Sunday, March 04, 2007

From Betamax to Blockbuster

The tool, The Artisans, and The Invisible Hand of the Market.

Greenberg tells the story of how the mediators — film lovers, VCR aficionados, and the business that they helped shape — often considered passive actors in the realm of technological development, played a major role in the story of the video business. The title itself, very succinct and meaningful, points to where everything started and what it became.

There are several questions that come up from reading Greenberg's book. Most interestingly, we have already discussed many of them in our previous meetings, although under different perspectives. In a way, "From Betamax to Blockbuster" illustrates what we have otherwise discussed in a theoretical perspective. I have particularly focused in some aspects that relate
to our previous discussions. For instance:

1. In the introduction, the author mentions some of the theories of mass communication and what they focused on. Later, he points out that "if we are to take the perspective that the history of a technology is essentially the history of knowledge-production about that technology, then it seems natural to look not merely at its producers and consumers, but at the spaces in between them through which such knowledge is mediated." (p. 9) How does this relate to the spaces defined by Castells? To what extent is the action happening in such spaces able to cause change and affect the decision-making process in the two different poles of the process?

2. Talking about the video rental stores, Greenberg starts by quoting Oldenburg's "Third Spaces" definition. He goes on to say that "over time, video stores became known as repositories of film knowledge, and at moments video clerks found themselves in the role of reference librarians" (p. 149) Were they the same as the 'guilds'? Was their strategic position as intermediators not only of the content (the movies) but also the technology something that would give them a special status in that segment of the society? (Greenberg has his view of this, but what do you think?)

3. "Having moved from a view of the history of technology that is about the production of artifacts to one that focuses on the production of knowledge about the nature and use of those artifacts (essentially studying ideas rather than things per se), the question of whom should figure as protagonists becomes problematic. One response shared by many sociologists of technology is that we should focus on 'relevant social groups,' those groups of social actors (bound together by a common identity) who have the skills and credibility to define the cultural meanings of a technology." (p. 8) How does that relate to the idea that "technology is socially shaped"? (p. 50 of Modernity and Technology) Can you think of some products that were initially designed for one thing and ended up becoming something completely different? Bring examples of such products and their respective turning points to the discussion!

Videophiles: an example of pre-internet community?

4. About the videophiles: "...usually male, 21 to 39 years old, often single (because they spend so much time with their machines they have little time left to be sociable), rarely look the way they sound on the phone, rarely sound the way they write…are hospitable, trustworthy, generally reliable, and all have enormous telephone bills!" (p.28). Any similarities to the web addicts of our days? Differences? What do you think fuel the differences?

5. The videophile community: "
Ultimately, there was only so much that an individual videophile could tape on his or her own, and video enthusiasts quickly realized that their results would be far better if they pooled their efforts."
(p. 33) Also: "
As a social practice, the general protocol for trading was straightforward whether in person or by mail (…). Thewhole system was held together by good will..." (p. 37) What are the similarities between their community and those of AOL? What are the main aspects that make this community different from the virtual ones?

Although these questions are based in the chapters assigned for this week, I would wholeheartedly recommend reading through the book. It's the result of a thorough investigation of the story of the VCR and the social events that surrounded it, told as one would tell a love story, regardless of the ending. (That's my opinion, feel free to comment/disagree/etc)

1 comment:

natezilla said...

Any similarities to the web addicts of our days?

For class, this is how I would like to approach this question: Does the web addict exist in your context? The portion of the book that you are describing portrays videophiles as existing within a hobbyist community. Can we look at web users as a hobbyist community, or is it more fruitful to look at the practices that certain web users engage in as the hobbyist community? In this case, it may be useful to unpack your metaphor of 'web addicts' before attempting to answer the question.

For class, I would also like to discuss how Josh Greenberg decided on his narrative. Given that the story of betamax, vhs, and video outlets could have been told in a multitude of ways, what were the factors that led him to question the specific communities of his study, and why did he draw on the specific techniques used for creating his version of the story? My question is more practical than theoretical, and I'm more interested in the process of creating academic work than a philosophical discussion of understanding beta and vhs in history.