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Is openness in the digital space killing creativity? Digital Planet at SXSWi 2011

Updated Friday, 18th March 2011

In an extended version of the Digital Planet debate at SXSWi 2011, our panel discuss creativity in an open, connected world.

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Is openness in the digital space killing creativity? With so much amateur content online, there is a strong desire to consume it all for free. Culture is rotting away before our very browsers. Or is it? Isn't this a great time to be alive – all this collaboration, untapped talent that now has an outlet thanks to the web. That is up for discussion in this special edition of Digital Planet from the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Texas, third in a series of programmes on openness made in collaboration with the Open University.

Gareth Mitchell travels around the festival to witness the wonders of 'open source hardware' at the Dorkbot hacker fair, a comic book that embraces Creative Commons, and a crowdsourced version of Star Wars. He also talks to the internet contrarian Andrew Keen, who is sceptical about the benefits of online openness for creativity.

In front of a live audience, Mitchell is joined by a panel of experts - June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED Media, broadcaster and blogger Jamillah Knowles, and Steve Rosenbaum, author, filmmaker and founder of the video curation platform Magnify.net - to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of openness on the internet.

This is an extended version of the Digital Planet programme broadcast on BBC World Service Radio 15th March 2011.

 

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Gareth Mitchell

Hello again everyone, I'm Gareth Mitchell and today is openness in the digital space killing creativity?  All this amateur content online, the desire to consume it all for free, culture is rotting away before our very browsers - or is it?  I mean after all, isn’t this just a great time to be alive, all this collaboration, untapped talent that now has an outlet thanks to the web?  Well that’s all up for discussion in a special edition of Digital Planet from the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas

We've been out and about around the festival here, Tesla coils spark off a bit of hacker culture, a comic book goes Creative Commons, the Star Wars movie is crowdsourced for a truly maker remake, and internet contrarian Andrew Kean tells me I'm as guilty as everyone else for downloading and downgrading culture whilst I'm at it. 

What will our expert panel make of all that?  It is South by Southwest, it is in front of a live audience, and this is Digital Planet from the BBC. 

And my goodness they're a lively lot, despite all this partying, I think it’s been a sum total of about four hours sleep amongst the whole room here, they're going strong, it’s the coffee, it’s the Austin coffee.  Well let’s meet our panel, also wired on coffee I'm sure.  June Cohen is Executive Producer of TED Media and last year she launched the TED Open TV project which allows broadcasters worldwide to get hold of TED talks free of charge, so the world obviously loves you for that, June.  You were with us last year at this very festival, lovely to have you back, and you actually have some breaking news that you’ve delivered to the festival this year, haven’t you?

June Cohen

I do actually.  We announced this morning that TED will be opening up our API to developers, which means that developers around the world can create their own TED apps, the entire TED library, all of the talks, all the metadata associated with us will be, with them, will be available for people to play with, to create new apps for new platforms, for communities that are under-served, or to create things that we haven’t imagined yet.

Gareth Mitchell

Exciting times ahead, and lots of stuff for us to discuss on the back of that in this panel. 

Now also here is Steve Rosenbaum, he’s an author, he’s a filmmaker and founder of the video curation platform Magnify.net.  Now he calls curation the new magic of the connected world, fixing the signal to noise problem, and making the world contextual and coherent again, what a great quote. 

So Steve, do you see curation as a creative act in itself?

Steve Rosenbaum

Absolutely.  I mean what I think is, you know, we’re at the end of this current era in which there’s just so much information that we wake up every morning and race to check our email and check our Facebook before we have a cup of coffee, and really what I think’s going to happen is we’re going to slow down, we’re going to start finding human beings to trust and stop trusting robots to find things for us.  So I'm a big fan of humans.

Gareth Mitchell

Yes, we like humans, definitely. 

Speaking of humans, we have Jamillah Knowles here as well, she’s a broadcaster and blogger, she makes the radio show Outriders for the BBC’s national network Radio 5 Live in the UK, but the rest of the world can hear it as a podcast.  Now she says some of her favourite things are baking, photos and nerdery, I read that on your blog there, Jamillah. 

So what about baking and blogging, do you see them as being equally creative?

