- Feb 2018
- Jan 2018
aving defined the network, we wanted to see if someone with stronger connections in this high-creative network would score well on the tasks. So we measured the strength of a person’s connections in this network, and then used predictive modeling to test whether we could estimate a person’s creativity score.
- Aug 2017
Media and Economics
The Golden Age of Silent Cinema – when film was it's most global, and America perfected the art of mass production and distribution.
To understand the world as it is, sometimes you have to go back to where it all began. And for Hollywood, that’s the Silent Era.
In some ways, it was very different from the Hollywood we know today. Movie studios wielded enormous power. They kept stars and directors under tight control. The movies they made were silent. And tickets were cheap. On the other hand, a lot of the patterns set during this time still seem awfully familiar today. Studios marketed films on the power of their stars. Genres like gangster movies and romantic comedies took hold and flourished. And audiences craved gossip about the private lives of celebrities.
Big stars were one of the main ways studios tried to make their movies stand apart from one another and get the public to make choices at the cinema.
Post World War Cinema
Film was going in a lot of different directions after the First World War. In Germany, filmmakers drew on the Expressionist movement to manipulate their film’s mise-en-scene, creating groundbreaking horror films. In Russia, Soviet filmmakers were using cinema to perfect the arts of propaganda through revolutionary editing techniques. And in the US, the Hollywood studio system was positioning itself to dominate the rest of the world.
Within film studios, the entire filmmaking process took place – from conceiving, writing, and shooting the films, to marketing and distribution. The studios had chosen California for its film-friendly sunny weather, its proximity to all kinds of terrain, and ... its distance from Thomas Edison, who spent much of the 1910s fighting for control of the American film industry from his base in New Jersey.
In the early days of the Silent Era, three film studios ruled them all: the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, which would eventually become Paramount Pictures – Loew’s Inc., which began as a theater chain – and First National Pictures.
Not only did these three dominate the marketplace, they exercised near complete control over the creative and personal lives of their stars, writers, and directors. Filmmakers often had to choose between following the studio’s orders or abandoning their careers. Then, four of the most powerful figures in early silent cinema came together to create their own film studio.
In 1919, two directors – Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith - and two stars -- Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford – founded United Artists.Their goal was to give filmmakers more control over their films and a greater percentage of the profits. CHA-CHING! Is what I assume they would say.
Of course, not many filmmakers could afford to go out on their own like that, so the contract system would continue for several more decades.
In 1924, the most powerful studio emerged when Loew’s purchased Goldwyn Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Productions to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, better known as MGM. Which lead to MGM studios which lead to Tower of Terror.
This is a process that would get repeated throughout the 1920s and 1930s, as studios merged or sold or split apart. Probably because of prohibition and they didn't have anything else to do.
By the end of the era, most American films were being made at studios whose names you might recognize from the multiplex today: not only United Artists and MGM, but also Warner Brothers, Fox, Universal, and Columbia Pictures.
Now while the corporate structure of these companies kept changing, the process by which they were making films was becoming remarkably stable and efficient. Unlike me. The major studios became very good at churning out large-scale, commercial movies with mass appeal.
One of the leading innovators in setting up the way studios worked was a man named Thomas H. Ince. Like D.W. Griffith, Ince came to film as a failed actor. He directed his first film in 1910, and by 1913 he was making as many as 150 two-reelers a year! His biggest impact on film came by applying the lessons of mass production to the actual making of movies.
Prior to Ince, most films were overseen by a director-cameraman – a single person who conceived the story, worked with the actors, and operated the camera. Ince broke those roles into separate jobs:
A screenwriter to conceive the story and write the script. A director to make creative decisions on set and work with the actors. An editor to assemble the footage. A producer to supervise the project from inception to final cut. And a studio head to oversee the entire studio.
While other filmmakers had played around with these roles, it was Ince who standardized them into a system – a system still used today.
By 1912, he’d earned enough money to buy a ranch west of Hollywood where he built his own studio, a place he called Inceville… Yep! It was here where the first permanent exterior sets were built, made to resemble far flung locations, like a cowboy saloon, a little Swiss street, or a Japanese village.
And as Ince worked to define the roles and streamline the means of production, he was able to triple the output of his studio. Though he died quite young in 1924, Ince’s impact on film production was as thorough, widespread, and lasting.
Now, Mack Sennett, another early film mogul and one-time partner of Ince, was responsible for discovering a whole slew of film legends, whose names you might recognize. People like the Keystone Cops, Fatty Arbuckle, Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, W.C. Fields, and… the great Charlie Chaplin.
Let's talk a little bit about Charlie Chaplin. He was born into poverty in England in 1889. He went into acting, signed with a prestigious Vaudeville touring company, and set off for America at age 19. A film talent scout spotted him there, got him hired by Sennett, and the rest is history.
That we're gonna talk about because we're talking about Film History. Smart, curious, and driven, it didn’t take long for Chaplin to develop his iconic Tramp persona and begin directing his own films.
