At the outset, I must confess that I am possibly not the best person to talk at length about streaming services. I won’t consider myself as a regular user of any of the services such as Netflix, Spotify or others. However, since the start of lockdown, I, like many others, have started spending more time on these services. And this led me to think about the impact that these services could be having on Culture.
Culture is a very broad term. I will be using this term largely in the context of Arts and Entertainment, specifically music and video.
Let’s start with the consumer. I guess there can be no doubt that the consumer has benefited from these services. One is no longer bound by the dictates of local television channels or record stores, but has the ability to discover artists and shows from around the world. It is easier and cheaper to experiment with new stuff as there is no incremental cost of watching or listening to a song or show. And, just as important, one can carry around one’s ‘TV’ / ‘Audio System’ and listen to one’s favourite music / watch TV.
Has this benefited the artists? I am not an expert, but I can understand that this can be complex. On the one hand, all artists now potentially have equal reach and are not overly reliant on the TV Studio or Record Label for distribution. Also, to the extent that piracy is controlled, they can also more effectively monetise their output. However, I do not have details of the revenue sharing arrangement between all the parties involved to say if artists are better off financially with the increasing adoption of streaming services.
What about record labels / TV and film studios? Again, this is a complex area that I am now going to get into, simply because I have very little information on the relationships between them, the streaming services and the artists.
Coming to the crux of the article – What is the impact of the widespready popularity of these services on the nature of the work being produced? Are all the advantages of these services (some of which have been mentioned above) being made use of by the artists to come up with more and more unique, path-breaking work? Or is the prevalence of ‘algorithmic’ discovery leading to a standardisation of output to maximise views and listens?
I have just started researching about this topic. And so it will be presumptuous of me to claim any knowledge or understanding of this. The best I can do at this stage is to refer readers to some of the more interesting articles on this topic I came across. I would recommend beginning with Can monoculture survive the algorithm? Another one is Is Netflix Ruining Culture?
This is what the ‘About’ section of the website states:
“Google Arts & Culture is a non-profit initiative. We work with cultural institutions and artists around the world. Together, our mission is to preserve and bring the world’s art and culture online so it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere.”
The initiative’s pitch to museums and cultural institutions is “We can help digitize, manage, and publish your collection online, for free. With our easy-to-use tools, your stories can be told beautifully to a global audience.”
In classic Google style, they present the results of these to the end user in a simple, elegant and beautiful manner. It definitely helps that they are presently leading with an article on the “Sphinx of Delft” – the Dutch master, Vermeer.
Scroll further down and you can explore architecture, food, music as well as indulge in virtual travel. There are also articles exploring concepts in science.
I have only just started scratching the surface of this and look forward to spending more time exploring it further!
I was back at the MICA campus recently to take a couple of sessions of Digital Media Planning & Buying. My previous (and my first) visit to the campus was in August of 2019 and this trip reinforced the positive feelings I have for this unique campus.
The campus is located on the South Western outskirts of Ahmedabad city, in a place called Shela. The campus is just the right size for a medium sized educational institution. At around 15 acres, it is neither too small to make the place look cramped and not too big to make it impersonal. Add the beautiful landscape of lush green lawns, leafy trees and the built environment of low rise exposed brick architecture, and you have all the right ingredients to make it a wonderful place for learning.
The place is also bordered on one side with a branch of the Narmada canal. Add the fact that it is located amidst farmland, well away from the hustle and bustle of the city and you have a place that’s a dream for bird-watchers.
I have, so far, spent only about 5 days at the campus, and spent about 4 hours in total in bird-watching. But in this time, I have observed no less than 52 species of birds. To put that in context, I have counted 65 species in the 18 months that I have been maintaining records on ebird.
Here are the birds I spotted during my stay of around 28 hours in the MICA campus this week:
Black (Red Naped) Ibis
Oriental White (Black Headed) Ibis
Oriental Honey Buzzard
Little Brown Dove
Blue Rock Pigeon
White-Breasted (Throated) Kingfisher
Lesser Golden-Backed Woodpecker
Rufous-Backed (Long-Tailed) Shrike
Indian (Rufous) Treepie
Rufous (Tawny) Bellied Babbler
Great (Cinerous) Tit
Of these, I was particularly delighted at spotting two ‘lifers’ – The White-Eared Bulbul and the Rufous (Tawny) Bellied Babbler. The formed especially delighted me as it is only found in North-west India.
What your business needs to do to compete in 2020, the future of Grocery Shopping, the issues associated with Internet usage and a small note that I found inspiring:
The Experience Disrupters– Great analysis and insights from the CEO of HubSpot about what businesses need to do to compete in 2020. The summary is that, for brands to be successful in this age, it’s not enough to just have a good product. Brands need to focus on the experience they are providing to their customers and make that the focus of disruption to create brand loyalty.
