You, Me, User – Introduction / Johdanto

Outi J. Hakola
University of Helsinki / Finnish Society for Cinema Studies

WiderScreen volume 1/2013 approaches the user-generated culture, or in other words, multiple situations where culture becomes modified, produced and distributed through everyday practices, social and new media from different perspectives.

WiderScreenin numerossa 1/2013 käyttäjien tuottamalla kulttuurilla viitataan erityisesti tapoihin, joilla sisältöä ja kulttuuria jaetaan, tuotetaan ja/tai muokataan käyttäjien toimesta hyvin moninaisilla tavoilla.

From social media to video games and from online fan production to machinima – the phenomenon of user-generated culture has secured its position in the mainstream. This shift has resulted from the blurring boundaries between media production and consumption as well as between professional and amateur authorship. This WiderScreen volume approaches the user-generated culture, or in other words, multiple situations where culture becomes modified, produced and distributed through everyday practices, social and new media from different perspectives.

Although it is not a recent phenomena or typical only for the contemporary culture, the amateur productions and audiences’ or consumers’ cultural participation have become extremely visible within the past ten or twenty years. For the most part, social media and media technology – including computers, mobile phones, internet and wireless connections, as well as digital cameras, camcorders, music studios – have brought both the production equipment and ways to distribute closer to the consumers of culture. We have YouTube videos, MySpace accounts, Facebook groups, blogs and social media advertisement of events – and so on. As a consequence, any cultural production can now be shared with others. This phenomenon is not limited to the media cultures, but for example different pop-up practices, such as Restaurant Day, can be seen to be part of the same trend.

The phenomenon is claimed to be characterized by collaboration, accessibility and democratic potential. Especially the early research on user-generated contents, such as the internet discussion pages, emphasized the democratic and participatory role of the phenomenon. For example, Jan van Dijk describes the theoretical discussion in the beginning of the 21st Centry ”as hype after massive spread of the Internet in society”. The hype included ideas of ”new democracy” and ”prospect of mass participation in politics and policy making via the Internet”. (van Dijk 2013.) However, soon after the enthusiastic writings of democratization, different voices started to emerge to the discussion. For example, political scientist Jodi Dean discussed the virtual space as a new civil society, but instead of idealizing it, she reminds that social media and internet are included to the public discussions, and as such they do have participatory potential, but instead of using this potential for rational debates the public discussion is often irrational and emotional. For example, internet discussion pages are not necessarily reasonable or rational, but “at worst, a set of irrational and often demeaning rants”. (Dean 2001.) Therefore, the idealistic definitions of public sphere have been forced to face the human nature.

Whereas the idealization of the media users’ gaining of the voice did not last too long, also other aspects of the user-generated culture started to become questioned. José van Dijk criticizes that in the theoretical discussion over user-generated culture the users are often seen as active participants in contrast to the “passive recipients” of the “old media”. However, as cultural studies scholars have shown, audiences have never been passive, but actively engaging with the media. Digital technologies have just made this engagement more visible. Also, van Dijk argues against the optimism that participation would always relate to common causes. Instead, often the participation is directed into productions, consumption and promotion of certain companies. (van Dijk 2009.)

Indeed, the researchers see that most of the cultural and media contexts are still produced by companies, and even the user-generated culture uses the technological possibilities provided by large international companies. Thus, the power and hierarchies still remain, and the financial benefits go rarely to the users, but to the mediating companies. As David Buckingham argues, the researchers of user-generated cultures have started to question the media revolution which would have transferred the power to the people, to the users. Instead, power remains with Facebook, YouTube and other companies that promote their products. Although these companies offer the platform to the users, these same companies are reliable for the users to provide the content and while the users give they work for free, the corporate are making the money by exploiting these user-generated contents. (Buckingham 2012.)

Furthermore, as Reijo Kupiainen’s article in this volume brings forward, only small proportion of the audience is participating and familiar with user-generated contents. Thus, the user-generated cultures are not necessarily as wide-spread phenomena as it is often claimed to be. Instead, it remains selective and the contents are in the hands of people already familiar with the technologies. Thus, the user-generated cultures should not be generalized. Instead, user-generated cultures are parts of the wider culture, and furthermore, these cultures are often mundane and part of the everyday life.

At the moment, the focus of the research is on the (celebration of) mundane. In other words, researchers have acknowledged the everyday life quality of user-generated culture, or even the banality of this culture. Most parts of this culture is lost, or not watched at all, as David Buckingham (2012) argues. Indeed, it is difficult to find audience for the user-generated cultures, as there are several blogs, sites, contents to choose from. However, the user-generated culture still holds the potential for (free) expression – whether this is used for common good, entertainment, or for some other motivation – although the potential, according to the current research, does not materialize in most cases. Thus, idealization or talks of revolution are now long gone, and the user-generated culture is not seen to take over the media or culture. Instead, user-generated culture is seen to be diverse and accessible, for those who choose to participate. Furthermore, most of the users do not engage political debates or cultural citizenship, but instead they chat on social media, share food recipes, comment videos and hide beneath anonymity. Still, it is important to notice that the researchers of this field have highlighted that there is nothing wrong with this kind of use of digitalized possibilities. Instead, the user-generated cultures should be appreciated and studied as they are. Instead, what has been criticized is the desires and expectations of the researchers’ themselves as in the early years of the phenomenon they wanted to see the phenomenon as something different than it actually was. In this volume, the everyday diversity of the user-generated culture is discussed from different viewpoints.

