miércoles, 28 de febrero de 2007

I Love Piracy

I have been reaping the benefits of piracy for a while now. Ever since I discovered downloading music off of peer-to-peer fire sharing sites like Napster, Kazaa and Limewire, I have been addicted. Downloading music is one of my favorite things to do. I can spend hours looking up new bands, seeing if any of their songs are good and then ripping CDs. Threats from record labels to sue peer-to-peer file sharers on these programs has hardly deterred me from continuing to download. Youtube also has been a great source to find rare episodes of shows or chunks of stand up comedian’s routines to watch to pass the time; but it too has been under attack for letting subscribers upload copyrighted material for others to see. And now more recently, since I’ve been living in Mexico for the last month and a half, I have discovered a new love that is buying pirated DVDs off of the street.
There are a lot of people who criticize piracy, namely the FBI, but does piracy really hurt anyone? If so, then how come so many bands willingly put their songs on the internet to be downloaded for free? And does Youtube and pirated movies really pose that much of a threat to the movie and entertainment industry? More than anything it poses a threat to the record labels and entertainment companies, and who gives a crap about them?
Musicians put their music on the internet to download for free because, as Tim O'Reilly puts it, "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy". In a recent blog by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, he explains the musician’s mindset in giving away their music for free, with the goal of making more money from their live shows. “They [the artists] understand the difference between abundance and scarcity economics,” says Anderson, “Digital products enjoy near-zero costs of production and distribution--classic abundance economics. When costs are near zero, you might as well make the price zero, too, something thousands of bands have figured out. Meanwhile, the one thing that you can't digitize and distribute with full fidelity is a live show. That's scarcity economics. No wonder the average price for a ticket was $61 last year, up 8%. In an era when digital products are commodities, there's a premium on experience. No surprise that bands are increasingly giving away their recorded music as marketing for their concerts, which offer something no MP3 can match.” And there is big money in live shows as well. 92% of the Rolling Stones' revenues come from their performances, not recorded music. Sadly for the labels, they don't get any of it. No wonder they're so against free music. It only helps the bands and the consumers.
Shortly after Google invested billions in acquiring Youtube, the video uploading and downloading website, it announced that its users were watching over 100 million videos per day. Then three days after celebrating this traffic milestone, the popular video sharing site was hit with a lawsuit alleging that Youtube allows users to upload and view copyrighted video. Youtube instructs its users not to upload copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder or without the rights to do so. But because of the sheer number of videos and massive daily traffic, that admonition is widely ignored and kids like me can have a treasure trove of stuff to watch. There are many things that keep Youtube from taking over the industry any time soon. First of all, the size of the video that can be uploaded is limited making the quality of anything that is too long highly diminished. So no one is about to watch entire movies on the website. Most videos are under five minuets. Also watching snippets of TV shows or stand up comedians are like appetizers to get you to want to buy and watch the real thing. Once again this helps the artists and customers and leaves the CEOs of the entertainment conglomerates behind.
And now we come to pirated movies. True, selling pirated movies on a large scale, as is the case in Mexico, does break the law and may keep people from buying the real movie. But if you’re a big fan of the movie that you want to buy, you won’t get the pirated version. Many of the pirated movies that are sold are really, really bad quality. The quality is equivalent to someone holding a camcorder in a theater, and having people standup in front of the screen to go get popcorn. With everyone being so into high definition and surround sound these days, pirated movies will never be satisfactory. They also never have the supplement material of commentaries or deleted scenes that store bought DVDs provide. I justify my buying of pirated movies by the following: I would rather help Juan on the street buy food for his family by buying his 20 peso DVD than pay 20 dollars for an overpriced movie that just stuffs money into the already over stuffed pockets of 20th century fox or any other billion dollar movie conglomerate.
So yes, some people are hurt because of piracy, manly the record labels and big movie studios. Their backlash to peer to peer file sharing programs and websites like Youtube are more due to them realizing that the monopoly they once had at controlling what everyone watched and listened to is quickly slipping. They have grown rigid and stale in their progression and if they would learn to adapt to the changing way that the public is being entertained they would devise plans the innovate technology to better please the public instead of holding tighter to their old ways. I could care less about these rich fat cats at the top so I’m not about to stop enjoying my piracy any time soon.

lunes, 26 de febrero de 2007

Reason Why Mormon kids Aren’t Getting Married (and its not because they are hanging out too much)

