Digital Documents and their Discontents (2 of 2)

This lecture asks ‘what is a document?’ and takes a closer look at the issues of assessing digital documents for research including authority, authenticity, information overload and information scarcity.

This lecture is based on Chapter 2 of ‘Digital Culture Industry: A History of Digital Distribution’

This lecture was delivered as part of the BA in Sociology at the University of Essex, Spring 2014.

Writing a Digital History with Digital Documents (1 of 2)

Digital Culture Industry: A History of Digital Distribution was the result of a three-year research project into the history of digital piracy. The project attempted to understand how media retail went from discs to downloads, accounting for individual agency, software design and the wider social changes. This lecture will provide an overview of the project and examine how the research method topic and structure all influenced each other within a social research project.

This lecture was delivered as part of the BA in Sociology at the University of Essex, Spring 2014.

Issues of Using Digital Documents in Social Research

A brief outline of my project ‘Digital Culture Industry: A History of Digital Distribution’ and some of the issues I faced when using ‘Digital Documents’ for my research. It’s a bit of a shallow overview of the issues and I’m hoping to get my working paper on the same topic buffed up (massively overhauled) in the next few months.

Mashups: Cultural Bricolage, Creative Consumption and ‘Information Play’

I love Mashups. The re-contextualization, the mismatching of genres, the way in which the sounds and the symbols are simultaneously both at odds and harmonic… it does something to me.

I also find them interesting as a representation of information play. Mashups deconstruct reified cultural objects. They break them down to demonstrate the underlying similarities but also to play with the cultural symbols attached to their genres and the messages in the songs. Through digitization these cultural objects can be easily manipulated, deconstructed and creatively rebuilt, creating both a new song and a new set of meanings (meanings which often will poke fun at the original symbolism).

I feel that a major part of the pleasure in Mashups is in the recognition of their component parts and seeing how they have been subverted. Recognizing the songs within the mix is fun, but seeing how they’ve been messed with is the real pleasure. This requires you to already understand the symbolism and meanings behind the songs, even if its just in a broad knowledge of the genre. Knowing that a gangster rap song is sending out signals of machismo and danger makes it all the more fun when its mixed with a cutesy tween pop song: the machismo is neutralized and the tween pop suddenly gets very very odd.

I made this video to demonstrate just how many songs can be fit into one Mashup


Whenever a Mashup ends up on my iPod I get this feeling that there’s more to say about them as representative of our symbol and information saturated world. They represent an attitude of irreverence for the reified products of the music industry whilst demonstrating a sophisticated intrinsic understanding of messages and symbols and how they can be manipulated. Perhaps this is the result of generations saturated by crafted branding and symbolism. They are such experts in the world of symbols that with the right tools they can claim them and reshape them as their own.

There is so much more to this topic, but I do have a day job… and unfortunately it’s not this. Back when it was my day job (PhD is a job right?) I made the Prezi (above) for a presentation to SATSU at the University of York. The ideas are a bit rough and ready, but it’s got lots of Mashup videos embedded in it and plays with some ideas if you’d like to go further.

My Book is Out Now!

Book cover: Digital Culture IndustryDigital Culture Industry:
A History of Digital Distribution

I’m very happy to announce that my book is finally out with Palgrave Macmillan.

If you’re interested in the history of peer-to-peer piracy and how it shaped digital media today this is the book for you. Covering, Napster, GNUtella, Kazaa, Streamcast, Grokster, BitTorrent and The Pirate Bay this comprehensive history is a great read for anyone interested in the field of digital media.

….if I do say so myself.

For a more comprehensive overview of the book head over to the book page where you can see reviews and chapter summaries.

There was a lot of research that went into the book, and a lot of resources to boot. If you’d like to see some of the things I made related to the book head over to this blog post and also take a look at the resources.

Available now from…


DH23: Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!

Last I left you I was off to OrgCon, to become relatively advantaged in my knowledge of OrgCon. It was a great little event: Corey Doctorow looks just as be-spectacled in real life as he does in his author photos, and Lawrence Lessig genuinely moved me with his top class oration on corruption and lobbying. I also got to talk shop with Prof. Eric Faden, creator of ‘A Fair(Y) Use Tale’. What do you do when you are concerned that a lot of your infographics contain other people’s brands and logos? According to Prof. Faden, Lawyer up. I have to admit I haven’t taken that advice just yet.

Since then much has occured. I got my PhD and immediately changed all bank cards to ensure the title ‘Dr.’ was highly prominent. Those book proposals I was knocking out in November managed to hit something and I got a contract with Palgrave Macmillan. Radio silence then ensued as I have spent the last 6 months plugging away to get it in by my deadline, which I did with much grace, aplomb, and the bare minimum of anxiety attacks. More info should follow in the coming months.

Also shortly after the book contract got signed I ended up with a tidy little position at Cambridge University. I am currently managing the Faculty of Economics’ research grants and am proud to say that, as of yet, we are not blacklisted by any of the major research councils, so clearly I’m doing ok.

With that background done and dusted we come to the point of this post. As a privilege of getting to knock about one of the UK’s greatest Universities I get to hear about and attend rather interesting events. As an ‘independent academic’ such as myself this kind of thing cannot be sniffed at. So today I took advantage and enrolled myself in a course run by Cambridge’s Digital Humanities Network called DH23Things. The course looks at the impact of digital technologies on academic life and how we can use them in digital research. Personally I just went along at first to find out how to make Redditors answer my darn survey questions, but I am highly suggestible and suddenly found myself filling in the sign up sheet.


