QuassiBurroughs, or The Mash Up of Notre Dame.

In Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, [Hugo] Claude Frollo, Archdeacon of Notre-Dame Cathedral and the guardian of the deaf, bell ringer, Quasimodo, is quoted; “This will kill that. The book will kill the edifice.”

Hugo suggests that what Frollo might be saying is that the “Tower will crumble, that the press will kill the church.” The advent of the printing press and ease of access to the printed word will lessen the “theocratic” authority that the church holds over its congregation, and perhaps the world. However, Hugo goes beyond Frollo’s fears of loss of power, and suggests that the printed word will “kill architecture” as a means of expression. He considers architecture to be the “great book of humanity, the principal expression of man in his different stages of development.”  Through the evolution of technologies of expression and dissemination of information, the “power” of communication is shifting from the “priest” to the “artisan.”

Hugo’s observation is no less true today. We are seeing almost daily radical shifts in the dissemination of information from the authoritative media monolith, to a media of the masses. Today, the individual or “artisan” has the opportunity and perhaps the responsibility to participate in the media culture.

Was Claude Frollo Right?

The technological revolution has taken us to exactly where Hugo suggests that it might. Today we find ourselves at the intersection where “old and new media collide.” [Jenkins] We are active players in the “media convergence” [Jenkins] that is upon us. Across multiple mediums, we actively participate, unbridled and uncensored in the absorption, creation, dissemination and circulation of information. Jenkins feels that the “media convergence” depends on our active participation.

As “artisans” of the new media, we also have responsibilities that go with this new power. We can see in the “Evil Bert” [Jenkins] example how what begins as a simple joke, quickly turns into an international controversy. The “Evil Bert” example shows us that perhaps Frollo was right. What started as high-school humor, almost overnight becomes a headline on major news outlets and feeds the flames of the current international tension of the time.

The ability to affect the world on a global scale was a power once left to kings, religious organizations, and governments.  Now it seems that the mantle of influence has been lowered to the masses. The technology of today offers the user easy access to almost all media outlets, with little or no barriers.

It is through technology most notably digitization, what Negroponte called the transformation of “atoms into bytes,” that gives way to media convergence.  The digital revolution in media allows us as consumers to receive data across many delivery mediums and through multiple devices. Communication devices such as cell phones, PDA’s, laptop computers, are defined and established in the communications system by a “core human demand.” We as users are not only defining what we want to consume, but how we want to consume it.

Many forms of Media Matter

Media can be defined in much the same way art has been defined for centuries; a vehicle for the expression or communication of a thought, a concept, an emotion or an idea. The concept of media has moved beyond just the printed word of the newspaper, or the talking head of the television anchor. Advancements in delivery of media content have radically changed what was once considered media.

Today, by the time the morning edition of a newspaper has hit the newsstands, the news is already dated. The story has been emailed via RSS feeds to subscribers around the world, the blogosphere has started its digital dialogue, and radio and television has delivered their version of the story.

But it’s not only news that should be considered media today. The “convergence” of media describe quite literally the “mashing up” [Wiki] of multiple forms of content, repurposing it into new content. This is done across all medium types.

Video and audio clips from multiple sources are edited together to create a new user experience. New web applications are created by combining the functionality from more than one source. Blogs are created that combine written entries in an online journal combined with streaming audio and streaming video clips. The beat generation author William S. Burroughs touched on the concept of “mashing” in his article the “Future of the Novel.” Burroughs said “certainly if writing is to have a future it must at least catch up with the past and learn to use techniques that have been used for some time past in painting, music and film.”

Through the use of techniques he developed with artist Brion Gysin, that Burroughs calls “folding-in,” Burroughs explores the narrative through juxtaposition, nonlinear perceptions of time, different voices, and association across “uncharted territories.”  These experiments of the 1960’s are considered to be “the essential narrative strategies for computer-based multimedia storytelling.”

Through today’s technologies the media creator can “fold-in” or “mash up” from almost any digital source to express their thoughts, views, and easily distribute their content via digital means. We are no longer limited to the pulpit or the pages of a book.

The “Soft Machine”

Burroughs describes the human as a “soft machine” that can be influenced and controlled by invasive mechanisms. Are technologies exposing us to harmful mechanisms? Or are they necessary for our survival on the digital landscape?

The basis for Darwin’s theory of evolution is “survival of the fittest.” The organism must adapt, or meet its demise; on the new media landscape, the same can be said about computers and technology. We live in a digital age. We live in “media.” [Nelson] As members of this media society, the computer is a “necessary and enjoyable part of life.” [Nelson]

Our society has changed some may say for the better, some may say for the worse, but the change is indisputable. We have gained a foothold on expression that is unprecedented in our history. We can fight the system, the man or what Nelson refers to as “professionalism,” with our voice. We have at our finger tips the technologies and techniques to almost overnight make a harmless puppet with a uni-brow into an international terrorist.

We can use technology to make governments take notice, to bring together networks of people, and to bring our ideas, good or evil to the world. The “soft machine” with a technology upgrade and has become the mechanism of influence.


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