DIY’s Great, But WHO Are We Doing it For?

The "On the other hand" selfportrait (bw outtake) By dhammza
The "On the other hand" selfportrait (bw outtake) By dhammza

“Business begins with ‘yes’, art begins with ‘no’… It’s our responsibility to lead culture where we want it to be.”

Ted Hope @ DIY Days NYC, 2011

Ted Hope was one of the highlights of last year’s DIY Days NYC conference, and his conversation with fellow film producer, Christine Vachon, was among this year’s highlights, too, as he reiterated his call for creative artists of all kinds to step up our collective game and collaborate for the greater good. “It’s not just a changing way of working or platforms,” he declared, “it’s also changing relationships with collaborators.”

Vachon, who produced the award-winning film Boys Don’t Cry, was excited about the opportunities for upcoming filmmakers for whom the Internet is in their DNA: “Filmmakers are feeling like we did 25 years ago. ‘We’re just going to do it!'”

The discussion of the convergence of the Internet and film reminded me of blogging, webcomics, and, of course, music. In all cases, the Internet has become a viable medium for distributing and discovering original content, and no longer a medium of last resort for those unable to crack traditional channels. It has also empowered artists to collaborate in ways that were previously impossible, and to reach audiences that were formerly too spread out to connect with cost-effectively.

Mobile Utopia and the Digital Divide

“Just do it!” was definitely an underlying theme of the day as the deceptively sexy notion of the “democratization” of content creation and distribution was frequently noted, but I realized towards the end of the day, what was missing was any reference to the issue of access, and the ever-widening digital divide:

A first-of-its-kind federal survey of online access found that Americans in lower-income and rural areas often have slower Internet connections than users in wealthier communities.

The data, released Thursday by the Commerce Department, also found that 5 to 10 percent of the nation does not have access to connections that are fast enough to download Web pages, photos and videos.

Compiled in an online map that is searchable by consumers – assuming they have a fast enough broadband connection – the survey seems to confirm that there is a digital divide, something experts had suspected but lacked the data to prove.

-“Survey of online access finds digital divide,” Washington Post

Matt Johnston‘s cyborg-like vision of a mobile utopia was particularly disconcerting as it seemingly rests on the assumption that access to smartphones and data plans is (or ever will be) equal and ubiquitous, ignoring the reality that the PC age has left huge gaps between the haves and have-nots, and institutions like libraries, that exist at least partly to close that gap, are under assault.

(I didn’t see Douglas Rushkoff‘s session, so it’s possible he spoke to this issue as he recently did with Library Journal, but if he did, it didn’t receive much attention.)

Despite this glaring oversight, there was a refreshing sense of responsibility, both to the culture at large and to each other, that distinguishes DIY Days from other conferences. One of the best features this year was using the transition time between scheduled speakers to allow attendees time to get up and talk briefly about a project they were working on, and identify specific help they might need, and later in the day, skills they might have to help others. The overall energy reminded me of last month’s Book^2 Camp, where the unconference format allowed for a more communal feel.

In fact, I’ve found over the past year that the Transmedia community is not just full of incredibly smart, creative people — hello, Transmedia NYC! — but it’s also one that inherently understands the value of collaboration, a concept that’s particularly difficult for many traditional writers to grasp, especially those who embrace the “indie” label as a misguided badge of honor.

(Read Amanda Hocking’s excellent post, “Some Things That Need to be Said,” for more on that.)

The DIY ethic — succinctly defined by the awesome Molly Crabapple: “You are responsible for the awesomeness where you live.” —  is wonderful, but WHO we’re doing it for has to be more important than YOURSELF.


PS: Perhaps my favorite theme of the day was the shift from an emphasis on “story” to “narrative” and “immersion” — nicely illustrated by keynote speaker Frank Rose, whose The Art of Immersion is a must-read, and the excellent “Hands-on Experience Design” session with Aina Abiodun, Nick Braccia and Caitlin Burns. It’s a subtle but important distinction when looking at transmedia’s potential in non-fiction and educational initiatives, and I was glad the latter group brought attention to it in such an effective and creative way, via an interactive brainstorming session.

Beyond the fictional applications that are usually referenced, projects like Inanimate Alice and Waiting for Superman offer a glimpse at what’s possible when you dream a little bigger and don’t take “no” for an answer.

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4 thoughts on “DIY’s Great, But WHO Are We Doing it For?

  1. Great post, Guy. It’s rare that the access issue is raised in the discussion about the current state of books, especially by publishers & self-publishers. Issues of emerging forms, delivery, hierarchies of content vs. hardware, library survival and its role in the publishing ecoscape – not to mention the rights of authors, are all pressing concerns, unfolding simultaneously and in need of solutions. Equal access, the fact that most of the world is not carrying a mobile phone and if they are, are not using it to read, is not much discussed. Paper books and their free delivery by libraries (mobile and bricks and mortar) are powerful objects of learning and empowerment still, and if we are to leave them behind then we must in the same breath as we discuss digital standards, best practices and delivery systems take into account the enormous group of readers for whom access even to paper books is rare and treasured. We’re a world – the more learning, knowledge and thinking we can do together the greater the chance we will endure as a species. That’s not drama, it’s reality. Thanks for keeping this on the front burner.

    1. I was in a meeting today where Betsy Bird, a librarian at the NYPL, noted that investing in emerging technologies like the iPad and apps that may be obsolete in 5 years (or less) makes little sense when acquisition budgets are declining. The permanence and long-term accessibility of print is an under-appreciated cultural and social benefit that gets little attention.

      It’s going to be REALLY interesting working around librarians! 🙂

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