Magic and Production
Very interesting post at non-washer-upper's blog on the subject of the internet, 'the music industry' and the PRS/Google dispute. While focused quite specifically on that particular dispute and the notion that musical production is something which needs no monetary funding, it's especially worthwhile for pinpointing two very pervasive myths created by the internet, one at the level of distribution and the other at the level of consumption, both having deleterious effects on production. One, the notion that the internet is administered by 'little guys' as opposed to gigantic corporations. Hence, you have the absurd, but curiously successful, self-presentation of Google/YouTube as defenders of freedom against the Peforming Rights Society for Music, who are essentially an arm of a trade union; and linked to this, the idea that file-sharing is somehow anti-establishment, notwithstanding the intimate links between the likes of BitTorrent and the corporations they supposedly subvert. Two, the post notes the way the internet is used and consumed, where cultural products are 'some sort of naturally appearing resource, like water or oxygen'. This, then, is essentially a magical process. Music, videos, films, texts, they all just pass through the ether in seconds, without any trace of production (or any remuneration to the producer).
Whether or not this is actually 'killing music' or fulfilling the hysterical anti-piracy warnings now found on much cultural product is a moot point, but this magical thinking is one of the most under-remarked-upon facets of the way the internet changes habits and perceptions, as the point of distribution, let alone production recedes ever further from view. I recall my surprise recently at finding that a friend of a friend worked for Amazon, as if the entire process ran at the same level as the automated 'recommendations' on the website - but obviously these things are made, distributed and administered in a very concrete (and union-bashing) manner. This links in with a few posts at Ads without Products recently, on how this works with respect to journalism and print, where the internet often serves to actually reinforce, rather than dismantle, the old boy networks, by making writing into a hobby rather than a job (my own experience in this has been rather less grim, although mainly because of a prior willingness to spend years on benefits). In all this, you can see, very faintly indeed, the outlines of a genuinely utopian system of distribution, where automation and speed makes the possibility of a non-monetary economy viable, erasing borders and all that Hardt-Negri fun stuff. And much of the opposition to blogs has come from those clearly driven by snobbery and fear of the competition. Nonetheless, the means of production that, underneath the magical surface, actually enables these things to come into being, is still owned by the same people it ever was.
Images are of Amazon's distribution centre in Swansea.