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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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March 20, 2009

"Mash Up" Just Seems So Inadequate

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

These days lots of people send me links to things they think are interesting and Copyfight-able material. I don't want to discourage people, but I can't possibly blog every one. Cory Doctorow I am not.

But I did want to use this video of interesting images from Google Earth to jump off into a bigger thought or more like a set of related questions. I'm sure there are dozens or hundreds of such videos, and this one combines many individual interesting 'finds' that people have discovered and posted. This one isn't unique but it's got me thinking.

It seems like we've got several things going on here, and we lack language for it. I feel like this is a new art form, but I don't know how to talk about it, much less what to call it. When someone makes art that's only visible from space because he KNOWS satellites will photograph it, and then someone else puts the image into a montage of deliberate art and found objects and natural-things-that-look-like-they-were-made-as-art, and someone else sets that montage to music with dramatic timing, gorgeous camera swoops, and almost narrative pauses built in... what do we call that?

Mash-up, the hip term of the day, seems so horribly inadequate. Plus the term is overused. I first heard it in reference to a style of musical mixing that involved taking two tunes and beat-maching them while intersampling parts like lyrics and vocals. That in itself is a fun art form, if somewhat copyright-transgressive. But what's the relationship of that to this? Not much that I can see.

And isn't there something essential to this art in that it's placed on the net for free distribution? Wouldn't it be something different if we saw it in a movie theater, confined to our seats? Would it be different yet again if it was played on the wall of a club and we were encouraged to dance to it?

I have a lot of questions, and no answers. But I'm convinced that if this isn't being taught in design schools right now then they're doing their students a disservice.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts


1. Melanie McBride on March 20, 2009 12:35 PM writes...

I agree that we need to teach these kinds of approaches. But you must understand the problems in education are as enormous as those in publishing. While teachers can create these kinds of projects, the use of copyrighted materials is another matter. Our school boards and other stakeholders who tell us what we can and cannot do in our classrooms make the larger decisions - like blocking websites like youtube. It's important to keep this in mind - keep the real context of teachers in mind - when talking about what we should be teaching in school. The teachers are with you 100% that we need to keep pace with what's actually going on. Unfortunately, we're not the ones ultimately making the decisions (in many cases).

I teach web production courses at the post secondary level. Right now, I'm teaching an online magazine course that offers a general, non-techie, overview of web2.0 paradigms, trends with some hands on learning (creating a blog etc). I showed the students Lessig's TED talk, which unpacks the larger ideas quite well in addition to kutiman's recent mashups. I also showed them how to create a CC license for their work and possibly use this approach for "pro-am" content licensing when they go to work for mags.

Given my current course hours (woefully inadequate) I couldn't do anything really experimental because I had to *deliver* the core and professional learnings they need for industry.

I'm currently developing my own 'mashup' curriculum based on items I have used (like Lessig's TED talk). To combine these items with activities, questions, resources for further use and specific assignments.

The most educators can do right now is to build new works around mashup culture -- to take, for example, the kutiman video and create some activities, questions and assignments for students to "riff" off of that work and think about these things beyond passive consumption (entertainment products).

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2. DrWex on March 20, 2009 2:11 PM writes...

First, thanks for contributing your perspective. It's nice to know that some of my readers are out and teaching about this stuff.

Of course you're right - having taught some courses (at adjunct positions in local universities) I know how much work it is just to create one course. And I sympathize with your struggles to bring overly conservative administration staff into the 21st century.

Finally, I'm glad to hear you're challenging your students to riff on this kind of thing. I imagine that 99% of them don't have any more idea what to make of it than I do, but somewhere out there I'm betting there are brilliant individuals who can bring new insights if people like you can keep exposing them to new stuff.

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