It may seem like people are constantly getting married all around you but the truth is that more than half of graduating students at BYUI are still single. The presidency of the church is very concerned with the lack of Mormon kids getting married and therefore have come to the decision that Mormons are hanging out too much instead of going on dates (Dallin H. Oaks, “Dating versus Hanging Out,” Ensign, Jun 2006). I completely agree to this conclusion but I would also like to ad that a major reason for the lack of marriages taking place is the lack of emotional intelligence on the part of the boys.
Women are more oriented toward discussing and understanding feelings than men. And they are that way because they have had an enormous head start in acquiring these skills since childhood. As John M. Gottman, a scientist on marriage and family explains, “When young boys play run-and-chase games with girls, their priority is the game itself-not their relationship with each other and their feelings. But for the little girls feelings are paramount.” Along with their other games in childhood, boys don’t include relationships and domestic themes in their repertoire. While No pre-school dress up corner would be complete without a wedding dress, you never see pretend tuxedos for the little grooms. “Because their play emphasizes social interactions and feelings, girls undergo an extensive education into emotions by childhoods end. Boys learn to pitch overhand.”
The difference is heightened by the fact that as they get older, boys rarely play with girls so they miss out on the chance to learn from them. “By age 7,” continues Gottman, “friendships between boys and girls drop to virtually zero percent. From then until puberty the sexes will have little or nothing to do with each other.” And I would submit that within the Mormon culture the sexes have even less to do with each other for much longer than that. You aren’t allowed to date until age 16 and then most parents try to teach their sons to not steadily date anyone until after their mission. And then we come to the time period of being a missionary where rules are strictly enforced that boys should hardly converse with girls of the same age whatsoever.
The two year mission time period also alienates some boys in building up very think walls of a comfort zones around them when it comes to not having to talk to girls. It is very hard to knock down these walls after being a missionary for two years and upon returning home, dates feel like being suddenly immersed into an alien world.
A friend of mine commented to me once that throughout his whole life he was raised by his parents telling him, “don’t date, you have to go on a mission,” and then as soon as he gets home from his mission everyone is asking him, “hey, way aren’t you married yet?” What do you expect from someone who is 21 years old but has the emotional intelligence of a 7 year old? So the reason behind Mormon kids not marrying as often is not due to hanging out too much; that is just one of the causes. The major cause is that the Mormon way of raising boys is inherently flawed in that it raises boys in way that they do not develop the emotional skills necessary to adapt to dating and marriage.
So what is the solution? Girls: be patient with these boys that are very unfamiliar with feelings. Boys: its crunch time to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can, before you wake up one day 30 years old and still single.
(Source: The Seven Principals for Making Marriage Work, John M. Gottman.)

jueves, 22 de febrero de 2007

The Office and Globalization

In a recent Office episode Michael, the oblivious manager of the Scranton Branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, gets invited to speak at a business class of one of his employees. It quickly becomes obvious that Michael really has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to business and when one of the students asks him what he is going to do to compete with a world being dominated by large companies like Staples and OfficeMax, Michael responds, “Dunder Mifflin is the world, can’t you see that?” In a world that is growing increasingly more global, where large companies can kick out the little guys like Dunder Mifflin, the drive for prosperity and development versus the desire to retain identity and traditions has never been more visible.
We all want everyday low prices but what about a place that we can call home? How long can we compromise lower prices for the local shop where everybody knows your name and where you’re treated like a human being? What would the world be like if eccentric offices like Michael Scott’s were all replaced by huge cold conglomerates like Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and Office Max? Could you imagine crazy Dwight being replaced by a robot or Phyllis being outsourced to India? We can’t afford to have our lives run by faceless corporations guided by the invisible hand.
For this very reason it’s never been more important to support your local scene. Go out of your way to buy a CD from that cool record shop downtown, eat at places that aren’t seen in commercials on TV, buy your snowboard from the local skate shop instead of going to Gart Bros.; do it for The Offices sake. Sure it might cost a little more, but in the end you may just be one more factor that keeps the world from turning into one huge homogenized mush ball. There is something special about Michael’s innocence and his blissfully positive attitude of how his company will succeed, as cheesy as that sounds, but I hope it does. There will always be a desire to socialize with other humans, like Michael Scott says, “People never go out of business.”

