Freedom or Dependence? The Role of Technology Via Remix

With advancements in technology becoming increasingly more rapid and frequent, it is no surprise that they are such an integral part of everyone’s life. Living without a cellphone and laptop seems almost impossible, even barbaric. Being connected and reachable is not just a desirable quality anymore — it is become a necessary one. How often have we gotten frustrated at our friends, family, professors, and significant others for not picking up their phone, responding to our texts and emails, or liking our posts on social media? Yet, we cannot deny the amazing benefits and opportunities this sort of connectedness has provided us with. We can talk to people halfway around the world at the click of a button; we are able to collaborate with others without having to fly across the country. As cliché as it sounds, the possibilities are endless. Thus, I created this remix to showcase the duality of technology. So often do people fixate on society’s addiction to its devices that we take for granted the truly remarkable innovations it has brought us. I wanted to illustrate how amazing yet confining technology can be. We can either be freed by it or chained to it depending on our use and perception of it. The key component of my message is that it is up to the user to determine his or her relationship with technology. We choose whether we are enslaved or not.

I chose to create a remix specifically because I thought it would be the perfect medium to demonstrate my message. I became inspired to create a remix after looking at Jonathan McIntosh’s website Rebellious Pixels. I found his remixes to be particularly fascinating primarily because, besides being very well produced and entertaining, they all clearly illustrate a message in a critical yet humorous way. I wanted to channel that same sort of theme when delivering my message. The concept I had going into this project was centered solely on my appreciation for the intricacies and humor of remixes. In my free time, I have spent countless hours on YouTube watching and listening to different mash-ups of songs — even subscribing to a few really good accounts. Yet, audio mash-ups differ significantly from McIntosh’s video-audio remixes in terms of content quality, artistic intention, and intent of distribution. Most of the mash-ups I listened to were created solely for an aesthetic appreciation — the artist thought two songs would sound good together so he or she expertly combined them to create a new version. McIntosh, as I have mentioned before, has a specific intention with his remixes. All of them have a message, yet they are all developed in an aesthetically pleasing way. I approached my remix with both ideals in mind. Like McIntosh, I had a specific intention, yet like the YouTube mash-up artists, I also went into the project just thinking, “What is going to sound and look cool?” That mentality in itself exemplifies my remix’s message perfectly. Here I am using technology (my laptop and all the editing software on it) for the greater, more “noble” purpose of making a social statement. Yet, I am also merely having fun with it. There was a point where I became quite addicted to working on it — not leaving my room for two days or interacting with anyone — because I enjoyed it so much. So am I freed or enslaved by my technology? Did it isolate me from the outside world, or did it give me an opportunity to reach out to it?

Taking a look at all the aspects of my remix, I chose each “layer” for a specific reason. The fundamental layer is the song underlying the entire video. I deliberately chose the instrumental version of Beyoncé’s song “Drunk in Love” for several reasons. First of all, the song had a good beat to it — perfect for overlaying with other media content. That stems back to the idea of creating remixes for the sake of aesthetic — taking something that is merely going to sound nice and displaying it for entertainment value. However, I also chose Drunk in Love because of the album it came off of. Beyoncé’s latest self-titled album completely rocked the Internet when it was released because of how she released it. She gave no sort of indication that there was going to be an album release, and without any sort of press coverage, she released her entire album digitally along with music videos to accompany nearly every song. This “digital drop” sent the Internet into frenzy — Beyoncé had not only taken over the music charts in one night, but she had dominated every social media sphere. When discussing the role of technology in people’s lives, this sort of phenomenon perfectly exemplifies the remarkable things it allows us to do, witness, and be a part of. Beyoncé illustrates the remarkable direction that technology may be taking us.

That being said, it pays to look at how exactly the Internet, not just Beyoncé, is shaping the music industry. Over the last decade, the realm of digital music sharing has expanded greatly. We have moved from sharing CD’s to MP3’s to now having an abundance of music streaming services. The game is rapidly and consistently changing, leaving record labels with the daunting task of how to effectively market and profit off of this ever-changing beast. In their essay, The internet and value co-creation: the case of the popular music industry, Hwanho Choi and Bernard Burnes explore the effect the Internet has had on the pop music industry. They write, “The internet offers new opportunities and challenges to the music industry’s traditional business and management practices, particularly in terms of digital distribution, changing consumer behavior and intellectual property management” (Choi & Burnes, 10). In terms of digital distribution, streaming websites like Spotify, Pandora, and 8tracks have recently dominated the music-sharing realm because they are both free and easily accessible with an Internet connection. Record labels and artists have attempted to combat this by, for example, removing their works from said websites, like Taylor Swift did with Spotify in 2014. Yet, Choi and Burnes also claim that the Internet has brought artists and consumers closer together. “In the popular music industry,” they write, “we found significant examples of the way the internet is enabling fans, artists and smaller record labels to change established, standardized approaches to music production and consumption and in so doing create a win–win–win situation for labels, artists and fans, with each gaining a different mix of economic and symbolic value” (Choi & Burnes, 13). Essentially, the Internet has enabled artists to form a closer connection to their fans, which has proved to be more profitable in the long run for the artists and their labels.

