Continuing on the theme of my previous blog -- what is the significance of the interactive, next-generation Web (AKA Web 2.0) and phenomena such as the "mash-up" to authors' contradictory urges to share their work and yet retain some control over it?
In the old Web -- the kind envisioned by its creator, Tim Berners-Lee -- information was essentially static and one-way. A creator of a website created hyperlinks to other documents that had relevance, and visitors could follow those links or not. But the information itself did not change, except as the creator determined, and the idea of the "personal web site" was a long way off.
In Web 2.0, users create the information. That may be an individual profile page on a social networking site like Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and so on, plus whatever media the page "owner" either has created or likes enough to copy or link to. Communal websites, of which Wikipedia is the most famous example, are jointly created and edited by people with a special interest in something; they are not necessarily experts (or even well-informed or grammatical) but in Web 2.0 anyone's content looks as good as anyone else's. It's up to the consumer/visitor to sort the gold from the dross. There is a wonderfully docratic, even anarchic, feel to all this, but quality varied considerably, because there is rarely an "informed ëdtiorial board" with enough time to really check everything posted on a site.
A mash-up, if you're wondering what the hell that is, is not food for the toothless, nor a Caribbean car accident. It is a consumer-edited revisioning of content created by others. This is popular with music -- one can, for example, sync totally-unrelated vocals and backing tracks together, and adjust the key of each digitally, so Madonna or Judy Garland could sing with Pink Floyd or the Mothers of Invention "backing her up." An example of the many sites sharing musical mash-ups is at http://www.mashupciti.com/ .
Some of them are wonderfully creative, and actually more fun to hear than either of the original tracks, although one wonders how the creators of each original might feel. Sampling is another way to digitally borrow and re-contextualize music: James Brown and his backing bands were sampled endlessly for hip-hop and rap songs, and not always given credit (or paid) for this usage. People have also posted video mash-ups, where movies are re-cut, given new sound tracks, and otherwise altered. Again, some of these are hilarious and can make for very pointed satire of political and other public figures. During the recent US Presidential election, for example, I ran across this: http://www.mydamnchannel.com/Harry_Shearer/Music_Videos/PalinBridgeToNow... mash-up which reflected on Sarah Palin's alleged hypocrisy when she approved an expensive "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska after criiticizing such projects OK'd by others. It's not only funny, but also effective political commentary.Fans of particular bands, celebrities, movies and so on often post "tributes"which are slide shows or videos edited together from "found" sources created by others.
Visual art mash-ups are popular too -- I found one by a skilled artist who specializes in blending Disney imagery (I bet Disney doesn't like this) with Star Wars stuff. Take a look at http://craphound.com/images/dathvalice.jpg for example.
So what does all this have to do with writers? Well, how would you feel if someone mashed up your words with (to you) unrelated images, music, or their own words? The odds that this would actually fit your esthetic and goals for your writing are small indeed. But, again, the freewheeling nature of digital files means this can be easily done, and unless it is posted with a file name related to you or your work, or some friend runs across it accidentally, you'll never know. Students submit work for school assignments which are a hybrid mix or their own words and images and others', and often see nothing wrong in doing this without due credit until a teacher remonstrates with them. Like it or not, the mash-up generation will be your readers -- and maybe co-creators -- soon.
The truly vexing question with a mash-up, of course, is: who owns it and the rights to it? The original creator, the consumer "editor" or both of them? If we have reached a point where all information and art become free and open to anyone's use, where's the incentive to invest the hard work and time that we know good writing demands? I invite your thoughts on these questions.
Causes John Oughton Supports
PEN International, Amnesty International, League of Canadian Poets, POR AMOR, Greenpeace