Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mass Amateurization: A New Phenomenon


          Mass Amateurization, as Clay Shirky describes it, is a new wave of media making the world has never seen before. In “Everybody is a Media Outlet,” he travels back in time to re-introduce the four major revolutionary phases of history that have impacted or changed media: the printing press era, the two-way conversational era (telephone/telegraphs), movies and photography, and radio/television. He notes that the world is now in its fifth revolutionary era: the time of the Internet. The Internet has allowed for instant and constant communication with anyone and everyone in the world, and has adequately combined all other mediums into one - a feat that was never quite accomplished before.



          This new phenomenon not only allows everyone to be consumers of all forms of media in one medium, but producers as well. These producers are able to publish anything and everything they desire, without the limitations of the press. And well, as Shirky asks, “why not?” This new induction of non-professional producers has been labeled citizen journalism, prompting a world of mass amateurization, where now even the most un-informed and inexperienced of consumers are now creating media: “Our social tools remove older obstacles to public expression and thus remove the bottlenecks that characterized mass media. The result is the mass amateurization of efforts previously reserved for media professionals,” (Shirky, “Here Comes Everybody,” p. 55).

          Shirky uses a woman named Ivana as an example of this newly coined mass amateurization. Ivana, who lost her cell phone in a New York taxicab, enlisted the help of her progammer friend, Evan. Evan created a website that would serve the purpose of tracking the search for her Sidekick. Immediately, people were posting on the website with information – even police. Due to the success of the website, her cell phone was retrieved. But Evan isn’t a professional journalist; Evan is a computer programmer. Shirky concedes that the Internet is not just a medium for varying types of news, but a medium where now, citizen journalists are taking a stab at uncovering and reporting every bit of news – even, often, before professional media companies. Shirky argues that because of this, professional journalism will one day become obsolete, as more and more citizen journalists take over, and as more and more professional journalists begin to rely on citizen journalists for news.



          Henry Jenkins, in “Why Heather Can Write,” also describes a version of mass amateurization. He notes that the classroom isn’t the sole location where education for children takes place; in fact, children are perhaps better learning to read and write outside the classroom, within the realm of fan fiction, through celebrated books like Harry Potter and Twilight. While the classroom might be the central forum for learning how to write, the creativity that comes with fan fiction is hardly present. Young students are now able to channel their creativity and become the authors outside of the classroom, in online forums that help to better improve their writing style. According to Jenkins, "There are new active participants in these new media landscapes, finding their own voice through their participation in fan communities, asserting their own rights even in the face of powerful entitles and sometimes sneaking behind their parents back to do what feels right to them,” (“Convergence Culture,” p.216). These forums assist in making literary connections with other works, drawing connections with philosophical and theological traditions, debating stereotyping in the literary world, all techniques they probably wouldn’t encounter until far later years.

A class is taught at Harvard University that is based on the literary works of the Harry Potter series. Why not incorporate a class like this into Public School No. 3?


          Personally, I feel as though professional journalists will either become one of two things: 1) They will be regarded higher than ever, as more consumers begin to realize that the bulk of information they are consuming online is incorrect or false; or 2) media professionals will slowly start to be overpowered by the already overpowering voice that is the internet, and soon, be dismissed by society. The perfect example of this either/or scenario is today’s music process. A decade ago, musicians had to be discovered in more conventional, person-to-person methods. An agent or manager had to hear you perform on stage, without auto-tune, in order for you to be booked or slapped with a record deal. Today, all up and coming musicians have to do is post an inadequately-recorded version of a song on Youtube, promote themselves through their own social networking pages, and voila, they’ve already gained fame before ever being offered a professional deal. But what happens to the musicians who’ve stuck to convention? They are either becoming outdated, or are far greater revered for their traditional approach, and usually, better sound.

          Today’s world allows us to be self-made in a way nobody imagined. But while it is absolutely wonderful, it is equally as horrible; and because of this, the future seems uncertain.




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