Jamillah Knowles

Equally creative, and sometimes almost exactly the same, because if you get the right ingredients it’s not only valuable but sometimes quite tasty.

Gareth Mitchell

So we’re going to be cooking up some interesting discussion here at South by Southwest. 

Now to get everything going, we’re going to hear a perspective first from Tim O’Reilly.  Now he’s one of the best known visionaries of the tech community, he’s CEO and founder of O’Reilly Media so if you’ve ever read a book related to computing there’s a very good chance it’s one of his titles.  And it was at one of his meetings actually that the phrase opensource was coined, so he definitely knows a thing or two about the subject. 

Here’s what he told me when I met him earlier here at South by Southwest.

Tim O’Reilly

In general my sense is that really big innovations do start with enthusiasts and amateurs, not with the kind of people who are here at South by Southwest who are venerating sort of cheap start-ups.  There’s already this bubble happening where people are going okay, I just throw up an idea and I can get funding from a bunch of angels.  This is the aftermarket of innovation. 

If I look at the big revolutions I've been around, they’ve happened generally when there was not a lot of money flying into the system and therefore people were following their passions.  And if you look back historically, this was always true, the Wright brothers weren’t saying oh man we’re going to launch airlines and become rich, they were like oh my God, we want to fly.  And the early pioneers of the personal computer revolution, they were just in it for fun, it was like oh my God, I can have my own computer?  The early people on the worldwide web, we were all like hey this is super cool.  It wasn’t we thought we were going to get rich, and once people think they're going to get rich you get all kinds of fluff.

Gareth Mitchell

That’s Tim O’Reilly referencing the Wright brothers.  And I have a feeling that if they were around in this day and age and they came here to South by Southwest, they would be seen at the Dorkbot event and they'd be in really good company, surrounded by others who are just in it for the fun of trying stuff out rather than trying to make lots of money.  For me Dorkbot is always a must here at South by, so I went along this year and I started by speaking to the Austin Dorkbot overlord, Dustin Younse.

Dustin Younse

Dorkbot, it’s kind of a grown up science fair, our tagline is people doing strange things with electricity.  So we let people come and show all the different projects they’ve been working on in their garages for months and years, as long as it has something to do with electricity.

Gareth Mitchell

And I suppose that’s part of the idea isn’t it, it’s just getting a load of stuff, doing some really weird things with it, and sharing those ideas?

Dustin Younse

Yeah, absolutely.  I think a lot of people try to be really close to the vest with their ideas.  To us it’s not really the important part, anybody can come up with an idea, it’s what you do with that idea, it’s the actual implementation of it.

Gareth Mitchell

As Dorkbot overlord, do you ever feel that you’ve seen all this stuff before, or do people do stuff that is so strange with electricity, even you as a hardened Dorkbot overlord just think oh my goodness?

Dustin Younse

At least once a meeting there’s something that I can't believe somebody did.

Gareth Mitchell

So who are you?

Steve

My name’s Steve, I'm with the Austin Hackerspace.

Gareth Mitchell

The most important thing we have here is a soldering iron.

Steve

Soldering’s a very simple skill to pick up.  It enables you to do all kinds of interesting things.  In this case we’re doing electronic soldering.  You can see we have some blinky lights over here.  If you have an arduino or a very simple micro controller like this, you can do all kinds of things, you can automate LED lights, you can automate all sorts of different things.

Gareth Mitchell

But people are going to say look, you can just go into an electronics store and you can buy some really complex gadgets for 50 bucks, why would I go to all this trouble, give up hours of my life to make the kind of thing that isn’t as good as the kind of thing I can buy in the shops?  What’s so special about making it yourself?

Steve

I have a pet potbelly pig, so right now I'm actually working on an automated pig feeder that’s arduinio based and I could go online and I could buy something that would do that and it would cost me, I don’t know, $120, $150, probably going to cost me about the same amount in parts to prototype it, but if I do it myself I'm actually going to learn something.  And that’s why I do it.

Gareth Mitchell

Over here is Jeff Keyzer, who has his own website, mightyohm.com, so it’s a hobbyist website.  Jeff, tell us about this project that we have right now in front of us.

