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what ever happened to micro-payments?

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with all this talk of the demise of newspapers (and potentially, print journalism), i find myself thinking back to the model of micro-payments (or microcommerce) that has previously been proposed as an effective method for earning revenue from online content (and apparently, more recently in the Times). in theory, micropayment involves charging very small amounts at a time for an online transaction, such as downloading a song or purchasing items in a game. the key, though, is reducing barriers to completing the transaction -- such as having an payment account set up in advance, linked to a credit card or bank account. the iPhone, for instance, takes advantage of this model with its App store, and even though iPhone apps aren't as inexpensive as the payments initially envisioned by the micropayments method, they are often only a few dollars, charged immediately to one's credit card through a user account which Apple practically requires all iPhone owners create.
app-store.jpg
the benefit of micropayments lies in the ease of accessing content, at low cost to users, while potentially generating significant revenue for content-providers when all those little payments add up (especially given the low cost of delivering content digitally, rather than through offline distribution channels). in addition, micropayments make it possible to earn revenue without relying entirely on advertising, which means content isn't as dependent on appealing to preferred audiences -- or on a secondary market of consumer goods (and such advertising has notably been slumping of late).

for newspapers, however, charging small amounts per article might still not represent a viable solution -- unlike a song or an app, an article is more like a television show, something you might want to consume once but don't need to own. moreover, reading an article online isn't the same as reading the paper -- a paper you can peruse, strew all over the coffee table, easily share with members of your household. so the challenge should be how to charge a modest amount for access to premium online content that is commensurate with its value to the consumer. perhaps very inexpensive subscriptions, on weekly, monthly, and yearly bases would fit this niche -- i can see myself paying a few dollars a month to read a website like the NYTimes.com, as long as i know up front what it will cost.

online sources also have to consider how readers access their content -- users are unlikely to pay in advance for something they aren't sure they'll use. perhaps trial services and subscriptions could address that issue. but it does seem to me that at low enough prices, with instant, easy-to-use payment services, some kind of micropayment system might be a viable way to keep supporting journalism and other kinds of professional-produced content.

writing for TechCrunch, Brian Solis has argued for a Darwinian-like survival-of-the-fittest model for journalism, mobilizing online social networks to cultivate successful individual journalists. this approach might work well for music, television, and other media whose value lies in their consumption, and where there can be niches for different tastes (independent music, for example, can benefit from the low cost of distributing songs directly to fans). but journalism it seems to me is more like research -- sometimes you have to support investigation that leads to dead ends in order to uncover important findings. while i don't want to over-romanticize the role of journalism in a consumer society, i do think there's a place for investigative reporting that requires new revenue models in a world of digitized media.

the ongoing hype over online predation

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MySpace reaches accord with Attorneys General - May. 21, 2007

so via Broadsheet, i noticed the news that MySpace has partnered with a "background verificantion" firm (Sentinel Tech Holdings Corp) to create a database of convicted sex offenders, which MySpace then used to begin expunging users who were cross-listed. of course, not all sex offenders are pedophiles, and statutory rape laws still mean that sometimes consenting teen couples have sex across age lines, and the older partner is charged and becomes a registered offender. but fine, so MySpace is trying to keep convicted sex offenders off the site, as a way to respond to charges from both legislators, the press, parents and others that social networking sites are havens for predators seeking to lure naive children to their lairs (or wherever) and abuse them.

According to CNN (via Reuters), MySpace worked out a legal way to hand over this information to government officials (a group of state attorney generals). So far, they've deleted about 7,000 profiles identified as belong to sex offenders (out of a total of about 180 million (that's about 0.00004% for the curious).

as usual, i think this raises some issues of privacy -- does being convicted of a sexual offense deprive you of your right to create online profiles, and is any profile you create subject to government surveillance? i imagine MySpace has some legal standing in denying accounts to sex offenders, but i think targeting all sex offenders so widely tends to conflate a range of offenses as equally dangerous, when they may not be.

but in my mind, the bigger question still revolves around the visibility of MySpace against the actual risk to young people who use the service. the Connecticut attorney general was quoted as saying "Social networking sites should not be playgrounds for predators." and yet, most children are still at much greater risk from people they know than strangers on the internet -- a risk which can be further minimized by basic safety practices around meeting new people online.

