Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post, and the invisible digital culture landscape
Last week’s news of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchasing the Washington Post caused a mild uproar in media and news circles, but the shockwaves aren’t limited to those segments alone. Amazon stakes much of its reputation on the future of digital content, and the sale of one of the world’s most trusted and esteemed old-school media outlets signals a bigger shift to a culture engineered around the way Amazon and Bezos do things. Flavorwire argues that, in the short term, Bezos could eventually get the Post to start paying more attention to the literary world, but this could be just the tip of the iceberg. As Bezos wields a mightier mouthpiece through time-honored culture and information channels, and as the world becomes more accustomed to the way Bezos and digital proprietors do things, we will likely observe significant evolution in how we are expected to consume culture, what choices we have for platforms and content, and how our information is harvested and logged.
The Bezos purchase and the evolution from analogue to digital also serves as another reminder: that we are becoming less and less aware of the infrastructure that brings us our news, information, and culture. Honor Harger, artistic director for British digital creative agency Lighthouse, argues that we see devices, brand names, and a lot of thin air … but we don’t see the brick-and-mortar “series of tubes” behind it. He reminds us that seeing the media that comes out of this infrastructure necessarily means that we need to become more familiar with it and how it works. Sage advice.
Why have a hands-on culture?
Last week, the New York Times published a Judith Dobrzynski op-ed on the tendency for museums to offer more immersive and hands-on experiences and she argues that such a tendency threatens the very nature of what museums are:
For decades, museums have offered social experiences — the fact that you can talk while you’re in the galleries has always given them an edge over the performing arts — and that is good. Now is the balance shifting too far to the experience? Are they losing what makes them unique? Should museums really follow the path of those “experience” businesses?
If they do, something will be lost. […]
Dobrzynski has a point when she posits this:
In ages past, art museums didn’t need activating. They were treasure houses, filled with masterpieces meant to outlast the moment of their making, to speak to the universal. Visiting one might be social — you went with friends — but fairly passive. People went to see beauty, find inspiration, experience uplift, sometimes in a spiritual sort of way. Museums housed their heritage, their raison d’être.
But, she also fails to see the point of why artists and cultural institutions cater to the need to offer an experience: all the things she mentions in the last two sentences are available, for free, on any well-curated Tumblr dashboard. Individual experiences–which can also offer the same benefits, by the way–are not so easily replicated and could thus hold more interest for us.
This question of reproduction and experience is also alive and well over at The New Inquiry, where Loney Abrams argues that the Internet is now “the main space where art meets its audience” and that galleries (specifically, although the same could be argued for museums) are less about places to see art and now the “carriers of cultural clout.” The problem: galleries are catering more to the reblogs than the audience. But, this phenomenon could mean benefits for alternative exhibition spaces, among other things.
Image: the gorgeous animated gifs of Mat Lucas, via Colossal.