Thoughts on Internet existence, dream assignments, the hole of journalism and voices heard

Many photographer/ writer, on the up and up, freelance, creative types are entering Internet driven contests whereas they submit a short snippet for a dream type assignment, and then have their friends, or whoever they can virally commit, to support their effort with a click, presumably also at the same time, getting signed up into the contest company's e-world, and whatever ramifications that entails, no doubt being classified as a consumer, with whatever cool, hip, wrapper is used to make it seem innocuous.

It's a charity clicka-frenzy for friends, virtual and real.

If they win, which has never happened to someone I know, they would presumably hustle through their "dream assignment" for token compensation and hopes of a creative future or merely the use of new gizmos in the full computer/cell phone glare of cubicled, light deprived types, or at least the living vicariously, to help carry some sort of mirage torch, in the name of whatever websites and products are carrying them through, getting possibly a good ride on a new type of wave devoid of non-commercial attachments, office politics or health insurance.

You can also venture on your own, knowing it's all about synergy, timing and style. Hit em on all sides, with the blog, the youtube, the twitter, the facial book, the amazing pictures, the relentless yapping and producing, keeping it controversial or deep, intertwining them, your followers, your commenters, your hits, your tags, your friends, your past acquaintances, your bosom e-buddies, sharing Internet crusades, in your virtual lace, inundating them in your typing, giving them moments from time to time of the real you, as well, and not just the highs. Makeup is out, unless you film yourself putting it on.

I myself (partial disclosure here) am more guilty than most, into it more than I should ... oblivious and ignorant of many realities out there, where it's just a momentary entertainment in life as it should be. Still, I find, the anthropology of the Internet fascinating in ways maybe I shouldn't.

Gross out, extreme sex appeal, random violence obviously get hits by the populace, as do personality drives and random, self-indulged quests, musical mish mashes, and the cat with heart shapes on its fur doing cartwheels over the lady with torn clothes licking vomit off a club's toilet floor with an audience around her, representing us in reality who sit far away but feel involved, tantalized. "Ew that was so gross, or cool, or amazing, or sweet."

This democratization of the expressive space has made everyone grasp at the possibilities of stardom, on a virtual communal level. There's always Tom on MySpace. If you are a man and quite desperate, just use the photo of a sexy lady. Now that's some weird personality disorder, I'm not sure they have a name for it yet, or do they? Russians do it as a scam, but those who are not scamming anyone?

More generally, virtualosos can be the Jon and Kate of their friends, if they update enough of their private moments, or the Jon Stewart, having wry comments for all, or the Dr. Phil, with encouragement all around. You can post anything and tag people left and right just to make them feel that perhaps they were a part of something, maybe not Woodstock, but somebody else's virtualosity. I was once tagged as a fish and still have no idea why. In the first instance, it is a burst of art. Afterwards, it's a downward spiral. But this new form engenders constant rethinking or redoing in new forms what's been done countless times before, but doing it well and doing it first, again.

Those who succeed also need to work at it, persevere and polish their craft. There is a persona for each modus e-porandi. If they are unknowns, they need to establish their niche. It helps to have strong suits, looks, wit, spiritual zaniness, and to tease, to reveal some, to put a certain kind of foot forward, to be confident in this realm. If they are knowns, they still need to have a parallel. Would cyclist Lance Armstrong be such a Twitter sensation, if a) he didn't work so hard at it, and b) hadn't started riding again at the highest level? Probably not.

There is nothing wrong with this widening of expression, and instant accessibility to the pulse of the all sized-keyboard inclined. To tweet or not to tweet ... If you do, you are instantly on equal ground with twitterers such as Sarah Palin (twitter/ lots of garble, adding to the confusion), Stephon Marbury (justin.tv / eating vaseline out of jar and crying for hours on end) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (twitpic/ showing off his knife). Whatever their looks, moves, or muscle, in the digital realm it's mano a mano. Is there a person out there who twits every minute, every second ... in the spirit of "I will blog every day", "I will post a video every day." What about the often heard excuse ... "sorry I have not updated for so long my friends, I have been busy." What does that reflect?

Getting back to the realm of news, which is hyper-affected by this changing world, many young journalists are being forced to work as mouthpieces for advocacy groups, charities, companies with some sort of mission to save something and get cash by begging on emotional strings of issues of supposed compassion, because journalism just doesn't pay very well and is just sinking all around, beyond the hyper-specialized niche press of experts, with this idea of free content. Some say just as well. Do you (and did you ever) need journalists as a mirror of society, when citizen journalists all around, equipped with their cameras and instant messaging pads are at the ready, in the thick of things, witnesses, participants and relayers themselves? Even in the realm of the investigative, is there room, next to those videotaping police abuse, or whistleblowers writing their own blogs? Can journalism become an art of the instant, or do artists do the job better? Is there any professionalism to journalism? Some people think there isn't enough.

One danger in the world of journalism, sucking the last life, are the modern snake oil salespeople, who preach the gospel of the Internet under the veneer of tech speak and metadata, always a few steps behind, while at the same time hawking the next twitter which will never make it, making a buck off panicked and wasteful managers who pay hundreds of dollars to have them consult, teach, or sometimes colluding with them to waste money on attending conferences where nothing of value is said, just the chatter of confusion and what is passed.

What could happen is that channels could well become central sorting areas with a distinct direction, and an army of free providers, and star presenters, having to themselves be overexposed or more real in a virtual way, if that means anything, to attract attention. One model which seems interesting is the "funny or die", www.funnyordie.com, website, established by comedians who experiment and promote on the site, while also giving an Internet platform to neophytes. Is anyone making money off of this, though? Is it a vehicle to promote movies? Is there a problem when the web becomes such a subliminal or not-so-subliminal vehicle of commercialism and voyeurism?

And if money isn't the issue anymore, is it just money for the Googles and Apples and cell phone and laptop makers of the world? Are they our new pianos, that regularly break down, in a world where most want to play their own music for all to hear?

There will always be room for talent, personalities adapted to the times and medium, and some rise very effectively and naturally through the ranks of viralism. And once they rise, they are still getting more traditional forms of promotion and revenue. But for how long?

Lastly, I had another random thought the other day that Facebook was becoming the Big Brother that George Orwell imagined. You cannot escape the collective world of cell phone photography. Even Osama bin Laden will have his picture taken by a disciple, who will post, out of the craving of some Internet attention, to his "friends", including fake, undercover virtual friends. Don't think the CIA and FBI aren't using these tools full bore as part of their investigations. We are all willing volunteers in this endeavor, so it does not bother us.

And Facebook or Twitter, possibly, not a drone, will do Osama in. Maybe Samuel Huntington was right. It's a clash of the Osamas vs. the Obamas, just one letter separating the two. It will be a triumph of the new dream assignment world, yes I can, against those wishing for one of nicely equipped caves, and many forced prayers a day.

If only there was an actual alternative, but the ongoing wars that escape the dim of the twits, interested in the green flags of Iran or the moonwalk's descent, but not the blood of Afghanistan, indicate it once again is probably not to be. Take a chill pill, relax, let progress progress, let those who want to enlist enlist until it's robots vs. robots, the denizens speak, let the earth combust in pollution and feel the continual pain of shrapnel meeting shrapnel. When is the breaking point? We never really seem to reach it anyway. But what was written on a bumper sticker years ago, war is not the answer, is the one I believe needs to be retweeted, and updated over and over and over again.

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