perhaps it makes sense for all minors with MySpace accounts to have private profiles, so only their friends can see their personal info -- but digital technologies tend to make it difficult to ascertain the real age of members. digital media require learning new habits for safety and protection, similar to being cautious with personal financial information. the danger of "predators" on MySpace is continually hyped in the media (even the usually critical blog Broadsheet jumping in), at the expense of the most common forms of abuse experienced by children. perhaps after we insure that all American children have health insurance and are free from violence or abuse at home, we can begin to concern ourselves with digital dangers. until then, though, we have to keep asking why sex offenders seem to capture the legal imagination and divert our attention away from the less sensationalistic violence of the everyday.

dangerous fashion

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in further video news, i'm not sure how i missed last week's perceptive news report from WDAZ in North Dakota, but clearly, emo really is the new goth. and just like goth, emo began as a subgenre of punk music (emotive hardcore) that has morphed into a distinctive youth style complete with fashion codes (skinny clothes, floppy black hair) and alleged behavior norms (self harm, mopey poetry, morbid introspection). this current version of emo strikes me as difficult to distinguish from the darker side of indie/hipster style, and has become inseparably imagined alongside myspace and youtube, and similar digital sites of youthful social interaction.

the video is pretty predictable -- new youth subculture poses risks to YOUR kids! be on the look out for skinny pants and tight sweaters in dark colors -- they might lead to suicidal ideation! but the best part appears to be the newscasters' misrecognition of internet humor sites as legitimate guides to emo culture. such as the "Insta Emo Kit" at Sykospark.net. they also report on a supposed "point" system, which they acknowledge may be more symbolic than literal -- and of course, youth subculture often does rely on schema of cultural capital (specialized knowledge of scene norms, taste preferences, and slang) to confer status and credibility.

but as usual, hyping fears of the internet, self harm, and youth subculture does little to address the real difficulties many young people face navigating the educational system, media, and consumerism in a postindustrial world where they are frequently targeted by mass media and corporate interests, and where "youth" has become a dominant symbol for what's new, hip, and desirable in mass culture.

I Must Be Emo - News Report

the special generation

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i woke up this morning to more social anxiety about youth -- this time, NPR's Day to Day was covering a recent study which claims that "[college] students today are more narcissistic and self-centered than a generation ago." now, my mother assures me that she never told me i was special, so perhaps i escaped the worst of the "self-esteem movement." but according to psychologists at San Diego State, this recent trend can be traced to the indiscriminate emphasis on self-esteem and praise popular in parenting during the 80s. of course, the researchers then went on to add that this growing narcisissism is "fueled by current technologies such as MySpace and YouTube." ah, technological determinism.

at the risk of tooting the same tinny horn all the time, this just clamors "social anxiety! social anxiety!" the study purports to have relied on the "Narcissistic Personality Inventory," in which over 16,000 college-age students were surveyed between 1982 and 2006 using this psychological evaluation survey. admittedly, i tend to be wary of this kind of quantitative data, largely due to my own investments in ethnography and qualitative methods. what does it really tell us that students are increasingly agreeing with statements like "I think I am a special person" and "I can live my life any way I want to?" could this represent a part of larger cultural shifts in how we conceive of ourselves in American society? does this index actually indicate anything about social and behavioral changes, and is it sufficient to assess such cognitive trends?

but now i'm confused, because only a few days ago, APA researchers were all worked up about the negative effects of media on girl's self-esteem -- so it self-esteem good, or bad? or are researchers just bandying the term about without careful definition? given the cultural specificity of Western conceptions of selfhood, some care and clarity would be welcomed here. still, lead author Jean Twenge seems to think that today's youth are less empathic and more self-centered, and cautions that this shift could have damaging ramifications for society generally. as i've said before, youth are often a site where social anxieties are expressed concerning social reproduction, and youth are frequently and vaguely blamed for social changes that many find threatening. but are youth initiating these changes, or products of them?

