24 February 2006

Post-Pod: Media Beyong Mp3 - Chapter 1.2

Over the past five years, aggressive internet-driven marketing has helped accelerate the mass consumption of iPods, yet the real selling point is not the device itself but rather the process and culture of portable downloading and file sharing.

Way back in April 28th, 2003, Apple set in stone the future of internet music delivery by launching the 'iTunes Music Store' harnessing what previous on-line music distribution, through websites such as MusicNet and Rhapsody, had already established. The difference between Apple and other free or pay-based music download sites was attributed to an agreement signed between Apple and SONY BMG, Warner Bros, Universal and EMI which sought to reduce pirated and illegal music downloads by creating a pay-as-you-go internet culture at a grass roots level. Since 2003, evidence has shown that internet-user culture has experienced a reduction in illegal downloads of music and a surge in legal, pay-as-you-load consumption.

This highlights two factors: first, integrating the process of downloading as a replacement for shopping in a physical market place and second; establishing financially viable markets through global internet technologies so that new, more advanced methods of online exchange can be developed and from this, integrated into the cultural practice of e-commerce.

Within two years, over one billion songs were downloaded on the iTunes Music Store. In financial terms this is good news for Apple and its record label partners but in technological terms and, moreover, a generational shift into the growing dependancy of download culture, it establishes a dangerous position for other industries to capitalise on existing and potential mass markets.

What might be innocently conceived as a fun way to experience home entertainment could end up as the next type of weapon used to control or inflict coercion. Is it only a matter of time when terrorist groups or military forces use downloadable information through the hand held device as a front-line method of infliction? While this may be, more or less, a matter of science fiction, the fact remains that what has already been established in download market demands has to evolve somewhere and, as the way of all technology, a proportion of this has to end up as a means of destruction rather than infotainment . One only has to look at the London Tube bombings of June 2005 where the alleged terrorists used mobile phones to detonate explosives in buses and the train tunnels, to highlight the fact that simple interactive devices are potentially lethal.

Furthermore, on first glance the concept of new media device turned Hal2000 is frightening when evidenced through the current state of the world, in particular, and more close to my home, Australia, where the activities of hard line governments destabilising democratic pathways/impingement of civil liberties or in reverse, terrorist groups inflicting their onslaught against the innocent, are exposed to, via the internet, high-end computational possibilities delivered through low-end mechanics.

Likewise, new media devices have been used in activities of hate through the practice of mobile phone texting. During the Australia race riots at Crunulla in January 2006, the New South Wales police discovered that text messages sent by individuals gave specific locations and instructions to participants calling for civil unrest. The issue here, apart from the obvious question of moral judgement, gives rise to a greater lesson - that digital gizmos are not restricted to passive entertainment and communication values. One can hardly come to terms with the fact that these kinds of technologies are harmless or that the providers of such devices are simply rolling out ways to make your life more 'fun' as many IT marketing campaigns might lead you to believe. The aforementioned examples dispel this reasoning.

So the issue now is to consider such devices as a productive or creative tool designed for multi-function entertainment yet the flip side of this scenario must be acknowledged as also contributing to a menacing and dangerous position in the hands of fundamentalists: governments and terrorists alike. While I am not, however, advocating that the iPod is an evil invention it must be understood in very clear terms that the contributions of new media technologies through consumer and prosumer driven markets must be approached with caution and from this, respect ensuring that safeguards on existing technologies are not implicated in methods which extend beyong the infotainment factor and into a "destructainment" arena.