New Year, New Interests

I’ve always felt that New Year’s celebrations were a little silly – a mark on an arbitrary calendar has about as much meaning as we want it to have. Nothing really has changed, yet like so many other social phenomenon, when enough people have decided it’s important, it’s difficult not to be moved by that energy alone. The real significance is the passing of the seasons, as the days have begun to get longer and not shorter. I can say I’m really happy about that.

How I've been spending my winter break - catching up on reading something other than papers

When your life is inexorably tied to university, then the big deal is the winter break and the change of semesters. I’m looking forward to some of the work this spring; a methodologies coures (so I can finally realize how to research things better), digital media theory and a “civic media and tactile design” course which is really all about “DIY media” and participatory culture. I’m also looking forward to getting involved more with Youth Rights Media, a New Haven non-profit which equips teenagers with media literacy and production skills to address the social issues that are important to them. It’s really exciting stuff, and I’ve followed them for about a year and a half now.

While we’re on that, I recently overheard an NPR discussion on YRM and another group out of Toronto called “The Remix Project.” Their goals seem similar, but the Canadian organization has a different scheme which is slightly troubling to me. Gavin Sheppard describes it as an “arts and cultural incubator” for underprivlidged youth, but Through the discussion he references the need to for “making money, making change” and how their work attracted corporations who realized they “have the year of our demographic focus groups” as he put it. One of the ventures they established is Blackboard Marketing, a “boutique lifestyle services agency” which “connects corporates with the millennial market in a more authentic way.” Most of the staff comes out of the program and is hired from the areas and communities serviced by The Remix Project, and the work they do included marketing and event coordinating for BMW Cooper Mini 50th anniversary, as well as online  and social media marketing for Mark Ecko watches, through Timex. Most importantly, it’s a way for those companies to find out “what is cool” in an effective and direct means, by letting the youth do their marketing for them.

If you’ve ever seen Frontline’s “The Persuaders” piece, this should be ringing a lot of alarm bells. If not, it’s certainly worth a watch, if you want to know in what way major brands and corporations use market research and any means possible to discover the essence of “coolness” and how to attach business strategies to trends. It seems like a fundamentally inauthentic and exploitive practice – instead of teaching kids how to analyze and interpret social and corporate media and marketing campaigns, giving them those critical skills which are sorely lacking in our society, they are turning them straight over and incorporating them into the culture industry.  If anything it’s certainly less than altruistic. And the directors would probably freely admit that, saying it’s important to give youth job opportunities. I’d agree, but it’s still ironic that youth media projects would funnel their students into the very machine that produces and encourages said economic inequalities and structures.

Anyway, I’ve gone on too long about that. I’m also interested in book sculptures now – how old media has been repurposed to create these art projects, and what it represents. I haven’t read anything about this, although it’s been going on for a few years, and I don’t think it’s extremely popular yet. There are at least several artists out there doing this, and I even found a “how to” book. And I’m wondering what it would be like to travel and do research – I’d love to do some interview-style qualitative research and maybe make a podcast out of it. It’d be fun, though possibly not academically rigorous. Which is why I’m glad for the methodologies class coming up.

Also, it may be gauche to mention this, but it’s been interesting to see the functionality of an iPhone up close – my wife and I recently got our first smartphones ever, and it really is more of a mobile computer than a telephone (since I hardly talk to people on the phone!). Really illustrates the capabilities of “citizen journalism” and diy media which I had only really read/speculated about before. I know, I’m years behind the rest of you.

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