PressPausePlay is a documentary exploring the possibilities and problems posed by increasing access to digital technology.
“Everybody’s a photographer, everybody’s a filmmaker, everybody’s a writer, everybody’s a musician,” says Moby at the beginning of the documentary.
Are we at the beginning of a cultural revolution? What are the implications for art and creativity? What happens the music industry when people can record and distribute their own albums?
Over the last decade, we’ve seen the most significant shift in the mass media since the invention of moveable type. For several hundred years, the ability to publish and broadcast has been in the hands of the wealthy. Now, with little more than smart phone and an internet connection, you can share your work with millions of people.
“Technology always comes first,” artist Bill Drummond says in PressPausePlay. “That technology is usually invented for some other reason, then the artist comes along and abuses it and changes it.”
The internet is responsible for much of this revolution. The increasing speed of broadband and availability of sites like YouTube, Vimeo and Soundcloud make it easy for people to share their films and music with others. It also gives artists the opportunity to communicate directly with their fans.
It’s not just the internet, however, that driving this cultural revolution. Most smart phones are now capable of shooting high definition video. Cameras like the Canon 550d MKII, allow people to shoot stunning video. Programs like Garageband and Reason have put the tools for music production in the hands of the masses.
“I think this is an incredibly time for artists,” says music journalist Brenda Walker. “There’s no cap on creativity. The technological advances have given the artist an open door to creating as much as their capacity will allow.”
In PressPausePlay, Walker argues that power has shifted from record companies and movie studios to the artists themselves. “We’re at a time when artists have the power,” she says. “I’m often puzzled that they don’t recognise exactly how much power they have. There is no record company without the artist. There is no venue to fill without the artist. There is no t-shirt to sell without the artist.”
“Anybody can go out and buy a movie, anybody who has fifteen hundred dollars can buy a camera,” says film director Lena Dunham. “Even if you don’t, there’s so many ways to make a movie, there’s so many ways to distribute your film on the internet. There’s a million different platforms. So that’s really good for people who want to express themselves but it also makes it harder to break through all of the noise.”
It’s this noise, this flood of mediocrity, that many see as a downside of this cultural revolution. In PressPausePlay, author Andrew Keen argues that one of the difficulties creators face is the possibility that their work will be “lost in the ocean of garbage”.
In the documentary, David Weinberger argues that the availability of this technology is good news for equality in an industry that has traditionally been controlled by “white guys”. The technology, he argues, will ultimately result in greater diversity and creativity because it gives a voice to people who’ve traditionally been marginalised by the mass media.
PressPausePlay also features an interview with author Seth Godin whose book Unleashing the IdeaVirus suggests that ideas that are free spread faster and these ideas ultimately win. This book, it turns out, demonstrates this idea beautifully. When he released the book, Godin made it available for free on his website. The book was downloaded five million times and people began asking for printed copies. Deciding to self-publish, he made the book available on Amazon where it shot to number five on the charts. “I made more money from the book I gave away than the book I had sold,” he says.
Others aren’t so optimistic. “For a serious young filmmaker, these are very, very depressing times.” argues Andrew Keen. “When you leave everything to the crowd, when everything is democratised, when everything determined by the number of clicks, you’re by definition undermining the seriousness of the artistic endeavour.”
Overall, PressPausePlay is an interesting look at the possibilities and problems posed by this cultural revolution.
1. What are the benefits of this cultural revolution for emerging musicians?
2. What are the benefits of low cost, high quality equipment like RED cameras?
3. How does new technology inspire collaboration?
4. How has new technology democratised media? What possibilities and problems are posed by this democratisation?
5. How does this new technology benefit artists over traditional media companies and publishers?
6. What implications does this new technology have for education and training in the media?
7. How did file sharing influence the music industry?
8. How has this technology influenced the way that we listen to and interact with media, particularly music?