The Revolution Has Gone Online - Le Monde Diplomatique

(The link I had posted here doesn't work except from Le Monde's e-mail, drat! Beefing up quote a bit.)

Le Monde sent me a free article to persuade me to resubscribe. I won't, but it's a pretty good article, by Dan Schiller, professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and author of How to Think about Information, University of Illinois Press (Chicago, 2006). Schiller appears to be an academic Marxist.

Strategic third screen
Cheap network service is supporting a partial re-centralisation of computing and software services, and these challenge the autonomously configured desktop and notebook computer. Mobiles threaten the growth of computers and television. There are roughly 4.5bn mobiles, and they are beginning to function as a ubiquitous and strategic third screen. In the nine months after Apple opened its first iPhone App Store, 25,000 applications were published for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and there were 800m downloads. (That has increased substantially with Apple's conquest of China and South Korea.)

Apple, Amazon and Google are demolishing longstanding oligopolies in music, book, gaming and film markets. Digitised texts and audiovisual commodities, and new devices (iPods and e-book readers), draw this inter-corporate rivalry. As CD markets collapse, the four transnational conglomerates whose music subsidiaries channel most global musical recording are being compelled to cede profits to Apple. The half-dozen transnational conglomerates whose film subsidiaries control global distribution contend with Google's YouTube.

Our communications and information system is being thoroughly transformed. Both its quantity and quality contrast with prior historical patterns, characterised by small avant-garde projects to revolutionise painting, or the novel, or film; and by the market-based assimilation of individual new media, such as radio. Today, the system of information and communications overall is being reordered. Unlike the pattern set by social revolutions in individual countries in 1789, 1917 and 1949, patterns of cultural change are being worked out internationally and, so far, the leading role has been taken not by popular social movements but by capital. Oppositional impulses have only occasionally become organised at a politically meaningful level.

As the technologies of message processing and communication are revolutionised, wage labour and markets are driven ever farther into society and culture. The internet is the most important enabling mechanism for these enlargements of capitalist social relations. That is one reason why power over the internet is both jealously coveted and fiercely sought.
Nostalgia for the revolutionary "good old days" aside, Schiller provides a good summary of the state of information technology, and names the major players and rivalries.

Interesting that he begins with a swipe at cloud computing.  There are a significant number of "rebel" users who eschew the Web almost entirely, communicating and working from shell accounts at places like Super Dimension Fortress using terminal emulators.

I love his description of Apple as a purveyor of "totemic consumer appliances". Apple has been so successful at selling "cool" off the rack. Buy a MacBook, be a member in good standing of an "avant-garde project", and strike a "blow against the Empire" into the bargain.

How should public libraries respond to these upheavals in information platforms and containers? I really ought to get myself over to FSU and read some LIS journals, but I feel like we're a bit flummoxed. We are stuck waiting to see what our readers want. Videocassettes are almost dead, audiocassettes are not far behind. CD's are on life support, but at least they can be borrowed to rip. Downloadable audio books from Overdrive and NetLibrary have been well-received, e-book texts not so much.

A lot of resistance remains to reading anything longer than a few pages on a screen, though there is now a lot of competition among e-book readers.  Sophisticated technology is being developed to make e-book reader screens more comfortable to read. It would be interesting to know how many libraries are offering downloadable e-books that can be loaded into a reader.  Our NetLibrary e-books are only offered as readable online.  It costs more to offer them as downloadable e-books in the Adobe format.  Printed books chug along with tremendous inertia, which I expect to continue until long after I have left this earth.

"Media", as a service in public libraries, has reached a crossroads, it seems to me.

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