So here I am, and this is my assignment for ‘Thing One’ of the six ‘Thing’ programme. Incidentally I greatly enjoy a course structure that refers to its parts as ‘Things’. Especially as whenever Thing One or Thing Two is mentioned my mind drifts to the world of Dr. Seuss, which can only enhance the experience.

Part A of this task was to set up a blog, which I was quite relieved to find I had already done and been contributing to erratically for many years. Check.

Part B is to reflect on the value and role of the blog to an early career academic. Well perhaps the interesting element of it all for me is that I am *not* an early career academic. As a Temporarily inconvenienced academic I currently reside on the other side of the glass, nose smooshed up looking at all the people doing cool academic things. However my blog allows me to cultivate an academic identity, a beacon to loudly (and politely) declare ‘I am not quite done yet!’. My blog operates to present – a variant of – my academic self.

If you look around you’ll find the various resources I made during my PhD. The infographics, the diagrams of internet network structures, the frankly quite barmy deconstruction of a Girl Talk mashup that I made because at York, PhD students have far too much time on their hands. You’ll also find my research profile, where I list my academic interests, perhaps more as an affirmation to myself than as a source of information for others. Finally my virtual bookshelf is just a smorgasborg of identity statements. Just like people present their physical media as a statement of self, mine gets represented here for much the same reason: and of course morally I couldn’t display them on my virtual shelves if I hadn’t read all of them.

However as you may have already noted, professionalism is not something I like to encourage here, thus the blog being a ‘variant’ of my academic self. As well as cultivating my academic identity during my professional academic abscense, this blog is also a liberating experience. Writing a blog, when the majority of my writing time is otherwise spent on academic texts, allows me to exercise my writing ‘voice’. Unlike ‘proper’ academic articles and books where precision rather than tone and style is key, here I can be less restrained in my approach. In an earlier post I mentioned a couple of books that I like to refer to as ‘Academic Therapy’; Writing for Social Scientists by Becker and From Dissertation to Book by Germano. Both these writers urge you to drop the affectless dry tone of academic authority, and to find your own writing voice. It is here where I let that voice out to see what it sounds(?) like. It is so easy to let the editor on your shoulder second guess every sentence you type in an article. The freedom to write in a less authoriative, less structured space allows you the opportunity to write both without constraint, yet also for an audience. This forces me to consider what I write; to re-draft, restructure and re-phrase, but allows me the freedom to be informal. I may well be admonished for my rather flippant approach to my writing online. Indeed potentially millions (it’s not millions) of people could read this, and form an opinion of me that was not one of great esteem and educated authority. However studious research has been done and all signs do point to academics also being real people. I am of the opinion that we should not attempt to quash this discovery.

I have pondered the idea of using this space professionally to publish my work outside of the official streams of journal publication. However it is a sad state of affairs that have conspired to make me not Lev Manovich. I can’t put my ideas and articles online for free, because as much as I’d love to, the REF directs my hand. Publish or perish means that even though I am a paid up member of the Creative Commons movement, I cannot, for the sake of my academic career, give up such things for free; at least not until after the publishers have got their hands on them and let them out of embargo. Regardless there are sites such as SSRN which do a much better job of promoting my rather shaky working papers.

Whereas before I have been disgruntled at such a restriction on my freedom to self publish, now I question why I would want to. This space has morphed away from being a place for the professional academic in me. Of course when I started this blog (and in fact I ported over a lot of my articles from an even older one) I had dreams of cultivating a great reputation for my insight and prowess in my fields of study. If you look at my earliest posts, I wrote with a tone that was intended to have (though failed to achieve) great authority. However as I’ve become more comfortable with my writing, and less concerned with the medium as a substiute for the academic paper, I consider it a more playful space where I can relax with my own style. In the past I have noticed many colleagues who start blogs begin with a similar cautious, self-protective tone that implies a person uncomfortable and concerned with the image they may be portraying. Many of them lost interest because for them the experience wasn’t fun. Perhaps they would have lasted longer if they had injected some silliness into their work.

The medium itself leans well to this playful attitude. It allows the inclusion of other media and the interspersal of links out into the rest of the net. As a big fan of using media to present my research, it’s a great place to house all those videos, animations, diagrams and presentations I produce. Sometimes you can even force these upon readers by slipping them into the text so surrepttiously

that no-one even notices. These multimedia interjections may be informational at times, but they can also enhance a reader’s insight into the world of the writer themelves. In the case of this post, links and images have been used to pepper the assignment with childish pop culture references. A perhaps misguided act considering this post is meant to be submitted to a group of Cambridge based humanities researchers who, if they are even still reading, are still wondering when the insightful part of this post is going to happen.

I can’t promise anything of that magnitude, but what I can provide is the observations of someone who has struggled with the question of what to do with his academic ‘professional’ blog. These are the things I would tell myself back when I first began.

  1. Perhaps counter-intuitively make the blog about what you want it to be, not about what you believe the audience wants. It’s easier to write in your own framework than one constructed from a haphazard perception of who your readers should be.
  2. Links! Lots of links. Make them useful of course. Include links to papers, books, other insightful posts or well written news stories. But also don’t forget to maybe drop in the irreverent and the silly every now and again. It encourages people to explore.
  3. Write the first draft like no-one is going to read it: Then edit it because you just did.
  4. Ultimately the blog should be your space, your ideas, your voice, your comfort zone. It is the space where your academic identity can be defined and presented to the world. It should be cultivated of course, show the side that you want to show, but don’t be concerned if that side is not all professional.

And so ends my contribution to ‘Thing One’ of DH23Things. I sincerely hope that you enjoyed my contribution, and that I have not been kicked off of your wonderful course.