miércoles, 21 de febrero de 2007

An explanation of the history and current state of music according to Zach

There has always been the desire to listen to the “underground” bands that no one had heard of in order to be cool. No one wants to be the “poser” or be caught listening to “sellouts.” Now the internet has made it possible for everyone to be, at least on the surface, an underground music guru thanks to the abundance of cheap technology, which was once only available to large companies. Below is a history of the musical decisions made by the herd of general music listening public, and how we came to this current state of music that is know as “Indi Rock”. In our journey we will go from boy bands, to finding our musical identity, to Emo and then back to searching for a new identity.
Chris Anderson in his book, The Long Tail, explains, “In the past there was a scarcity of shelves, screens, and channels, so record scouts, editors, and executives made their living off of predicting what would be watched. Now search engines, blogs, and online recommendations filter out what already exists.” These post filters of search engines, blogs, and online recommendations create a market for things that are already available by stimulating demand for them. “Soon everything will make it to the market,” explains Anderson, “and the real opportunity will be sorting it all out.”
When I was in high school Back Street Boys and N´Sync were the top album sellers. How in the world could such crappy and fabricated music make so much money? It was because the music industry had finally reached their apex of marketing abilities to brain wash youth into getting them to buy what they wanted them to. The law of diffusion states that when things are in a tight space they will naturally spread out if the space is increased. When everyone was limited to the CDs available at Wal-Mart and what the radio played, everyone listened to nothing else, and thought that they liked it. As soon as the internet gave everyone a little more elbow room to explore different music, that is exactly what everyone did. Everyone started to spread out deeper into different sub-genres and obscure music. And that’s when the backlash to the boy bands began.
The first thing that brought on the backlash to the boy bands were the music downloading sites like Napster. Everyone was sick of being fed what to listen to by the record agents and executives and Napster opened a way to have more abundant choice than ever before. It was like everyone simultaneously had an epiphany when they realized that they could listen to something else other than what the record companies wanted them to, and everyone grabbed onto the first underground sounding music they could find, which in this case was Emo. Bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and The Get Up Kids.
Everyone thought initially that they had found some sweet underground music that was called Emo and were finally able to free themselves from listening to what the corporations wanted them to. Everything was making it to the market but the “sorting out” of it all, like Anderson explains, still hadn’t been fully achieved. People weren’t fully able to take advantage of the plethora of music found on the internet. Little did everyone know that everyone else was discovering this new “underground” music at the same time.
Then as everyone was realizing that their unique musical tastes were not unique at all, the once popular music style was lowered in coolness even more when Dashboard Confessional strummed its way into the hearts of a million young girls. Dashboard Confessional carried an entire genre to a new, younger audience that would have never before explored a style like it. With the advent of a younger audience that had made the conversion from New Found Glory to Dashboard Confessional, Emo became what it is today: a genre that makes many people cringe with the idea of wimpiness, whinyness, trendiness and fashion sensibilities. Emo then forged with the lingering popularity of pop punk and meshed into a terrible Emo pop punk mold which will plague history forever. Many critics say what is called Emo today isn’t Emo or punk at all, but gets passed off as such because it has a much bigger stage to act on and impress onto others.
Not only was everyone catching onto this Emo music, everyone wanted to start an Emo band too. The barriers to entry to the music industry were lowered as technology, information and distribution were democratized and gave rise to tons of Emo bands. This explains the fact that before Emo there was never a larger mass of copycat success and such a plethora of unworthy imitators in such a short time span. The remaining bands today appear to fit the genre solely because of their similarity to other so-called emo bands. Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, Fall Out Boy, Hawthorne Heights, My Chemical Romance, Panic! at the Disco, Senses Fail, Something Corporate, The Starting Line, Story of the Year, Taking Back Sunday, Thursday, and The Used come to mind. In many cases, the term Emo has simply been attached to them because of musical similarities, a common fashion sense, or because of the band's popularity within the emo scene, not because the band adheres to emo as a music genre.
This was the begging of the end of the Emo trend as everyone saw it getting too popular and therefore un-cool. The masses once again went back to the internet to find a new style that wasn’t as trendy. And by this time the ability to “sort out” the whole mess of bands on the internet had been greatly improved. Now not only music downloading sites existed, but advanced searches, Myspace, recommendations, and play lists developed a way to help people search deeper and deeper into different music subgenres. Now the term Emo carries with it such a negative connotation that most bands avoid it at all costs. Today we are now in the Emo backlash stage.
All of this searching deeper and deeper into different sub genres has brought us to where we are today, the days of the “Indi Rock.” Everyone now is completely equipped with their Myspace pages and their post Emo weird looking tight pants instead of tight sweaters look. Everyone learned something from their Emo days and they will no longer buy into trendy music at the same time as everyone else. Indi Rock is the new Emo.
In conclusion, the herd went from boy bands, to the epiphany of the internet, to the boy band backlash, to grabbing hold of Emo, to Emo/Pop Punk, to Emo backlash, to revisiting the internet, to the Indi Rock stage that we are in today. Now everyone can be, and is becoming, an underground music critic so that they will never have to be referred to as a “poser” again.

