In The Cloud and Out of Synch: The Question of Asynchronous Media and Media Studies

Curator's Note

I just recently moved twice within a week. The first time was out of my house of five years and into my Fiance's house in the Columbus area. The second time was to Bloomington Indiana, where I am teaching for a year at Indiana University. As space and place reared their heads, once again, typical quandry of any academic of where to put "their stuff" arose. And as some you may know I have a lot of stuff. Hundreds of DVDs, a couple thousand records and closing in on several thousand CDs, and don't even get me started about my books. Still I have access to my music as long as I am have internet access and am running an AJAX capable browser, close to 100gb worth of my own MP3 files are anywhere I am. $40 a year goes to, a sort of kissing cousin of the much-litigated, think of it as the online storage space for your music, or as they claim, "your music anywhere." And, of course, it goes without saying, "anytime". It's that "anytime" aspect that has me thinking about how as more and of our media options appear as in-demand, just-in-time experiences alters how I think about and teach media studies writ large. Put simply, 20 years of teaching film, television and radio as a ritual that most often initiated "sharing time together" among multiple parties, i.e. media as a social synchronizer, seems to be a lesson that I will need to highlight rather than assume that any undergraduate would easily recognize this as a self-evident truth. Frankly, I don't now what this means but I do think that we need to put some effort into teasing out these issues. For my own work it means turning to looking at the study and practice of "asynchronous education", i.e. "distance education", in order to think about popular music media industry and culture in an arena of Web 2.0. Unlike film and television, popular music has had a long and deep history of industrially driven, asynchronized pleasures that goes back to the age of sheet music. Web 2.0 and the popularization of MP3 stores only amplify a logic where simultaneous pleasures and geographical dependencies have continually been challenged by products that cross borders and are enjoyed whenever an "end user" decides it is appropriate, as opposed to a performer, producer or exhibitor. It is with this in mind that I provide the "Google Docs" video as a template that simply illustrates present-day media logic of asynchronous end user production and collaboration. Furthermore, it gives us a quick illustration of the pull of the end user that positions web services as a place that, somewhere, in the digital cloud, will hold more and more of my entertainment resources for immediate access only.


I know it's not exactly on point with your comment, Tim, but I love how technological advancements are marketed in this promo via the illusion of low-tech graphics. I'm reminded of George Lipsitz's assertion that "the new" must be made to seem as if it is a natural extension of traditional practices, rather than a radical break from the past.

Actually, Avi, I am happy that you picked up on this. Indeed, the idea of text sharing and the way that this presented as somehow familiar is part of what I am dealing with at some level. I concerns about asynchronous communication is not new by any means. All one has to do is read the first chapter of John Durham Peter's Speaking Into The Air and you will get an amazing lesson in the worries about communication technologies and being out of synch with an audience. For me the point of mentioning education was to look at a set of familiar asynchronous teaching tools such as readings and various forms of homework to understand what the advantages and disadvantages of such a system may present to more entertainment and narrative based forms of media studies.

By Anonymous

The issue you raise about synchronic media consumption as traditionally important--the "spending time together" we structure into our film courses through weekly screenings, say--is an issue I am also currently wrestling with in regard to my students. Do we owe them a certain kind of consumption experience in order to "educate" them? Or should we toss that antiquated model (both the screening and the "educating") out the window and allow them the flexibility to consume texts in multiple ways? What would be the benefits to such a model of film study, and what might be its potential detriments? (And glad to hear you're in Bloomington, Tim! Kate and I really loved it when we lived there.)

I love this video, Tim. So glad you posted it. I am definitely going to use it in my class, I'm just not sure how yet. What i like about it is the way it shows how new media industries like Google still feel an urge to explain their products to potential users employing "educational" tropes. This lo-fi flow chart model exemplifies exactly the sort of handling and appearance of documents that the technology itself is designed to eradicate or redress. Unlike other digital technologies like, say, the ipod, which make no appeal to 'education' in any way, this clip channels old filmstrips (which of course most people younger then me have never seen)--exactly the sort of non-interactive, non-dynamic, "passive" medium that digital triumphalists pride themselves on having replaced of course, powerpoint is if possible even MORE passive a form than filmstrips, and it's hard to make document sharing seem sexy, so this clip seems to acknowledge that by nerding it up. i liked it because it tries to appeal to an old-school nerd ethos in re: new media that is by now part of Internet nostalgia. the digital media nostalgia industry seems to be doing great, by the way, if my students are any judge.

Interesting post, Tim, re: the rise of asynchronous media logics across media platforms. Of course, sound recordings, as one of the original asynchronous media forms, never really got an invitation to the media studies party. Now that media in general is becoming increasingly asynchronous, might this change? And it's paradoxical that the recording industry is floundering to respond to these changes, just like they have various times before (see the record industry's initial responses to the rise of radio). The other aspect that interests me here is the convoluted paths taken from user-to-user that seems intrinsic to asynchronous media (the trip taken by that old thrift store 45, the unlikely YouTube clip star, etc.). Also nice to hear you're in Bloomington, Tim. My wife and I are in nearby Louisville at present. Perhaps we'll see you soon.

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