Jeff Keyzer

Yeah, so this is a wifi radio that I made out of a wireless router like you'd have in your home, you have a wireless router.  So I took this wireless router here, I solded Linux on it, put a bunch of software on it, built a really cool case for it and now it’s a wifi radio.  I documented every step of the way, it’s all on my website, and I'd say there’s probably been a couple of hundred people that have built the exact same radio from the plans.

Gareth Mitchell

And what would really make my day would be the idea that somebody out there may have downloaded all these instructions and maybe they are listening to this interview on a device that they’ve made thanks to the instructions you’ve given them, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Jeff Keyzer

That would be really cool.

Gareth Mitchell

Well let’s hope so, that was Jeff Keyzer at Dorkbot’s event here at the South by Southwest festival.  And you can see more of what was going on there at Dorkbot on our sister programme, the TV Technology programme Click, more details at bbc.com/click. 

So Jamillah was listening to that with us, and for people out there in radio and podcast land thinking well what is the point of all that electronics, what would you say to them?

Jamillah Knowles

I think I'd say well what’s the point of painting then?  It’s a different skill and you do something creative, you can make something beautiful to you and your peers, it may not be a traditional art in that way but it’s also sharing, so kind of by default when you attend something like Dorkbot or join the online forums, you can't be an idiot if you're trying.  So you learn something, you meet people and you grow and you make something cool.

Gareth Mitchell

And June Cohen, there are going to be many people listening to this who are aware of Open Source software, they’ll think about say the Firefox browser or Linux, those kinds of things, maybe we’re less aware of this whole idea of Open Source hardware?

June Cohen

Yeah, I mean I think it’s probably something that not many people give much thought but it is just this really thriving area, and so much fun to see the creativity come to life.  I actually think in our digital world it’s so refreshing to actually see something tactile, something you can hold and touch and watch move and that’s part of what’s so compelling about it.

Gareth Mitchell

And Jamillah referred to it as being a bit like doing a piece of art, would you see it in that way, or I mean this is like, it’s engineering and technology, surely that’s different from art, isn’t it?

June Cohen

I think it’s a very blurry line.  I think in essence also we’re all creators, and I think actually this is what you're seeing in all of the maker movements, all the DIY movements, all the flourishing of creativity online, is that humans are just natural born creatives, we’re all artists, we’re all storytellers, we’re all musicians, we’re all builders, and we’re sort of reclaiming our birth right in a certain way.

Gareth Mitchell

Now, Steve Rosenbaum you're the curator in the room here as well, and I think what we saw there from the Dorkbot overlord was an act of curation.  And I just, I mean have you ever curated anything that involved an automated pig feeder possibly?

Steve Rosenbaum

You know I've never actually been responsible for a pig feeder, but I will say this.  The thing that I think’s really changing and that excites me is if you look back through the history of time, mass media, the idea that we were all supposed to earn money so we could buy things and watch one media outlet is a very, very small moment in world history.  And so what I see happening is really we’re retaking the right that June described exactly correctly, which is to make things, to create, to tell stories, and curators become the kind of organising principle.  I could imagine curating great feeding devices for animals, I'm sure there are lots of home-made cat feeding devices and dog feeding devices, pig probably not so much, but birds probably.  I assume some of them work well and some of them not so well, so someone in this room could decide they want to be the organiser of all of the great electronic feeding devices, and that would be a curators role, not a maker but an organiser.

Gareth Mitchell

And just a brief thought then Steve, would you say that we are all in our daily lives kind of curators, I mean not that I'm trying to simplify what you do and other curators do, but the notion that you might put together say a collection of your favourite tracks and make them into a playlist on a music player or something.  Is that curation, would you say?

Steve Rosenbaum

So curation’s a big idea and I actually think that there are three different kinds of curators.  In the book that I just wrote I talk about accidental curators, and accidental curators are what we all do, you know, posting up on Amazon saying I like this book, or we go to Yell and say this was a great restaurant, or we retweet something that we think’s interesting.  When we do those things, there’s a part of our brain that’s saying is this something I want to wear, is this a piece of clothing I want to make part of my identity, and so there’s no doubt that we are all curating already.  Then there are hobbyists who say you know what, I'm going to keep my day job but I'm going to curate a list of great places for parents to take their kids on the weekend in Austin, and there are people who do that quite purposefully.  And then there are professional journalists, curators, people who do this as a living, and those three flavours all exist kind of as different versions.