Why Grocery Shopping Is on Its Way Out– A long, but very thought-provoking article on how technology is disrupting something fundamental Grocery Shopping. While we can safely say that the ship has sailed when it comes to bringing back good old-fashioned people- and relationship-driven commerce, what is the potential cost of this digital convenience?
Issues with the Internet– The article above, and other ‘bad’ news that seem to be dominating the media these days prompted me to write this note. It’s a summary of the results of a study commissioned by the EU to understand the potentially harmful impacts of internet usage on people and society.
As I write this, this seems to be the season for bad news. Most of the stuff that we come across on Digital media (and offline) seems to be doom and gloom. And that set me thinking – Is it really this bad? Or are we experiencing the negative aspects of our ‘always-on’ culture?
I freely admit that I am not very tech friendly, but I am not a technophobe either. I have been working in the Digital economy for two decades now, but friends still laugh when they find out that I frequently know less than them on some specific use cases of the Web. This is especially true when it comes to Mobile phones. While I have had smart phones for a while now, they were mostly work phones and as such, I was very careful not to use it for any personal use (as far as possible). That all changed in 2015, when I purchased my first smartphone for personal use.
I will not deny that there are some positives to come out of the ‘always-on’ culture that the smartphone, especially, has helped drive. For one, connecting with friends and family has become much easier. And that, I believe, is a very good thing. Commuting has become much easier, enabling greater discoverability of places and experiences. Beyond these two, however, there are very few other use cases where I can confidently say that things have changed significantly for the better. The only one that comes to mind is personal transportation. I believe the ride-sharing / on-demand cab services have been extremely helpful, especially if one is living in or traveling to a city with inadequate public transport.
But on the flip-side, these positives have also been accompanied by many negatives. As I started doing some online research on what could be some of the challenges and issues brought about by high levels of internet use, I could not find very many useful articles. Many of them were about the technical issues of connectivity and the Internet of Things. A few touched upon the possible impacts at an individual level. But I was looking at studies that considered the overall societal impact of the Internet.
I finally found what I was looking for on the EU website. Whatever be your opinion of the EU (mine is that it’s a very valuable body, but too bureaucratic), there is no doubt that they are doing some very valuable research on some important topics. One of them is a study on “How The Internet Can Harm Us, And What Can We Do About It?“, released about a year ago (February 2019).
There are two parts to this study. Part 1 looks at the harm caused by internet addiction, but I was more interested in Part 2 that covers the harmful effects on individuals and societies associated with internet use. I am still going through the detailed report (runs into 72 pages), but it has, very helpfully, put out a summary right at the beginning. And these are the eight harmful effects that the study has identified:
Internet addiction – ‘lack of control over one’s internet consumption that can lead to a decrease in physical and psychological wellbeing, with associated symptoms of distress, anger, loss of control, social withdrawal, familial conflicts, and others.’
Information overload– ‘having too much information to adequately understand an issue or make effective decisions… associated with loss of control, feelings of being overwhelmed, reduced intellectual performance, diminished job satisfaction, damaged personal relationships, and harms to health.‘
Harmful effects on knowledge and belief – ‘Misinformation can cause significant harms to the health and wellbeing of individuals and to the proper functioning of society, including the functioning of democratic institutions.’
Harm to public/private boundaries – ‘Harm is done by the way in which the internet and smartphones blur the distinction between private and public, and between the spheres of life, including work, home life, leisure and travel…Harm that can result from such permeations includes loss of quality of life, harm to privacy, decreased safety and security.‘
Harm to social relationships – ‘Extensive internet use, particular social media use, is correlated with loneliness and social isolation.’
Harm to communities – ‘Many offline communities are being harmed because of the partial migration of many human activities (shopping, commerce, socialising, leisure activities, professional interactions) to the internet… As replacements, they are often not adequate, since they often do not possess some of the valuable qualities of online communities, and do not possess some of the strongest qualities of offline communities, and may also suffer from impoverished communication, incivility, and lack of trust and commitment.‘
Harm to cognitive development – ‘there is evidence that children can be harmed in their cognitive development by prolonged internet use, including harm to the development of memory skills, attention span, abilities for critical reasoning, language acquisition, reading, and learning abilities.’
Harm to democracy and democratic citizenship – ‘Some online activities, however, appear harmful to democratic deliberation and decision-making. These include (1) the incivility of much online (political) discourse, (2) ideological and political polarisation that is correlated with internet use, (3) misinformation, particularly ‘fake news’, and (4) voter manipulation through profiling based on harvested social media information.‘
I am sure that many of us would broadly relate to and agree with the above. I was impressed by the breadth of the findings. I intend to spend more time understanding the study in greater detail.
The study has also suggested some policy options for preventing and mitigating these effects. Again, they seem very logical and comprehensive. But that will have to wait for another post!