Yesterday I watched The Hunt For Gollum a 40 minute prequel to the Lord of the Ring Trilogy. The film was made as a not-for-profit collaborative project by 150 volunteer enthusiasts. Fan films are nothing new but this is one of the most striking examples of non-monetized enthusiast creation to date. Although the film is being released for free on the internet, given the popularity and profile of the source material, Tolkien's books as well as the New Line Cinema films directed by Peter Jackson, this is sure to call attention to these kinds of increasingly complicated legal issues. The casting, costumes, sets and effects are remarkably spot on to the film trilogy. It looks and hence is experienced as part and in relation to those commercially released products.
One of the most fascinating and problematic things to emerge in the digital era is the enormous amount of unincentivized content production. There is a lively entrepreneurial spirit in the tech/media digital space but most of the content shared online is created out of pleasure, at people’s leisure and are labors of love.
The most common observation made about this is the awe-filled recognition of the enormous amount of passion on the part of so many people engaged in so much creative activity — blogging, fan videos, music mash-ups, digital photography — and sharing it without incentive or compensation.
What strikes me is how all of this creative work and potential represents a kind of unemployment (economically unutilized individual and social capacity). There is obviously a massive surplus of time, advanced skills and intelligence that is detached, unutilized and economically non-contributing. It's the digital/information age's version of unemployed youth wandering streets and burning off energy by vandelizing. It's energy and capacity that isn't directed in ways that have tangible shared value. I'm not saying those things don't have value, they massive intrinsic and shared value for a large number of people.
Here is the heart of this destructive paradox (the point at which participation = destruction). We have all these incredibly smart, tech savvy people that don't have a way to directly contribute towards the construction of shared, socially beneficial forms of value, the meeting of survival needs, the big heavy ones on the bottom of Maslow's Pyramid. At the same time they are engaged in creative, non-monetized efforts that are undermining existing business models and industries. Big ones. They've drawn audiences, undermined revenue models, drove down the value of content and reset expectations about what should and shouldn't be paid for. It wasn't as if rival industries sprung up, its simply an emergent effect of technology and people going about their lives and doing what they enjoy. But what's emerged are platforms of interaction that are off the grid economically, that suck juice and jobs from preexisting industries and economic structures.
The hope is that new economic structures, industries and jobs will emerge but in the meantime we live in this chaotic paradoxical world in which creativity runs wild against a backdrop of rising unemployment, foreclosures and economic collapse.
The Sherman Foundation "Our Side is Winning"
Participation = Destruction (1 Billion Internet Users, The Tyranny of the Masses and the Death of Digital Culture)