Gareth Mitchell

Well I’ll tell you what, here’s a creative act for you, spending hours writing a comic.  Those are hours of your life that you'll never get back, but then you put that comic out there for free, allowing anyone just to help themselves to it and maybe rework it or remix it as they wish.  So why would you do that?  Well that’s a question for Greg Pak, as a renowned comic writer he produces work for the world famous Marvel titles, but in his own time he actually sat down to write his own project, a comic book called Vision Machine.  Well we met at South by Southwest, and he gave me a plot summary.

Greg Pak

50 years from now, Sprout Computers introduces the iEye which is a pair of glasses that lets you instantly record anything you see, add special effects, edit it and upload it and instantly distribute it to millions of other iEye users.  It’s YouTube, Facebook and digital media at the speed of thought, and it allows for this amazing creative blossoming, and finally the companies have figured out the whole equitable payment issues and the copyright issues so that people can actually use excerpted material and it’s beautiful, and then the other shoe drops, because there are massive privacy and surveillance issues that crop up.  But it’s downloadable for free at visionmachine.net.

Gareth Mitchell

So tell me what free means in that context, I mean we don’t have to pay for it, how else is it free?

Greg Pak

It is distributed under a Creative Commons licence.  From the beginning the idea was to put our money where our mouth is, since this book deals with copyright and trademark a lot, the story deals with that.  The licence that we have picked out allows people to redistribute the book, to, you can remix it, you can cut it, you can recut it, you can do derivative stories, as long as you credit the original piece and do it non-commercially, so you're not making money off it, and that you distribute it under the same licence.

Gareth Mitchell

What’s in it for you, as the creator of the content, to release it like this?

Greg Pak

I mean everybody’s got a different angle.  I mean for me, the thing that I'm getting the most out of is just having something that I can give to fans and build more audience, and I mean I write for Marvel so I'm writing the Incredible Hulk and co-writing the Alpha Flight book with my buddy, Fred Van Lente.  I make my living based on the protection of trademark and copyright, so I'm a big supporter of that and I'm very much against wanton pirating of stuff.  At the same time, projects like Vision Machine and other projects that I may work on, the Creative Commons model may be a really smart way to get them out into the world.

Gareth Mitchell

And so with the Creative Commons model, it allows all kinds of fan fiction to come about because people can rework Vision Machine as they want to.  Is there any danger that you might then develop the whole idea yourself and then weirdly almost be sued by one of your fans for your work that they claim is their own?

Greg Pak

That is a good que… I don’t know, I haven’t gotten that far.  I would have to talk to a lawyer.

Gareth Mitchell

That was Greg Pak there, hopefully keeping the lawyers at bay.  So Jamillah Knowles, you are a big fan of comics.  From what you’ve seen, is this what a lot of graphic artists and comic people are doing?

Jamillah Knowles

I think there’s a lot of different levels.  I mean Warren Ellis released his Freak Angels series online and we could all read it there, but then it was repackaged as a book that you can read at home in a different way, and also he’s very successful so he has a huge audience and they will all buy it anyway after they’ve read it online.  If you are an upcoming artist or writer, it’s enormously difficult to get into the big comic book houses, so Marvel, DC, may be your Mecca, you want to go there, but it’s just really hard to get in there, and so maybe releasing your stuff online, having it remixed, hits a slightly different audience, can get you in a different way.

Gareth Mitchell

And as we were hearing there, he’s released this particular title under Creative Commons.  Now he has a day job, and probably quite a good day job with Marvel Comics to keep him going, but what about, you know, for the less experienced, less well-known comic book artists?  Does Creative Commons, does it offer them opportunities to get their work out that also kind of pay the bills?

Jamillah Knowles

Paying the bills is the hard bit I think.  You can get your name out there, and if your art is brilliant maybe you'll be picked up by somebody somewhere sometime, and of course you want to get paid but you may have to do something else before you're doing your dream job drawing Batman, making splash covers for the right comic house.  But, you know, it’s not going to bring you a great deal of money.