martes, 20 de febrero de 2007

Whats up with punk rock

It doesn’t take someone very long to notice the difference that the internet is making on music and more specifically, underground music and the punk rock scene. I recently went to see one of my favorite punk bands in concert that I have seen many times in the past, and I came away with a feeling that it just wasn’t what it used to be. In his song, “Separation of Church and Skate,” Fat Mike, of the long time punk band NoFX, accurately describes the feelings I had that night when he asks, “When did punk rock become so safe? When did the scene become a joke? The kids who used to live for beer and speed now want their fries and coke, Cursing and flipping birds are not allowed, in fact let's keep noise levels down. Must separate the church and skate! I want conflict! I want dissent! I want the scene to represent our hatred of authority, our fight against complacency. Stop singing songs about girls and love! You killed the owl! You freed the dove! Confrontation and politics replaced with harmonies and shticks. When did punk rock become so tame? These (explicit) bands all sound the same. We want our fights we want our thugs! We want our burns we want our drugs! Where is the violent apathy?! These (explicit) records are rated G! When did punk rock become so safe?!” Further investigation helped me put my finger on what it was that the show was missing, and lead me to believe that the culprits of the fall of punk rock, and underground music in general, are none other than the punk rock bands themselves and their anti establishment, DIY attitude.
First of all lets look at the effect that the internet is having on the scene. In his book The Long Tail, Chris Anderson explains, “In the past there was a scarcity of shelves, screens, and channels, so record scouts, editors, and executives made their living off of predicting what would be watched. Now search engines, blogs, and online recommendations filter out what already exists. The media went from gate keeper to advisor.” These post filters of search engines, blogs, and online recommendations create a market for things that are already available by stimulating demand for them. “Soon everything will make it to the market,” explains Anderson, “and the real opportunity will be sorting it all out.” The days of everything making it to the market are upon us. In the past if you wanted good music other than what all the agents, executives and editors wanted you to hear, than you had to go through other means to find it like through your friends older brother, the cool dude at the record store, or those crappy free compilation CDs where only one song in 20 is worth listing to. Now the process of finding good “underground” music is through the soulless cold internet and it is easier than ever. When you get something without putting forth any effort, than that thing is treated like a commodity. So nowadays through Myspace and other internet sites, finding this underground music has never been easier, and the kids treat it as such. When you would go to a punk rock show in the past, everyone that was there had to go through the same difficult process to find out about the band. These filters to underground music created a more sincere fan base at the show and a room full of instant friends. Now you go to a show it feels watered down because the crowd is made up of kids who don’t really care because they didn’t have to work very hard to get there. Just as video killed the radio star, internet, in turn, has killed the punk rock star.
Thomas L. Friedman, in his book on globalization called, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, said, “One of the paradoxes of a world in which we are all increasingly connected is that it makes it that much easier for us all to become increasingly disconnected. Because the more we are all wired and networked together, the easier it becomes for each of us to work alone, at home, from our beach house, tree house, or remotest Africa.” Friedman goes on to ask, “Is this standardizing technology just empowering us to reach farther into the world while exempting us from the real work required to build relationships and community with the folks next door?” The tight community of the punk rock scene used to be based on hard work word of mouth, networking, and supporting your local scene. Now the scene is being replaced with kids searching the internet from their bedrooms and checking out play lists of strangers. This causes a breakdown of the scene. Now posers have all the tools necessary to fit right in with the rest of us without having to go through the filtering process.
How did all this start? Anderson explains that first there was the democratization of technology that made technology, previously only accessible by large corporations, available to everyone. Next was the democratization of information through the internet that could teach anyone how to do anything. And last was the democratization of distribution where through websites like youtube.com, myspace.com, and others, you could publish your works for the masses for free. Never before has there been such opportunity of those who want to do it themselves. I bought a camera that can film digitally, downloaded the video editing software off the internet, made a video and then published it on youtube.com for an audience of millions for all under 1,000 dollars. To be able to go to such great lengths, for so cheap, by yourself, would have been unheard of only 10 years ago. How is punk rock to blame for all of this? A glimpse of this flatting of the playing field was first seen from punk rock music 30 years ago.
Chris Anderson explains, “In the late 1970s early 1980s the combination of electric guitar, the arrival of cheap multi track recorders, and a fine example from the Sex Pistols gave license to a generation of kids with no musical training, obvious talent, or permission from anyone to start bands and record music. Through punk rock we saw a premium of fresh voices, new sounds, vigor and anti establishment sentiment that could have only come from outside the system. It was inspirational to see people out there with no more talent than you, having fun being admired, doing something novel. To put it in economic terms, punk rock lowered the barriers of entry to creation.” Along with lowering the barriers to entry by doing it themselves, punk rock also preached using alternate forms of distribution other than going through the man; i.e. the record agents, talent scouts, and executives; the pre-media filters of the time.
So in the end, all of the DIY sentiment of the punk rock scene finally caught up to itself as the do it yourselfers eventually were able to take their anti-establishment to the extreme and create a world where their music was way too easy too find. Punk rock killed itself. Is there a way to solve this lack of old fashioned angst in punk rock caused by the internet? Only if bands decide to do it the old fashioned way of doing it themselves through word of mouth and hard work. The new man that punk rock needs to stick it to is the internet itself if it doesn’t want to buy into the system that punk was created to challenge.