the best part of this morning's interview with Twenge was when she claimed to hold the media responsible first, then parents and schools. ah, of course. but which media? that's right, magazines and television, in particular those that pander to youth. at no time did she point out that those media are generated for the sake of attracting advertising revenues, and that corporate interests tend to shape the media through which they promote their products. lastly, of course, Twenge includes MySpace and YouTube as proof that media are increasingly capitalizing on the narcissistic tendencies of today's youth, sites which revolve around individual identity. but perhaps these websites embody the same kind of cultural shifts that lead students to respond differently to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. before asserting that changing attitudes signal dangerous trends in personal relationships, clearly closer research is needed to investigate how young people conceive of themselves, how they relate to others, and how they use (and produce) media.

freaky fashion feature

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A Piercing Look At Goth Culture And Fashion - washingtonpost.com

goth is back in the news media again--not as dangerous, deviant teen cult, but as fashion interest item! The Post has featured Gothic Beauty magazine, a slick goth lifestyle rag that largely conflates "gothic" fashion with busty women in tight corsets and heavy eyeliner, suggesting in the article that contrary to popular image, goth is really very forward-thinking and cutting-edge.

while it's nice to see goth treated a little more fairly in the media, Gothic Beauty offers a rather vapid representation of a subculture that has more going on creatively than implied by photoshoots of women in their undergarments, parading about in tight vinyl and poofy synthetic hair. Gothic Beauty largely propels itself by capitalizing on the sex appeal of its tattooed and pierced models, reducing goth fashion to freaky chicks in skimpy outfits. and as much as i'm in favor of alt models and creative clubwear, i think it does goth and other alternative women a disservice when our aesthetic is exploited for its purely erotic allure (reminds me of a certain quasi-controversial alt porn website...).

for something a little less shiny and more diy, check out Drop Dead Magazine (devoted to deathrock music and fashion, the horror-tinged, punky side of goth). sadly, the days are largely past of goth/industrial magazines that featured both music, fashion, and culture, at least in the US (r.i.p. Carpe Noctem).

as usual, though, the news media still can't quite decide if goths are just edgy, misunderstood artistes, part of the emerging "creative class," or an appropriate trigger for moral panic over loners who obsess over the occult and plot to murder their schoolmates. i suspect that context will reveal some of the disparity -- at times, media outlets are content to exploit the latter trope, dipping into broader social fears about youth to explain some sort of violent act or tragedy, yet the rest of the time, reporters prefer to mine colorful (or monochrome!) subcultures for their value as spectacle. at the risk of proffering an overly simplified explanation, both cases give off more than a whiff of prurient sensationalizing.

goth isn't dead, just aging

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the BBC's Culture Show appears to have done a short, upbeat segment on the UK's biggest biannual goth fest, Whitby Gothic Weekend (which i attended once, a few years back). it's a mostly evenhanded piece, portraying goth as a subculture that creates community for its culturally misfit members, with a charmingly dated and nostalgic score from the early 80s. then again, according to the Culture Show, goths are mostly aging computer geeks who dress up in corsets and lace on the weekends, and are otherwise pleasantly middle-class members of society. did all the under-thirty art freaks, students, and club kids just stay home?

view the clip on youtube:

emo is the new goth?

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according to Bones, Fox's latest forensic drama and David Boreanaz vehicle, smug, angsty teens dressed in black and sporting lip-piercings are... emo? i suppose this is what i get for tuning in to mediocre primetime television (sadly, i have class when Veronica Mars airs on Tuesdays). last night's episode turned on the classic plot twist where the most likely suspect, in this case, the spooky teen, is absolved of the crime in favor of the less obvious "normal" character, his pageant-contestant younger sister (the emo teen, on the plus side, was played by cutie Kyle Gallner, whose quirky character on Veronica Mars was not similarly redeemed).

it's the character's mother, however, that outs him to the audience as "emo," and expresses her revulsion and despair at his sartorial choices. on the one hand, the show seems to be trying to keep up with the times and with current trends in youth culture. but on the other, the imagery of the angsty teen in black mostly serves to reproduce adult fears about youth as rebellious and violent, and doesn't seem particularly grounded in "emo" style or affect at all.