Gareth Mitchell

So June Cohen, what’s really interesting about what Greg’s doing is that he, as an artist he’s created some work and he’s set it free, he’s put it out there for people to manipulate.  And in a way, you’ve done a similar thing now at TED, not just by making the videos freely available but now the API, like the toolkit that goes with all that, so that developers can do stuff with it.  I mean how does that feel, is that a scary thought, does it fill you with dread, hope? No?

June Cohen

Well at TED, we are great champions of open approaches, we often joke that our, we follow a philosophy of radical openness and we call it radical because it makes other people very nervous for us.  But what we've found actually is that in taking open approaches to releasing content, to releasing our software, even to how we built our conference itself, that for all of our hand wringing about what might go wrong and scenario planning, we've actually found that all of the unintended consequences of an open strategy were just explosively positive. 

And so as you said, the supply is both to our talks, which we've released online for free under Creative Commons, because we wanted them to spread.  Our motto is ideas worth spreading, and if you want something to really be passed along online, you have to release it freely.  And now that’s what we’re doing with our API as well, so it is a bit scary but that’s always a sign for us that we’re doing something right, if we’re pushed just outside of our comfort zone then we know we’re going in the right direction. 

For me as a web producer, I love creating apps for TED, I love creating our website, but I have a small team and we don’t have a monopoly on all the good ideas, and I know that when we open up our API we’re going to just see this flourishing of creativity out in the world of what TED can be, what can a TED app be, what should TED look like, we’re going to get so many ideas back, and that’s what’s so exciting.

Gareth Mitchell

And Steve, I can see you nodding your head here on the panel, but I mean are there dangers to all this as well, like partly what TED are doing but also what we've heard Greg Pak talking about as well with his comics?

Steve Rosenbaum

So I don’t think there are any dangers, in fact I think when people talk about the fact that it’s getting harder for writers to make a living, my answer is I come from a family of writers, it’s always been hard for writers to make a living.  I don’t think it’s any harder now, nor will it be any harder in the future.  I think people have always had pencils, they’ve always had access to typewriters, and now they have computers and to me what’s going on is that people get paid now in different ways, and whenever somebody says well how do you monetise that my answer is always we need to kind of figure out a way how to calculate joy.  Because a lot of what happens for me when I write, I mean I write a lot, you know, I've written a book, I also write blog posts, I write on my blog, I write on others, and a lot of times the conversations that happen around my blog posts make me incredibly happy.  And sometimes when people really disagree with me and they write vicious, mean, nasty pointed stuff about what I've written, that makes me really happy, because it’s like great, I've started a conversation, I've stirred things up, I've been part of the society.  I mean that’s why we’re on the planet, is to do those things.  So no, I don’t think there’s danger in sharing, I think there’s a lot of joy associated with it.

Gareth Mitchell

Alright, well Steve, thank you very much and thanks to you all so far for your contributions here on Digital Planet.

[BBC Jingle]

Gareth Mitchell

I'm Gareth Mitchell and this is Digital Planet on the BBC World Service.  We’re on the radio, we’re on the web and we’re podcasting.  This week it’s a special edition, all about creativity, is the digital era ushering in a renaissance or a rot for all that’s beautiful, edifying and precious?  You're listening to the views of our expert panel here, we have June Cohen of TED, digital curator, Steve Rosenbaum, and blogger, broadcaster and baking fanatic, Jamillah Knowles.  And we’re all in front of this fantastic live audience here at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Now then, podcast listeners, yes you out there with your headphones on listening to this on the train or whilst you're walking the dog, I really hope you're enjoying this show, especially as you downloaded it for free.  In fact, whilst you're at it why don’t you help yourself to Greg Pak’s comic and all the other free stuff that’s out there, because let’s face it, none of us likes paying for anything these days.  And if we all start grumbling that creativity just ain’t what it used to be in the pre-web era, then surely we only have ourselves to blame for doing our bit to kill off culture by expecting everything for nothing.  Well that’s what Andrew Keen thinks, he’s author of the book the Cult of the Amateur, and he’s been talking about that and his other beliefs here at the festival.  Well I actually ended up in his line of fire just now myself, as he accused all of us actually of being greedy and thoughtless consumers.

Andrew Keen

Consumers are insatiable.  They can never get enough, and we have to discipline them.

Gareth Mitchell

And how are you going to calm my insatiable appetite, then Andrew?