For the next layer of my remix, I chose to use audio clips from two different advertisements for tech companies — one from Apple and the other from Microsoft. Both ads were essentially about the benefits of technology and how people use their devices to enrich their lives, and both used audio clips of people talking about their phone and computer use to portray technology in the best light possible. I took the audio from the ads and spliced them so you would not be able to recognize which audio was for which ad in effort to remove the separation between Apple and Microsoft, two competing companies. My intention with this was to showcase that while these companies do differ in an overarching sense, they are fundamentally the same. They strive to hide their corporate intentions in an effort to appear like the heroic innovators, come to save the world from the dark ages. I wanted to strip away as much of that as I could and really focus on the people in the ads — let their voices be the ones truly heard.

In taking these spliced clips and setting them to Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love,” I created a new sort of narrative about the role of the Internet, technology, and consumers. I mentioned earlier that I was allowing the people’s voices to be truly heard by stripping away the rest of the commercial. However, in my editing, I inadvertently warped their voices to fit my message. Yes, their words and intentions are still there, but paired in a certain way, they take on a whole new meaning. In using individual’s testimonies, I was able to create a sense of community — like the people were holding a conversation about the topic. Obviously, my audio remix is not formatted or created to explicitly resemble a conversation — rather it uses music to push the narrative along, but relies on the people’s voices to be the driving content. Also, by using “real” people’s voices (I hesitate to say real because their testimonies could have very well been staged and scripted for the sake of the commercial, thus making them less authentic and organic), my remix hopefully demonstrates that these voices are representative of us, the audience. We are supposed to take on the role of these people and see where in our lives their words resound strongly.

I wanted the audio to have a strong and somewhat personal impact on the audience because I feel like we the consumers are the driving force behind major technological revolutions. Yes, it is the companies that produce the devices and products that become so prevalent in our lives; however, without consumer interest, these companies would have no foothold. Every device, every phone app that becomes popular is because the consumer had an interest in it. The companies do have influence in terms of marketing the products, yet they cannot always predict what is going to be picked up by the consumer. Thus, the consumer has some power in determining what direction technology can go in. Choi and Burnes elaborate on this idea: “The iPhone offers consumers a blank canvas which, through their choice of apps, they can personalize to suit their lifestyle needs. This consumer demand for a unique and personalized phone has also brought about an unprecedented outpouring of creativity by app developers, often working with consumers, which has resulted in Apple now having over 500,000 available apps” (Choi & Burnes, 7). They describe this idea of co-creation, where the consumer’s interest and participation results in a relationship where the “producer,” in this case, companies like Apple and Microsoft, relies on the consumer and utilizes the consumer’s input to create new products. Hence, when looking at technology and its impact on society, we cannot always point fingers at the corporate companies. It is because of us that they are creating devices that we claim to be enslaved to.

It is interesting to notice the shifts that take place over time when placing blame on technology. Growing up, the big thing was that you were addicted to your TV, while now it has shifted to being addicted to your phone or the whole Internet in general. When remixing, I chose to use clips from the show Adventure Time for that reason precisely. I used these clips primarily as a visual aid to complement my audio remix; however, my selection of Adventure Time was also intentional. I wanted to play with the idea of how another media, television, has changed because of the Internet. Adventure Time is a kids show aired on Cartoon Network, and while most of its viewers are children, it has gained a significant following of teens and young adults who watch the show because of its subliminal jokes and surprisingly complex storyline. Most of the show’s popularity amongst its older fan base stems from the accessibility of it online as well as its Internet presence on social media. People who are fans of the show talk about it and display their thoughts about it on social media, and it gains attention. Also, because you can find the show’s episodes on Netflix or stream and download them from other sites, the necessity of sitting down in front of the TV at 3 P.M. when the newest episode airs disappears completely. Part of the show’s popularity is definitely due to its accessibility.

Television has been entirely revolutionized because of the accessibility that the Internet and personal devices provide. Like aforementioned, you no longer have to sit in front of your TV at a certain time of day to catch the latest episode of your show. Now with Netflix and other streaming sites, you can watch it instantly on your phone or laptop at your convenience. “Television is no longer a linear trickle of programming dictated by network executives,” writes Amanda D. Lotz in her book The Television Will Be Revolutionized. “[It] has swelled into a wide ocean of content that viewers can dip into at will — provided they are willing and able to pay directly for content or for services that enable such flexible, nonlinear use” (Lotz, 132). The Internet and availability of personal devices has broadened the realm of television, allowing shows such as Adventure Time to surpass its intended audience and take on a new role. “Internet distribution both complements and competes with traditional television entities by offering at-will access to many shows produced first for linear distribution as well as an array of content produced only for broadband distribution” (Lotz, 132). While the Internet has made network shows more accessible, it has also made network-independent shows, like Netflix original series, more popular as well. It is creating a whole new way to watch and consume entertainment. This ease of accessibility is one of the wonderful yet detrimental aspects of the Internet and technology in general primarily because it feeds into our supposed media addiction.

