examples of produsage.
And then I look at the world portrayed in 'Fifteen Million Merits'. A world where technology is everywhere and it has swallowed the human soul and sucked it dry of all things beautiful and real. A world where everything available to the people living in it - be it stimulation, physical activity and even food - has been broken down, categorized, controlled and served up in portions, all of which cost the fictional inhabitants money.
To me, it screams industry, it screams corporation, it screams everything that we've used technology in the present to advance beyond, the only difference being that in the world of 'Fifteen Million Merits', technology is obnoxiously present.
Something which has the power and potential to harvest creativity and innovation has been reduced to something every bit as bland and lifeless as the grey tracksuits worn by the episode's characters.
Could this be a potential future for produsage, though? Powers-that-be rising up and putting a muzzle on all that wonderful potential and somehow - once again, like the show's characters - we're too blinded by the presence of the screen to see it coming?
I'm not even really sure how this would happen, that kind of thinking is a bit beyond my capabilities, but I feel that maybe, just maybe, 'Fifteen Million Merits' could serve as something of a message: we have ourselves a pretty powerful gift, let's stay awake, let's stay passionate, let's stay creative, let's use these powers for good.