Thursday, March 10, 2011

To the Void: User-driven content creation, and the need for an artificial audience

A friend's band just released their first album, via Kickstarter. They're called Hurrah! A Bolt of Light! They play pretty rad alt-rock with a teeny bit of folksyness to it. You should check them out.

Today, in More Intelligent Life, Joe Morgan blogged about how Berlin is the new hotness for emerging musicians and music technology, and for a whole segment of culture connected to it. He ended the write-up with this observation:

"While the average music-obsessed teenager is unlikely to be able to emulate the sounds produced by Richie Hawtin on his or her iPad, tapping into this ubiquitous urge to create could become big business in the next stage of the music industry’s development."

These two things, taken together, put my mind on an unexpected track, as follows: does it seem to anybody else that the opportunities for creative production are growing much faster than the interest in consumption of its products? Like, there are currently a LOT of blogs out there. There's an explosion of DIY film and video production, with video-blogs, web series, fan-made music videos, short films, feature films, etc etc etc. There's a burst of music production opportunities, too, as Joe Morgan suggests, above. We're at a point in history when the tools are available to do pretty much anything, and to find pretty much any talent, or develop any personal passion, that might be latent in your personality.

Now, I unequivocally think this is a good thing. Access to communication technology can only enrich our cultural environment, and whatever it takes to make it work, I'm confident we'll adapt.

That said, I am a little nervous about the way access to tools is amplifying the universal love for attention. There really is a broad, universal desire to create something, and a parallel desire to find and captivate an audience. So there are more and more content-creators, an explosion of amateurs both talented and otherwise, some slipping into niches, some desperately searching for big breaks or back-doors to fame and fortune. But for all the rise in people expressing themselves, is there a corresponding rise in people willing to listen to these new voices, willing to help parse them out, give them a few minutes, and offer a fair shake to unproven work?

The ideal solution, of course, is that citizens of the media-scape learn to be mindful. To whatever degree a person creates things, he or she should also be willing to seek out, critique, and reward new work from others, both in the same platform, and in other areas. Blogs are helping with this phenomenon quite a lot, I think, creating bridges between niche communities and mainstream trendsetters, and linking small personal communities with larger communicative spaces.

However, I'm not sure this will ever happen to a degree that will take care of the asymmetry between new creators and new audiences. After all, technologies are enabling people who are both extremely prolific and unfortunately self-centered, and it will always take some extra work and open-mindedness to go out and discover the work of new artists. It's a question of economy, you know?

For this reason, I think there's an emergent market here, for whatever programmer wants to jump in: the market of artificial audiences.

You really just have to supply one app... call it "appreciative critic"... and sell it to anyone who's tired of releasing their blog posts and photographs and installation art into the void. It could look like a robot, like those uncanny-valley things, or it could just be a voice over your phone... or something that used the camera on your mobile device to scan something, and then gave feedback in a pop-up window. The first generation can just randomly generate some responses: "Oh, this is your best work yet!" and "I'd look it over again before posting it anywhere."

Down the line, though, AC (that's my shorthand for Appreciative Critic) should learn to scan for patterns, make constructive comments, and generate praise based on actual characteristics of the work. And after a few more releases, maybe it can actually provide meaningful critiques of new work! I think we'd end up creating artificial intelligence without even realizing we were doing it.

Engineers, semioticians, linguistics programmers, Ray Kurzweil? Somebody wanna get on this? If we can't all become highly responsive and open-minded consumers, we'll have to go ahead and create them, won't we?

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