The Internet’s impact on the music industry, the television industry, and the individual is the key aspect when looking at the details of my remix. By utilizing three mediums that are representative of this concept, I hope to communicate my larger idea regarding society’s dependence on technology. These three mediums — music, television, and personal devices — all contribute to the individual’s dependency on technology. With music and the Internet, as represented by Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love,” the individual has access to an unlimited array of songs, but also has more opportunities to connect to the artist. Beyoncé’s digital drop of her album is indicative of the fast-paced nature of the music industry — new phenomena can occur overnight. Thus, the individual can easily keep up with it if he or she is connected via the Internet and social media. With personal devices, as represented by the Apple and Microsoft ads, the individual has some control over the progress of technology because the consumer determines what sells. Thus, the individual can choose whether he or she wants more technology that frees rather than enslaves. And finally, with television and the Internet, as represented by the Adventure Time clips, the individual now has a vast amount of access to television. This accessibility is perpetuated by personal devices and may contribute to the idea of being enslaved to technology. Therefore, these three elements combined allude to the idea of technology having the capability to free or confine us. However, the remix itself seeks to answer the question of whether we are, in fact, chained to our devices and how.

I bring up this idea of technology taking control of our lives because it is a topic that has been talked about increasingly more over the past few years. The influx of personal devices has increased, as has the time spent on each of them. Today, nearly every individual in the workforce or in school has a smartphone, laptop, and possibly tablet that he or she uses on a daily basis and requires in order to accomplish the tasks for his or her job or classes. A student today would be at a severe disadvantage if he or she did not have his or her own laptop. Yes, most universities have more than enough resources to accommodate these students; however, the ease of having your own device whenever you need it supposedly manifests in increased productivity. The truth in that depends on the individual and the circumstance. However, when discussing this topic, the issue of being antisocial due to technology always arises. When you step on the train and see almost everyone on the phone with their headphones in, it is easy to point fingers and claim that technology is taking away from human experience, and human contact is being shunned at the hands of technology. Yet, there are several factors to consider when looking at technology, and to say that it is causing more harm than good in the social realm is giving too much power to these tiny, plastic devices.

The power and benefits of technology essentially lie in the consumer. Similarly to how the consumer plays a significant role in the advancement of technology, the consumer also controls how much power it has over his or her life. That is essentially the benefit of technology — it has the ability to give the consumer power if he or she utilizes it properly. In an essay regarding the impact of social media on businesses, Jan H. Kietzmann, Kristopher Hermkens, Ian P. McCarthy, and Bruno S. Silvestre discuss this idea of the consumer holding power. They write, “With this rise in social media, it appears that corporate communication has been democratized. The power has been taken from those in marketing and public relations by the individuals and communities that create, share, and consume blogs, tweets, Facebook entries, movies, pictures, and so forth” (Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre, 2). Essentially, they argue that social media has eliminated the marketing gatekeepers — that the individual has more influence now that his or her voice can be heard. And that is what makes technology, the Internet, and social media all so important. It provides a voice and an outlet that is just at our fingertips.

Besides giving us power, technology can be incredibly helpful in the social realm. Critics have claimed that it isolates us and reduces our desire to interact in person. Yet, for some people, interacting in person is a daunting task. Those suffering from social anxiety often turn to technology for comfort. Often it helps having something to occupy themselves with in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. Also, according to Robin-Marie Shepherd and Robert J. Edelmann, personal devices and social media can help people with social anxiety form connection that they would otherwise be unable to make. They write, “The internet may well fulfill social needs for some who have particular difficulty establishing social relationships, thus aiding social connectedness and providing a sense of belongingness” (Shepherd & Edelmann, 2) This idea also applies to people dealing with just normal-everyday-anxieties. “In addition, a number of studies have found a high prevalence of social anxiety among university students who may then turn to the Internet as a way of regulating, challenging, or escaping their social fears” (Shepherd & Edelmann, 2). We all encounter situations that make us uncomfortable, and using your phone as a crutch to get through it is not necessarily the most detrimental solution. Mark Deuze, Peter Blank, and Laura Speers write, “Media amplify and possibly accelerate existing social transformations in ways that can be attributed to an improvement of our real or perceived chances for survival in a world of increasingly stretched social relations” (Deuze, Blank, & Speers, 4). They are essentially saying that we can use technology to enhance our social relations — staying in contact with friends or relatives via social media — or use it as an escape; but either way, it has become a pivotal aspect of socializing in today’s society.