Andrew Keen

How am I going to calm your insatiable appetite?  I'm going to pour water on you, cold water.  I'm going to remind you that when it comes to online consumption, if you like good movies, if you like high quality writing and music, just as when you get a good meal you're happy to pay for it, or a nice car or a nice house, we've got to figure out a way to convince most consumers that they're happy to pay a decent rate for online content, because otherwise it’s just going to go away.

Gareth Mitchell

But we hear many creators of content saying it actually suits them very well if people help themselves to it, if they don’t pay for it, because it’s a way of spreading that content around, it reaches a wider and wider audience, and once that audience has been built there are other ways of leveraging that to turn that into much needed cash to pay the bills.

Andrew Keen

Well what you're putting forward is the idea of content as the giveaway, and if that’s what you want content to degenerate into then I think we’re all in trouble because content shouldn’t be the free thing that you give away, the thing you give at the bottom of the cereal box, it should be the cereal.

Gareth Mitchell

And if we’re finding a space where you still have some very high quality content but the vast majority of it is, you know, maybe lower quality, let’s use the word mediocre, some would say well does that matter, I mean after all with football people get a lot out of big premiership football, but at the same time, you know, the lower leagues, Sunday leagues as we call them in the UK, they can be just as enjoyable for many.

Andrew Keen

No, I just went to a game at Spurs, and I paid £80 for a ticket.  Those players at Spurs wouldn’t be willing to play for free, they have to be supported, they're professional footballers.  The guys in the park aren’t and they enjoy running out on a Sunday afternoon and having some fun, I've got nothing against that, just as I have nothing against people expressing themselves on the internet, putting their photos and their videos and their music, that’s fine.  But if we want to maintain and support a professional class of artists whose work is thought of very differently from the typical person who puts up a Facebook page or puts out a tweet, then we have to again convince people to pay for the stuff.

Gareth Mitchell

Andrew Keen there.  So Steve, your thoughts, your reaction to what you’ve just heard?

Steve Rosenbaum

I love him, I'm so glad that he’s at this festival.  He’s so fabulously wrong.  He’s stunningly wrong, and I actually challenged him to a debate here at South by Southwest and he ducked it.  And the reason is because the first thing I would have said to him on the stage is, so Andrew, how much are you getting paid to be here at South by Southwest, since you're a professional writer and a speaker?  Oh, nothing, you're getting paid nothing, you're standing on stage presenting your thesis and getting paid nothing.  You're the exact problem you're describing.  Now, does that mean your book is free?  Oh no wait, I have to buy your book, but you're speaking for free at South by Southwest.  Hmm, let’s think about that.  People go out and talk about the things they're passionate about, and some of the things that we do as part of our careers are remunerative and other things we do we don’t get paid for.  That’s how it works, and he knows it, he’s like just, like he’s a terrific sideshow, and he’s wrong, he’s just wrong.

Gareth Mitchell

Obviously a member of the Andrew Keen fan club, although you’ve already said how much you love him...

Steve Rosenbaum

I do actually really love him.

Gareth Mitchell

...but I suppose festivals like this are enriched for that kind of input.  Now, June, does Andrew have a point?  Should we be worrying about this shift of control from the creators to consumers, people like me who just kind of keep bleating on about how I don’t really want to pay for anything any more?

June Cohen

No, I also categorically disagree with him.  I think there are two issues at play here.  One is, is the rise of the amateur, the fact that we all have access to so many extraordinary digital tools now, that are allowing our natural abilities to flourish, our natural abilities in art, music, building, whatever it is and what that does is actually just creates more of an aegis on professionals to be extraordinarily good at what they do. 

But the second thing is just a crisis in business, what’s needed right now is actually some really strong and innovative business thinking on the part of media companies to figure out how do we continue to make money off of what we’ve always done, and I think there are really strong directions there as well.  a) people will pay for things that are really valuable to them, and you just have to reconceptualise what that means, and b) visionary sponsorship, sponsors have always stepped to the table to provide support for great content that’s meeting the needs of a passionate audience, and that will continue to be the case.

Gareth Mitchell

Okay, a few quick questions from our audience.

