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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

watch it: “The Machine Is Us/ing Us”

I spent part of Saturday and all of Sunday at the American Museum of Natural History here in NYC at the Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival, which focuses on films of anthropological interest. It turns out, though, that the program that affected me the most was not a movie at all but a discussion about how the Internet is changing documentary filmmaking… though what it was really about is how the Net is changing how we communicate. From videocams in cell phones that capture unfolding disasters and give proof to human rights violations to the services (like YouTube and Google Video) through which we now share those videos and many others — not to mention the capability of more traditional filmmakers to distribute their work cheaply and easily — the Net is revolutionizing our ideas of what constitutes “a movie,” and is reemphasizing, in a way that perhaps has not been obvious since Mathew Brady’s photographs of Civil War battlefields, the power of the image.
The discussion at Mead was, for me, revitalizing and reenergizing and helped to crystallize a lot of things I’d been thinking about for quite a while. I’ve been stumbling around for some time now trying to find a way to regularly recognize the fact that everything about film is in the process of tremendous upheaval, and we’ve no idea where all these new voices and all these new ideas will take us. And while I was sitting there getting my mind blown thinking about all this stuff, I hit upon the idea to highlight a video from the Web every day, for several reasons:

• to draw attention the new power of the moving image in a global culture that’s more interconnected than ever

• to show off the cool ways inventive filmmakers are telling stories on the Web

• to point you at entertaining video that you might have missed, and might like to see.

And so, via that last point, the first FlickFilosopher.com Web Video of the Day is “The Machine Is Us/ing Us,” by Kansas State University assistant professor of cultural anthropology Michael Wesch. Wesch moderated the Mead talk, and kicked it off by showing this video, which he created earlier this year… and which went on to be one of the most popular online videos ever. I’d never even heard of it, even though I practically live online.


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  • JSW

    Except that everything mentioned in the video was possible long before XML came along. Content could be separated from formatting ever since server-side scripting systems were implemented, and CSS made it possible to do so in the code of the page itself. User-submitted content on the Web has been possible ever since forms were implemented, with JavaScript helping things along.

    Hell, there’s really nothing on the technical side of the web that’s possible now that wasn’t possible 10 years ago. The tools to do so have just become more sophisticated and user-friendly while connections and processing speeds became fast enough to handle it. There’s been no revolution on the Web in this century, just a gradual evolution in which the same old things became prettier.

  • MaryAnn

    I disagree. It is MUCH easier to creat content for the Web today than it was 10 years ago, when you had to learn HTML. And new software — or at least new implementations of software — has made collaborative creation such as we see at Wikipedia and flikr possible.

    The existence of a technology and the widespread usage of that technology are not at all the same thing.

  • JSW

    Yes, there has been a great deal of progress made in making the things we did in the 1990s quicker and easier to do today, however that’s simply been a matter of refinement of what we already had. I’m not saying that the web as it is today is the same as it was 10 years ago, just that there’s been no “Web 2.0 revolution” in that period. The technologies that we already had have simply become more refined and widespread.

  • i was at that MMFF presentation and the impression i got from the panelists was that their view of Web 2.0 doesn’t refer to the technology, but to the *uses* of that technology… that the accessibility and ease of use of the technology has changed the way people are beginning to use the web… making use of it in ways that the elite usesr of ten years ago — techies — didn’t. the web now is, or could be, is evolving into an instrument of social change and civic responsibility, as well as involved entertainment. it’s becoming for many a “hot” medium, instead of a “cool” one. the medium is bringing the message, instead of *being* the message.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m not saying that the web as it is today is the same as it was 10 years ago, just that there’s been no “Web 2.0 revolution” in that period. The technologies that we already had have simply become more refined and widespread.

    But that IS the revolution. The revolution isn’t in the technology but in the usage of the technology. Kinda like how the American Revolution wasn’t in the “technology” of ideas (some of which had been around since the Magna Carta) but in how that “technology” was used.

  • misterb

    I think that the Web 2.0 terminology is confusing here. I agree with MaryAnn and Bonnie-Ann. In the last 10 years we have reached critical mass on the web, and now chain reactions of web-based thought are not only possible but inevitable. I would expect that our interconnectedness will change society as much as movable type ever did. But JSW is right as well; the fundamental technology has been out there since Vannevar Bush – the point is that crediting the upcoming social change to technology is misplaced. The credit (and blame) goes to humanity – when given the opportunity to connect with other humans, we can’t help but connect promiscuously.

  • MaryAnn

    the point is that crediting the upcoming social change to technology is misplaced.

    Well, is anyone crediting it *solely* to technology, and not to people-using-technology? Web 2.0 is about how the Web is being used, not about technology is isolation.

  • misterb

    Are we agreeing or arguing? As I composed my response I had an epiphany: when we went from Web 0.1 to Web 1.0, we jumped a quantum because the number of people *using* the web hit critical mass – then businesses could actually make money on the Web because there were enough people out there. The Web 1.0 -> 2.0 quantum leap is being caused by the number of people *authoring* for the Web hitting critical mass. If business was the winner of Web 1.0 -> who will be the winner of 2.0? Now that we have enough people talking , will we drown each other out or will a new voice of the people emerge?

    BTW – I know my nuclear physics is inaccurate, that’s not the point.

  • MaryAnn

    But it’s not *just* people. Which came first: all the people flocking to the Web, or the technology that made it easy for them to do stuff on the Web without having a degree in programming?

  • misterb

    You ask a good question. I have an answer but it’s really too long to post in this little box so check it out here:


    BTW, thanks for the tips to these clips – they’ve really all been good. Don’t feel you have to post one every day though; I’d certainly prefer that they were all as good as they have been.

  • MaryAnn

    We’re talking symantics here, and that’s not the point. Whether we call what’s happening now Web 2.0 or Web 1.7 or whatever, that doesn’t change how the Web has changed in the last few years.

  • I think you mean semantics, right?

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