When talking about technology, you cannot ignore some of the detrimental aspects of it. It is an uncomfortable truth that we as a society are unnervingly dependent on our devices. We spend excessive amounts of time on them, and according to Tony Dokoupil, “In less than the span of a single childhood, Americans have merged with their machines, staring at a screen for at least eight hours a day, more time than we spend on any other activity including sleeping” (Dokoupil, 2). He continues on to write, “It is creating a whole new mental environment, a digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning instrument panel, and few people will survive unscathed” (Dokoupil, 3). It is evident that we have a dependency on the Internet. We are all constantly checking our emails, replying to text messages, scrolling through social media — all in an effort to attempt to stay connected. And while some argue that this obsession with connectedness in turn creates a disconnect, the key to avoiding that disconnect is moderation and control. “The Internet is still ours to shape,” Dokoupil says. “Our minds are in the balance” (Dokoupil, 9). We have the power to make use of technology in precisely the way we want to.

We can only be as chained to our technology as we allow ourselves to be. Yet, there is evidence that self-control is not as easily executed as we hope it would be. In an article for the New York Times, Martin Lindstrom explores the addictive nature that personal device apparently possess. He writes, “Some psychologists suggest that using our iPhones and BlackBerrys may tap into the same associative learning pathways in the brain that make other compulsive behaviors — like gambling — so addictive” (Lindstrom, 2). Does that mean that our tendencies to be glued to our phones are completely out of our control? Are we biologically doomed to be addicted to our devices? Lindstrom continues, “The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. In short, the subjects didn’t demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their iPhones” (Lindstrom, 2). That in and of itself is an even more frightening thought — that we are in love with these pieces of plastic. However, as much as Lindstrom’s findings are backed up by scientific data, there is some room for interpretation. The sound of a phone usually indicates some sort of digital interaction, which though not physical, still is pleasing and somewhat satisfying to the individual. So of course he or she is going to respond in a positive manner. Danah Boyd brings up an interesting idea that goes along with this point. She says, “Technologies succeed when they support what people already do, what they want to do, and what they’re required to do. Technologies become ubiquitous when people stop thinking them as a technology and simply use them as a regular part of everyday life” (Boyd, 2). We are not necessarily in love with our iPhones — we love the interaction with other people through the device. And if we recognize that that is how we want to utilize the device, then according to Boyd, the technology succeeds. It is when we feel like we cannot live without the device that technology becomes problematic. I agree that life would be near impossible without a phone or computer — but not entirely.

All in all, the debate about technology, whether it is ruining our lives or enriching them, is one that seems to be never-ending. On one hand, the benefits are very positive — it provides connectivity and innovation. Conversely, technology also has its detriments. We can become addicted to it — chained to the desire to constantly check our phones, messages, and social medias — all to make sure we are relevant in the digital world. However, with this remix, I wanted to showcase that the benefits and detriments of technology only have has much weight as you the individual provide them with. If you find yourself chained to your phone, only you can solve that problem — the phone is not going to stop working because you are too addicted to it. Additionally, if you utilize the technology you have to create, connect, and learn, you will be using it to its full, positive potential. Technology is not an omnipotent force — it only has as much power as we give it.

References

Boyd, Danah. “Incantations for Muggles: The Role of Ubiquitous Web 2.0 Technologies in Everyday Life.” O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, San Diego, CA. 28 March 2007.

Choi, Hwanho, and Bernard Burnes. “The Internet And Value Co-Creation: The Case Of The Popular Music Industry.” Prometheus 31.1 (2013): 35–53. Professional Development Collection.

Deuze, Mark, Peter Blank, and Laura Speers. “A Life Lived in Media.” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly:. N.p., 2012.

Dokoupil, Tony. “Is the Web Driving Us Mad?” The Daily Beast. Newsweek, 9 July 2012.

Kietzmann, Jan H., Kristopher Hermkens, Ian P. McCarthy, and Bruno S. Silvestre. “Social Media? Get Serious! Understanding the Functional Building Blocks of Social Media.” Social Media? Get Serious! Understanding the Functional Building Blocks of Social Media. Business Horizons, 5 Feb. 2011.

Lindstrom, Martin. “You Love Your IPhone. Literally.” The Opinion Pages. The New York Times, 30 Sept. 2011.

Lotz, Amanda D. “Revolutionizing Distribution: Breaking Open the Network Bottleneck.” The Television Will Be Revolutionized. N.p.: New York UP, 2014. N. pag. Print.

Shepherd, Robin-Marie, and Robert J. Edelmann. “Reasons for Internet Use and Social Anxiety.” Reasons for Internet Use and Social Anxiety. University of Roehampton, 31 May 2005.

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