Friday, 26 September 2014

YOU/audience are the product: Julian Assange

When we consider audience theory in Media Studies, the degree of flux and changing views on this is quickly evident, and a major theme in itself. Which, if any, of the long-established audience theories continue to hold true in the digital age, the web 2.0 era? Is it enough to write of "the former audience", Dan Gillmor's (2011) striking phrase? David Gauntlett even went as far as to declare the "end of audience studies" (2007, 2011), although Julian McDougall's (2009, in a very readable, student-friendly book) more moderate point that audiences are fragmenting, making it more difficult to meaningfully analyse or discuss/define audiences, is perhaps more useful.

There are those who see the blurring of the audience/producer line as full of democratic promise, not least Gillmor, though Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture (2008) is perhaps the most striking statement of this.
Is Jenkins too utopian, optimistic? [image source]

On the face of it, the democratisation of 'UGC' (user-generated content), fan-made videos etc seems a good thing in weakening the power of the global conglomerate giants who dominate every media industry, often straddling several industries (as even the post-split Murdoch corporations do). But ... the 'new media' (an increasingly redundant term) giants have evolved themselves into even greater corporate behemoths than their old media predecessors. Is Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (still stuck in an asylum limbo in the Ecuadorian London embassy) right when he proclaims:
People who use Google are the product
Every time you go to a party and take a picture and post that picture to Facebook, you’re being a rat. You’re being a narc.
The first statement takes me back to the early days of my Media (and Politics) degree, when a simple enough statement immediately reformulated how I looked upon the media: newspapers sell readers to advertisers; when you buy a paper you're actually packaging yourself and selling yourself. Is the newspaper itself the product or a mere enticement for the actual product, a coalition of demographic types sufficiently attractive to a range of advertisers for the newspaper business to be economically viable?
A popular meme, Google is/Dr Evil [image source]

Is Google, the search engine, a product or the data generated through user (inter)actions that enables advertisers to target a specific audience?

The second point is perhaps more contentious; Assange compares the operating practices and corporate goals of the NSA (USA's National Security Agency, one wing of their secret services) with the new media global conglomerates:
Compare the mission statements of Google and the NSA – the NSA, who literally say, ‘We want to collect all private information, pool it, store it, sort it, index it, and exploit it.’ Whereas Google says, ‘We want to collect all private information, pool it, store it, sort it, and sell those profiles to advertisers.’ Really, they’re almost identical.
Today's Media students, and their wider peers, are immersed in all manner of social media. On the Media course you are encouraged to exploit social media to showcase real-world promotional strategies and to seek audience feedback and interaction, with my A2 class of 2013-14 excelling at doing just that, with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Blogger and more all featuring, and some really rather neat viral-style audience/fan participation videos as elements of a wider promo package.
Have I just sold myself in googling this term?!

But here's the question I want to leave you with - as you industriously endeavour to engineer a product/package that successfully sucks in marks while strongly representing and showcasing your artistic, organisational and commercial capabilities ... are these mighty fine films/videos/print work really the product or are YOU the product?

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