Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Quality in terms of Relevance

In my last entry I wrote:

"A note before we begin: 'Quality in terms of relevance,' as discussed in this entry, is not a full appraisal of the quality of some creative endeavor. I link “quality” with possible viewing audience in this article, but only for the purpose of simplifying the discussion. By my definition of “quality in terms of relevance,” a brilliant, touching video that can only draw an audience of ten people is of less “quality” than, say, Die Hard. I know, not true, but for this discussion, in a blog about relevance, this somewhat warped definition of quality is necessary.

Doesn't anyone take issue with this? I essentially claim that the argument that "Weekend at Bernies" is of higher quality than "Rear Window" is a valid one. No one wants to react to this in even a knee-jerk fashion? Highlight a flaw? Agree? Come on.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Creative Impulse pt 1: Internet Creativity and Quality

(A note before we begin: “Quality in terms of relevance,” as discussed in this entry, is not a full appraisal of the quality of some creative endeavor. I link “quality” with possible viewing audience in this article, but only for the purpose of simplifying the discussion. By my definition of “quality in terms of relevance,” a brilliant, touching video that can only draw an audience of ten people is of less “quality” than, say, Die Hard. I know, not true, but for this discussion, in a blog about relevance, this somewhat warped definition of quality is necessary.)

In my first entry on this weblog, I began discussing the change we have seen in recent years concerning creativity and self-expression. I noted that, given new, easy forms of expression, the sheer volume of personal accounts and weblogs has exploded, let alone the variety of subjects. What I did not spend as much time on was the reason for this explosion and its correlation with the quality of this new output.

In addition to blog posts increasing in number, though, I might add to this discussion the explosion of new music, movies, and visual art content on the internet and, indeed, in offline life (more on this in a later entry, though).

For example, YouTube, as I have also previously mentioned, shows new content continuously that is changing as fast as it is being posted. The subjects of these constantly new videos change as rapidly as the presentation methods, creating an almost real-time mode of expression. This holds true for Flickr (and sites like it) in terms of visual art and for Myspace (and similar sites) in terms of music.

The obvious concern in these situations, given a constant stream of user-generated, amateur-crafted entertainment content, is the quality (in terms of relevance) of such an output.

Let’s look to some examples before we move on. A search on Flickr, the popular photo-organizing site, for the term “art” yields this, this, and this, but it also yields this, this, and this. Value judgments aside, I would say photos of cats hiding under things, baby pajamas and pixilated flags are not necessarily equivalent to the stunning landscapes and sweeping angles of the first three photographs.

Now there may be a market for all six of these examples, but I would wager that the traffic to, for instance, the photo of the Korean outdoor art installation is significantly higher than the traffic to, say, the “America the Beautiful” photoillustration.

So we have established that, in some sense, the presumed quality (as defined by possible market share, at least) of the output on public sharing sites for creative works varies all the way from very low quality (or relevant to a very small audience) to very high quality (meaning relevance for a significantly larger audience).

Put more simply, some internet creativity is just not as relevant or interesting as other internet creativity.

So my question is, how did we get from a point where only products that maintained at least rudimentary relevance could see the light of day to a point where totally irrelevant creative output is more easily found than the relevant stuff? Or has popular art always been mostly irrelevant, but not as obviously so?

Is our society now encouraging crappy art over well put together art? And if so, how did that happen?

I invite your responses on this topic before I post my theory in a follow-up to this entry. Please share your thoughts, be they about internet creativity and the general decline in quality of this content, or even about my definition of quality in terms of relevance.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Blasphemy Challenge

In the Christian tradition, faith in the holy spirit can save any person from the pain and suffering of eternal damnation. Only one sin, however, according to the “Blasphemy Challenge,” cannot be forgiven in such a manner. This is the sin of denying that holy spirit, of denying the power of the Christian savior. Of blasphemy.

Of course this idea rubs many people the wrong way. Some deny the fundamental ideas behind it, others rally around it in support, and still more claim it’s just not that simple. An idea like this can create ripples on the pond of human interaction. And what better way to monitor these ripples (or even amplify them) than to use the tools that society uses to express themselves and their ideas?

Enter Web 2.0. This is how some specialists and thinkers refer to the form the internet has taken in the recent past; the internet as social tool, interactive medium, and socially-structured entity. YouTube is a particularly good example of a Web 2.0 application, as it is structured, run, and filled with content not by developers, but by a band of normal people.

In the first of many forays into Web 2.0 territory, I plan to discuss a short video called “The Blasphemy Challenge.”