Marco Whitfield

My name is Marco Whitfield and used to work in the music business when it was still a good business to be in.  And I remember going to an A&R meeting, and this is a big company, where the guy said, people spend more money buying eggs every year than they do buying CDs, so you get into an ethical issue now, why do people never complain about the price of eggs, and yet everybody complains about the price of music?

Steve Rosenbaum

And yet if we go back in time just a little ways, music was something people did for joy and nobody got paid.

Gareth Mitchell

Okay, next one at the mic, let’s have your question.

Robert Bull

My name is Robert Bull.  The creativity has moved the spotlight from the consumer to the creator in a way, and I wonder if we've left the audience behind in some ways.  I think about my mother, she doesn’t have necessarily the media literacy skills to find the content that really speaks to her, we’re awash in content, what’s the role of the creator in actually helping the user find the information?  I think that’s partially to Steve, but also partially to June.

Steve Rosenbaum

Well I mean the word that I'm passionate about is curator, and creator and curator aren’t mutually exclusive.  So let’s say that you're a poet and you write one poem a month, that doesn’t mean that your website couldn’t also be a collection of other poetry that you would like to share with your mom, and she’s going to need to start to find people who gather information for her.  And there’s already some examples of that starting to crop up on the web, but I don’t know enough about your mom’s passions or loves to know how she could find content, but increasingly the hope is that it will find her.

Gareth Mitchell

June?

June Cohen

Well I just, it’s certainly true that the role of curation is more important now than ever, because we are all awash in the sea of information that we haven’t quite figured out how to navigate. 

It’s something we think about at TED all the time, in that we think a lot about open strategies looking outward, but we’re also very specific about how we curate what we put onto the site, we want every single talk that goes up on TED.com to be something wonderful that resonates with a large group of our audience.  And I think all of us who are working in curation online think about this all the time, how do we help people to find that’s going to be most interesting, relevant or surprising and delightful to them.

Gareth Mitchell

Now also here at South by, we've been hearing about Star Wars Uncut.  Now this is a project to recreate the entire Star Wars: A New Hope movie, and fans of the film were allocated their own 15 second chunk to recreate as they wished.  And the force was definitely with them, 472 groups submitted scenes.  Overseeing the process of stitching it all together in an editing room in a galaxy far, far away, was Casey Pugh, a New York based technologist and entrepreneur.

Casey Pugh

I was working at vimeo.com and we would spend tons of time trying to figure out how to get filmmakers to collaborate to make a film but remotely.  And I thought, well what is the common denominator way to get people to create like a feature length film, and I was like what if we just split a movie into pieces and distribute them individually.  And the first movie I thought of was Star Wars.  When you think about Star Wars, it’s like the most culturally pervasive movie in the world, you know, everyone knows Star Wars.  Even if you’ve never seen Star Wars, everyone knows who Darth Vader is.

Gareth Mitchell

So you launched the project, you get a load of people to send in their own interpretations of 15 second scenes that you’ve allocated.  What kinds of people were taking part?

Casey Pugh

Everyone, all demographics, all, like families, kids, professional animators, professional filmmakers, it’s just the wide variety of the scenes that were coming in.  There was stop motion, animation, trash cans acting as R2D2, you know, people wrapping themselves up in tin foil, C3PO.  You see Luke as like some kid, like a four year old in one scene, and then Luke is this animation next scene, you're still able to connect it because you know what’s happening, you know the plot, the story of this film.

Gareth Mitchell

Do you see yourself as a creative figure within it or as the curator in this particular piece?

Casey Pugh

Originally I felt more like an artist and I was just doing this labour of love, but over time I've become more of a curator, and I guess almost a producer/director of this, I somehow stumbled into a director position.

Gareth Mitchell

Jamillah, we heard Casey there talking about Star Wars, and I maybe would agree great idea for a project, but is it just, you know, it’s these, the same old movies, the same old media content that gets all the attention, does that trouble you in a way, that, you know, it always has to be the big Hollywood blockbusters that people in a mass audience kind of way want to do cool stuff with?

Jamillah Knowles

Well not personally, no, but I was born in ’77 and therefore Star Wars is huge on my cultural horizon.  I'm a big nerd for this kind of thing, and I love it, so when someone does a project on that I'm probably going to look at it.  But I think it’s also a generational thing.  There are blockbusters now, I don’t understand the Twilight series very much but a next generation will and they might want to remix that and come up with something that suits them.  So I think it’s a matter of where you look and what you like, and you'll probably have that reflected back to you.