In May 2012 the Finnish Society for Cinema Studies (SETS) organized an international two-day conference ”You, Me, User” on user-generated culture. This journal number is a selection of some of the presentations given during those two days. Whereas half of the presenters came outside Finnish borders and half of the participants were Finnish, also the articles in this number follow the trend as the articles are published in two languages – Finnish and English.

The volume starts with Petri Kupiainen’s article on diginatives. In this article Kupiainen challenges the assumption that certain generation(s) would automatically feel at home with digital technologies and possibilities they provide for user-generated cultures. Veli-Matti Karhulahti, on his part, discusses the relationship between art and the videogame through philosophical arguments. He argues that single player gaming can be approached as the art of secluded expression where through playing the individual can express himself. In Jacob Groshek’s, Cheng Heng Hsu’s and Rudolf den Hartogh’s article “Music in the eyes” the role of music is studied in the user-generated culture through re-created trailers of Twilight. Virve Peteri, Jari Luomanen and Pertti Alasuutari challenge the assumed demateraliazation of cultural artefacts in the digital age in their article on materiality of digital environments. The discussion continues on the article on the domestication of iPad. In this article, Virve Peteri and Jari Luomanen go through the cultural mechanisms through which iPad became a familiar object for users and consumers. All the articles are peer reviewed, and I want to thank all the writers and reviews for their contribution.

Käyttäjälähtöistä kulttuuria pohtimassa

Viime aikoina käyttäjien tuottama kulttuuri on vakiinnuttanut itsensä osana valtakulttuuria. Erityisesti uusmedian ja teknologisen kehityksen tuottamat mahdollisuudet ovat tulleet jokaisen ulottuville aina kotivideoiden julkaisemisesta omien blogien kirjoittamiseen. Toukokuussa 2012 Suomen elokuvatutkimuksen seura (SETS) järjesti aiheesta kaksipäiväisen ja kansainvälisen konferenssin käyttäjälähtöisestä kulttuurista otsikon “You, Me, User” alla. WiderScreenin numeroon 1/2013 on valittu muutamia konferenssissa pidettyjä esitelmiä. Koska noin puolet esiintyjistä oli suomalaisia ja puolet muualta tulleita, ovat myös nyt julkaistavat artikkelit joko suomen- tai englanninkielisiä. Artikkelit ovat kaikki vertaisarvioituja.

Tässä numerossa käyttäjien tuottamalla kulttuurilla viitataan erityisesti tapoihin, joilla sisältöä ja kulttuuria jaetaan, tuotetaan ja/tai muokataan käyttäjien toimesta hyvin moninaisilla tavoilla. Tutkimuksen kentällä ilmiön on sanottu edustavan yhteisöllisyyttä, saavutettavuutta ja demokraattisuutta, mutta samaan aikaan näitä näkökulmia on myös kritisoitu, sillä käyttäjät eivät tunnu useinkaan tavoittelevan poliittista vaikutusvaltaa, vaan omia tuotoksia ja tuotteita tehdään hyvin erilaisista motivaatioista ja päämääristä käsin. Numero keskittyy pohtimaan käyttäjälähtöisen kulttuurin erilaisia ilmentymiä.

Mukana on Reijo Kupiaisen artikkeli diginatiiveista, jossa hän pohtii sitä, keitä nämä ”käyttäjät” tai ”tuottajat” oikeastaan ovat. Veli-Matti Karhulahti kirjoittaa pelaamisesta pelaajan tuottaman taidekokemuksen kautta. Jacob Groshek, Cheng Heng Hsu ja Rudolf den Hartogh tutkivat musiikin vaikutusta käyttäjien uudelleen luomissa elokuvatrailereissa. Virve Peteri, Jari Luomanen ja Pertti Alasuutari haastavat oletuksen digitaalisen ympäristön materiaalittomuudesta. Numeron viimeisessä artikkelissa Peteri ja Luomanen pohtivat lisäksi tapoja, joilla iPadista tuli käyttäjille ja kuluttajille tuttu ja jokapäiväinen käyttöesine. Haluan osoittaa kiitokset kaikille WiderScreenin tekijöille, kirjoittajille ja tekstien arvioitsijoille.

WiderScreenin numero 1/2013 on myös ensimmäinen numero uudistuneessa julkaisussa. Tämän numeron myötä WiderScreen muuttuu vertaisarvioiduksi tieteelliseksi verkkolehdeksi, joka keskittyy multimediaalisesti ja monitieteellisesti audiovisuaalisen ja digitaalisen kulttuurin tutkimuksen julkaisemiseen. Vertaisarvioitujen artikkelien lisäksi lehti julkaisee myös katsauksia, haastatteluja ja kolumneja, joiden tehtävänä on avata monipuolista tutkimuskenttää laajalle yleisölle ja alasta kiinnostuneille. Tervetuloa uudistuneen WiderScreenin pariin!

Literature:

Buckingham, David (2013) Media Power to the People? Understanding amateur media production. Keynote lecture at You, Me, User – Conference on User-Generated Culture, 25.5.2012, Helsinki.

Dean, Jodi (2001) Cybersalons and Civil Society: Rethinking the Public Sphere in Transnational Technoculture. Public Culture vol. 13:2, 243-265.

van Dijk, Jan A.G.M (2013) Digital Democracy: Vision and Reality. In I. Snellen & W. van de Donk (eds.), Public Administration in the Information Age: Revisited, IOS Press.

Van Dijk, José (2009) Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content. Media Culture Society vol. 31:1, 41-58.