As I said above, a religious conviction as described tends to encourage people to speak out. When someone claims that the way to salvation is to accept one specific god, or the way to damnation is to deny that specific god, people are bound to get excited. Be it in support of such believers or in rampant denial of any of their claims, voices are bound to rise.

In this short YouTube video, entitled “The Blasphemy Challenge,” one group tried to coax out the dissenters. They offered a free copy of an atheistic documentary film for any individual willing to publicly, on YouTube, deny the holy spirit. They ask people to make a video of them denying the Christian savior in exchange for a free DVD.

Or as they so succinctly put it in the video, a $30 DVD in exchange for your soul.

It is no shock that the responses poured in. People immediately had things to say, as would be expected. The social network that is YouTube went into full action, with deniers as prevalent as dissenters. People were denouncing the holy spirit just as often as they were renewing their conviction to their Christian faith. The outpouring of immediate response was, of course, no surprise.

What was more surprising was the slow but sure incorporation of this simple challenge video into the YouTube cannon. Now, even some of YouTube’s comedy programs were referring to the Blasphemy Challenge and integrating it into their normal comedic videos. (Infamous zombie-slaying preacher “Father Fearless” led the pack.)

What started as a publicity stunt for an atheist documentary became a regularly cited footnote in the YouTube world. It became a springboard for the usual YouTube comedy, drama, and personal video blogs.

This leaves me to wonder. Is YouTube the next frontier for divulging important issues and encouraging debate? Or is it merely the newest vehicle for meaningless arguments, narcissism and popular entertainment?

Is YouTube more akin to the printing press, or to the Jerry Springer Show?

I invite comments. Please share your opinions on this topic and on the Blasphemy Challenge in general.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stars Blink Out: An Introduction

“February 5th – Made a peanut butter sandwich. Only had chunky peanut butter. Can’t let Sally do the shopping anymore. The sun was too bright today. Now my eyes hurt. February 7th – Apricot jam. Not as tasty as it may sound. Found a quarter walking in the park…”

In the modern age of immediate communication and independent, online self-publication, journals of this nature are like dandelion seeds scattered in the wind. Everyone has a chance to make their voice heard. Middle school girls can talk about the latest clothing style. Angst-ridden teenagers can pour out their emotions in the form of online journals. Even professionals in every field now have an opportunity to make their opinions known about their work and their lives.

And still, countless online writers confine themselves to such trivialities as what kind of condiments are going on their sandwiches that day.

It is obvious, then, that in such an age of prolific content both wonderful and abysmal crowding the internet and our lives at large, the relevance of this content to our lives and our thoughts becomes increasingly important.

Famous science fiction writer (and thinker) Arthur C. Clarke wrote once of a group of monks that thought the world’s purpose was to recite every possible name of G-d. They commissioned a computer that was programmed to print every permutation of a set of letters with all of its processing power. The result, these monks claimed, would be the fulfillment of earth’s destiny and the end of life as we know it.

A skeptical engineer was hired to set up this computer. He checked in periodically with the monks to see how their “fruitless” endeavor was coming. On one such checkup, as the engineer was leaving, the computer was set to finish its run within the hour, thus supposedly fulfilling the world’s purpose and ending all of existence. The engineer, of course, maintained his skepticism.

Even as he rode away, however, “overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”

Our world is a giant computer, slowly and steadily counting out the names of our various gods, until, one by one, certain stars of relevance blink out. We mine the depths of the world’s creation, and one of many stars of mythology blink out. We invent a system for hearing voices from thousands of miles away, a radio, and one star among many of classical theater blinks out. An automobile is born, and the star for travel by horse blinks out. Here we are, men and women adrift in a world of blinking out stars.

But as these stars fade, new ones are fixed in the firmament. The stars for film, experimental literature, and cleaner environmental technologies are all on the rise. Some of the remaining stars in that constellation we call “theater” are being preserved for future generations. These new and revamped stars become our new standard for relevance.

This is what I strive to chronicle in this weblog. I wish to follow humanity’s continued struggle, in entertainment, science, religion, or even jam choices, to find the relevance in their thoughts and lives. Every week, new films come out that show just how relevant the medium is in today’s world. Companies arise to allow people a new freedom to use technologies in new, progressive, globally relevant ways. Every week, the global struggle for relevance wages on, with people like me on the sidelines, watching the individual victories and setbacks.

I seek to report on this phenomenon. I hope to demonstrate that, even as stars blink out, we find a few shining constellations to preserve as our own.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Stars Blink Out: Coming Soon

This blog is going to be starting up as soon as I have the time to actually write for it. Please watch this space carefully in the near future. It could get interesting.