Authentic Youth: Cultural Capital and Credibility in Digital Youth Culture

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(from a proposed paper on the role of digital media in the lives of young people)

For young people, commodity culture offers an important site for the production of individual and collective meanings. Digital spaces such as the internet provide an excellent arena for do-it-yourself culture and creative consumption, but are ultimately structured by the same logics that determine how popular culture operates more generally. Discourses of credibility and authenticity afford us a glimpse into how young people navigate the complex interplay of social networks, cultural commodities, and subcultures in a mobile, mediated society. Given the role of cultural engagement in developing social capital, digital media offer a means for young people to become more invested in their social and cultural worlds.

seattle afterparty shooting: reflexive discourse in the rave scene

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in less upbeat youth culture news, apparently a gunman opened fire late last Friday night/early Saturday morning at an afterparty for a zombie-themed rave, killing six partygoers and then himself. the event, and subsequent news coverage, has provoked nervous responses from the local electronic music scene, which are unsurprising in some ways, yet don't seem entirely warranted. the initial news reports actually seemed pretty even-handed to me -- no wild speculations about the gunman being a drug-addicted Marilyn Manson fan who secretly worshipped Adolf Hitler and was an occult-loving loner (as opposed to how the media first described the Columbine shooters, or Scott Dyleski).

but at least some kids in the local scene (dubbed "rave" culture by the media) are worrying that their subculture will be blamed, classic moral-panic style. which is understandable -- both the media and public officials have a bad habit of looking to youth culture as depraved and destructive in order to explain these kinds of incidents, demonizing KMFDM or MySpace or whatever else is a convenient way to get parents worked up about their dangerous teenagers. because pathologizing adolescents is apparently easier than actually addressing the causes of alienation and disaffection in society.

in this case, though, the local scene's concerns seem more based in fear than reality. Rave, goth and other subcultures are targeted so easily and often that now we expect it regardless of how the media or local community might actually be responding. i have to wonder if amplifies this effect to have subcultural youth feel defensive anytime something dramatic like this happens. for the moment, at least, the police seem to be treating this as a freak shootout, possibly premeditated, but not precipitated solely by drugs or alcohol or dance music.

V for revolution?

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I went to see V for Vendetta last weekend, which made for a fun outing, but something bothered me about its feel-good revolution-through-truth message. The movie certainly succeeded in bringing some of the essence of graphic novel to the screen, while rendering the original message more provocative and relevant to the current political climate. As a fan of the original -- a pivotal work that elevated comics to a more respected medium -- I loved Hugo Weaving's mysterious, literate, and somewhat twisted vigilante hero.

But the movie version is premised somewhat precariously on the notion that ideas alone can have enough force to change the world, as long as someone takes initiatve to broadcast the message. This strikes me as a convenient theme for mass-produced media, and it's not exactly a new one. In the Wachowski brothers' first hit, The Matrix, the movie ends with Neo promising to free the denizens of the computer-generated Matrix with a wakeup call to their communal predicament (unfortunately, the following films in the trilogy failed to make good on this storyline). Another more recent favorite comic of mine, Channel Zero, features a renegade filmmaker who fights theocratic fascism by hijacking public media.

While I can concur that ideas are powerful and can bring about real political and social change, I find something a little suspect in a mass-produced film patting itself on the back for spreading a grandiose message of action and revolution. Fight censorship, watch this movie! Beware governments that use fear of terrorism to clamp down on civil liberties -- find out the truth by watching this movie! Subvert the dominant paradigm -- watch this movie! Of course, presumably you're not taking much action of any kind while you're sitting in comfy stadium seating sipping soda and enjoying the surround sound.

I mean, I'm as nervous as the next liberal about the war on terror, illegal wiretapping, the Patriot Act, Total Information Awareness -- but sometimes I think that the current administration doesn't need to go as far as the fascist governments in 1984 or V to stay in power, or to pursue their pro-business agenda of protecting their wealth and privilege. They have Hollywood and the mass culture industry to ensure that people limit their rebellion to consuming edgy movies and music, showing up for their sober day jobs to support their weekend habits.

I don't mean to regurgitate the thesis of Theodore Adorno, that mass media produces an uncritical mass audience susceptable to the control of fascist governments. I think, as Paul Willis has argued, that media and pop culture can provide the raw material for meaning-making, the "symbolic work" of communicating through a shared set of images and ideas. We live in a communal web of significance which we call "culture," a structure that shapes how we interact and how we communicate. So I can't argue with the movie's premise that ideas can have potency. But ideas require people to organize around them and implement them, rather than just consuming another work of pop culture warning us about the evils of censorship, surveillance and totalitarianism.

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