Gareth Mitchell

What about people who say, June, that the original Star Wars was fabulous, and even though what Star Wars uncut has done is quite cool, it’s quite funny, do we really want to see, I don’t know, a whole load of idiots wearing dressing gowns brandishing toy light sabres at each other?  It’s not really creativity, is it?

June Cohen

I actually love it and embrace it as a brand new form, but I also think that humans throughout all time have remixed myths.  I mean Star Wars is really, it’s a modern myth, it’s based on very classical story arc of adventure and meaning, and it’s very natural for us to remix those myths and make them real for ourselves, and I love that it’s taking these new quirky and technological forms.

Gareth Mitchell

Okay, what about our audience members, up to the microphone here?

John Horstman

Hi, I'm John Horstman, I'm a student of human computer interaction at CarnegieMellonUniversity.  And I'm wondering what the panel’s thoughts are on curation without attribution, I mean you have websites like Tumblr where people can share images or audio without really crediting the source.  I mean this is kind of a problem with Tumblr in my experience and I'm wondering if you think that’s damaging, or how damaging it is to the original creators?

Steve Rosenbaum

So there’s absolutely no doubt that there are not yet best practices around what the rules are about sharing, but there’s certain common sense, right.  I mean when somebody comes to your school with a box of cupcakes and shares them, you say thank you, you don’t just eat the cupcakes and then run away.  So attribution is good common sense, it’s polite, it’s what should be done, I wouldn’t call that a Tumblr issue though, I think that at the end of the day that’s just the web kind of growing up and understanding that saying please and thank you is part of being a good web citizen.

June Cohen

Yeah, and on that front I would also look to players like Creative Commons to help set the guidelines and the rules for the new era.  I think actually referring to their licence regulations is a really good way to think about the way all of us should be approaching attribution.

Gareth Mitchell

Okay, and I think we've got time for just one more quick question from the audience and then we’ll wrap it up.

Mirren McDonal

Hi, I'm Mirren McDonal and I worry that we are creating a culture that feels entitled to shoplift.  So you might say if people go into an art store and steal supplies, creativity is going to flourish because suddenly they're going to have the materials they need to create art, but eventually the art store is going to go out of business.  And so like myself as an artist, I'm fine if an artist wants to make their things open, but like when I talk to 20 year olds now they think everything on the internet’s free, there’s no pleases, there’s no thank yous, and so I'm worried that when we finish mining the art that costs money to make, then the culture is going to go down in quality.

Gareth Mitchell

And we’re going to leave that hanging.  So to wrap things up then, panel, we started essentially by asking is openness killing creativity, is it stifling creativity, so I almost want yes or no answers from each of you, and we’ll start with you, Jamillah Knowles, what do you reckon?

Jamillah Knowles

No, I don’t think it’s stifling creativity.  I've seen more things now that have amazed me equal to the historical arts and creativity I've seen from the past.

Gareth Mitchell

Steve?

Steve Rosenbaum

Openness is awesome.

Gareth Mitchell

That’s a pretty quick answer.  Okay, June?

June Cohen

Openness is actually ushering in a brand new era in creativity, that’s very welcome and needed.

Gareth Mitchell

I'm not going to give the panellists the last word, but really from the audience, so let’s have a show of hands.  Is openness killing creativity?  Those who think it is, let’s have your hands up.  So we've got the artist at the front here and another fellow at the back, about three of you, so who thinks that openness isn’t killing creativity, in fact it’s nurturing some really cool stuff online?  That seems to be most of you, the audience at home can't see this, but I'd say about 90% of the hands went up. 

Well that is it for this week, just time to say thank you very much to the panel, Steven Rosenbaum, June Cohen, and Jamillah Knowles.  This special edition of Digital Planet has been produced in association with the Open University.  More details at our website, bbc.com/digitalplanet, where you can also link to more material on this series around openness. 

Your producer out here in Austin today has been Kathy Edwards.  I'm Gareth Mitchell, thanks to you out in radio and podcast land for listening, and thanks to our audience here for coming along today.  And it’s goodbye from Austin.

(applause)

(36’30”)

 

 

 

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