20080320

we are all a target demographic.

I. Beginnings.

I think it started in fourth grade--brand awareness. Wanting to look cool. Wanting to fit in. Wanting to attract Sarah. Yes, as with most things in my life, it was sex that ultimately motivated me. No longer did the sweet purple tie-dye shirt that my mom bought me suffice. I was moving on to bigger and better things. I wanted Calvin Klein. I wanted Jordache. I wanted the holy grail: Nike. Just Do It, indeed. I heard a chorus of angels every time I saw it. Instant synesthesia--a white swoop or Handel's Hallelujah, it was all the same to me.
Oh, that white swoop. It was burned into my mind's eye. But what was it about that curvilinear little checkmark that captured me so? What did that nimble little symbol represent? I certainly didn't care at the time; I just wanted it. It would help me attain my goal.


II. Beginnings of a Revolution.

For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory, it involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices and frustrations.

The 20th century witnessed the rise of professionals in medicine, science, education, and politics. In one field after another, amateurs and their ramshackle organisations were driven out by people who knew what they were doing and had certificates to prove it.

The Pro-Am Revolution argues this historic shift is reversing. We're witnessing the flowering of Pro-Am, bottom-up self-organisation and the crude, all or nothing, categories of professional or amateur will need to be rethought.


I first heard the term pro-am last fall, in this article. The executive summary of the paper goes like this: our culture is entering a new paradigm in which specialized fields are no longer dominated by trained professionals, but by enthusiastic amateurs with a true passion for what they do. Instead of downloading the latest Oakenfold remix--illegally--I can now log onto ccMixter and download the latest Grime remix from some kid in the UK. TV writer's strike? Fuck it. I've got AtomFilms. Armed with a sub-$1000 dollar video camera and a copy of the DV Rebel's Guide, amateurs are writing and directing short films that often exceed the quality of any network television. We are witnessing a shift; we, as a culture, are migrating from a top-down to a bottom-up model. Rather than a culture of media-consumers we are increasingly becoming a culture of media-producers. The internet is bringing each of us closer to Warhol's fifteen minutes than he could have ever imagined.

How is this happening? What is contributing to the rise of the amateur? While we could debate various and sundry societal factors that have catalyzed this change, I think the easiest answer is the Internet. With instant information recall, amateurs have access to what have until recently been guarded secrets. What was once handed down from teacher to apprentice is now handed down from Google to you. Of course, you can read any trade rag and listen to the old-timers complain about the dilution of knowledge, but those guys will soon be irrelevant. The connectedness and immediacy afforded by the Internet is giving anyone--and everyone--the tools to produce professional results.


III. The Right Tool.

I was struggling to get the bottom bracket out of an old French bike I bought the other day. The first step in this process is removing the crank (which requires a crank puller). Not having a crank puller, I punted; I grabbed a three-jaw puller normally used to remove engine pulleys. No dice. Over the next hour I tried all sorts of other kludges that are too embarrassing to note, but the end result was a bicycle with both cranks still attached. The next day I went to my Local Bike Shop and they had the cranks off in thirty seconds. The Right Tool.

As a musician who fancies himself a pro-am, I spend a lot of time thinking about the right tool for the job--
what new device will enable me to realize my ideas? The right keyboard. The right control surface. The right audio processor. With the endless slew of products coming from the major manufacturers, it is a Sysiphean task to stay abreast of the latest technology. Where do I stop? At what point does The Tool I Have become The Right Tool? Is the newest tool the rightest (sic) tool? If it's new, it must be better, right? If tool X allowed me to accomplish N percent of my goal, then mustn't (new) tool Y allow me to accomplish at least (N + epsilon) percent of my goal?

It's an endless cycle. By design.

"Adolescence is a marketing tool." - Almost Famous
I keep asking myself if, as pro-amateurs, we are falling perfectly into the hands of Madison Avenue. Are we part of a historical movement--worthy of respect--or have we become nothing but another marketing category? Moreover, if we are nothing but another vector towards higher quarterly earnings, I fear we have become one of the most gullible demographics of all.

We know what we're talking about.

We are educated. We are informed.

We can't be fooled by mere marketing drivel. We see past that.

Bullshit.

We see precisely as far as the newest advertisement--tailor made to appeal to our "informed" outlook--allows us.

20080306

Maybe conservatism isn't always bad...

Professors Robert Dewar and Edmond Schonberg recently published an article lamenting the current state of Computer Science education. Particular attention/derision was devoted to the growing use of Java as an educational language. The authors contend that Java is inappropriate as a first programming language, and argue that the result of this trend is a growing number of undereducated graduates. Being an anti-Javite of fluctuating fervor, the article resonated strongly with me. I've been cooped up in this ivory tower for about seven years now, and in that time, one of the most elusive mysteries has been the rise of Java. Like, seriously, I don't get it. I see more and more people using it. I hear more and more people talking about it. The breaking point was when a professor--presenting some algorithm that I've since forgotten--gave code samples in Java. What. The. Fuck.

Say what you will about C, but the fact remains that to be good at C, you've got to have your shit together. You have to understand memory management. You have to understand pointers. In short,
you have to understand how a computer actually works. Let's face it; C is the de facto standard language--for better or worse, it is our lingua franca.

"Science proceeds one funeral at a time" - Max Planck

I've been thinking about this article, and the ramifications that it suggests. Where will we be in thirty or forty years when all the old school programmers are gone? When the new crop of Java disciples are calling the shots? Will the Gospel according to Kernighan and Ritchie survive? Will it be passed down in shadowed ceremonies, uttered only to the chosen few? Or will the Java trend fade away and die an unremarkable death. Something tells me that isn't going to happen.