Empathy and Comedy
After finishing his first film contract, Chaplin struck an extremely lucrative deal with the Chicago-based Essanay Studios to make 14 short films. While at Essanay, he found ways to combine his finely tuned sense of empathy and his recognizable Tramp character with a growing ability to make audiences laugh – through both physical comedy and increasingly clever storylines.
From Rags to Riches
In fact, he was so popular that by the time his Essanay contract was up in 1915, he negotiated an almost unprecedented salary of $10,000 per week with another studio, the Mutual Film Corporation. They also paid him a signing bonus of $150,000 – the equivalent of about $3.5 million today. CHA-CHING!
Critique of Poverty
The movies Chaplin made with Mutual brought him international stardom. They marked the first time his focus on the poor verged into social criticism, a place silent comedies rarely, if ever, went. True to his roots – and despite being one of the highest paid people in the world – Chaplin’s films often focused on the gentle, accidental heroism of the downtrodden. Time and again, he made the powerful the butt of his jokes and displayed tremendous empathy for the poor and the humble.
Popularity and Censorship
Then in 1919, at age 30, he co-founded United Artists in an effort to exercise greater control over his films. What followed was a string of classic movies that rank not only among Chaplin’s best, but among the best film comedies of all time: The Kid – his first feature film and a smash hit – The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, and his controversial take-down of Adolf Hitler, The Great Dictator.
His later career would be hampered by legal problems and socialist sympathies, which would land him on the infamous post-war blacklist, and keep him from making films. But at his height, no one benefited more from the Silent Era studio system than Charlie Chaplin – as a director, making a lot of films quickly and efficiently; and as an actor, commanding enormous salaries and unheard-of creative control.
Creative Power / Freedom
And he wasn’t the only one to turn this system to his advantage. Actor-directors like Buster Keaton, “Fatty” Arbuckle, and Harold Lloyd achieved great success making their own short and feature-length comedies. Stars from Mary Pickford to Gloria Swanson parlayed their celebrity into tangible behind-the-scenes power.
Effects of The Media
Now, as film became more and more central to popular culture, some people started to get nervous. They worried that movies posed a real threat to public morality. They saw films promoting materialism, cynicism, sexual license.
This would be a debate that would come up again and again in American culture – about movies or music or video games. Until now when we've solved all those problems. Is the medium causing society’s problems, or just reflecting them?
A few real-life Hollywood scandals at the time tipped the scales, bringing on the first real self-censorship of American cinema. The gossip press fed readers stories about stars dealing with addictions, affairs, and worse.
The most famous of these centered around Fatty Arbuckle, who was accused of the rape and accidental death of an actress named Virginia Rappe. Although he was ultimately acquitted after three highly-publicized trials, the scandal itself all but ended Arbuckle’s career, and left an opening for a government crackdown on immorality in films and the film business.
Rather than wait for Congress to get involved, the major players in the film industry banded together to form the MPPDA – the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. They hired a retired Postmaster General named Will Hays, a conservative Evangelical, to prove they were serious about cleaning up their act. And that’s exactly what Hays did in 1930, putting together the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, a catalogue of things filmmakers could and couldn’t show on screen....fun.
The Code also suggested a strategy called Compensating Values. The idea was that films could show characters engaging in vice for most of the film, as long as virtue triumphed in the end.
No one employed this technique better than director Cecile B. DeMille. He was a master at giving the audience all the vice and excess they could handle for the first three quarters of the movie, before virtue came out on top. Other filmmakers found their own ways around the Hays Code. German director Ernst Lubitsch came to Hollywood in 1922 and made a successful series of witty sex comedies that relied on suggestion and innuendo rather than skin.
For many of these filmmakers, however, the Hays Code was about to become the least of their worries. A seismic event was poised to shake up Hollywood, and not every filmmaker of the Silent Era was going to come out the other side with their career intact. The world was about to get its first taste of synchronous sound.
- Dec 2016
- Nov 2016
- May 2016
- Oct 2015
European Parliament conference on “Internet as a Commons: Public Space in the Digital Age”, organised in cooperation with Commons Network and Heinrich Böll Foundation. Discussing how to re-decentralize and reclaim the Internet for all.
[ Prologue ]
The Internet as a whole has become an important part of our global public sphere. Internet provides access to a wealth of information and knowledge, and the possibility to participate, create and communicate. This public space made up of internet infrastructures is increasingly threatened from two sides; by the centralization and commercialization through the dominant positions held by giant telecom and Internet companies, as well as by an increasing trend in state regulation and censorship of the net. This poses important questions about how we choose to organize and regulate our digital societies, and how Internet governance models can be developed and implemented to ensure fair and democratic participation.
When it comes to the future of the Internet, a key discussion is one of infrastructures; who owns, runs and controls them. The question of regulation, and who oversees the regulators, is made complicated by the transnational nature of the net.
As much as people expect a broadly and equitably accessible Internet open to diversity, we are, slowly but surely, moving away from it. Monopolization of Internet infrastructures and services by companies such as Facebook and Google has gone hand in hand with privacy intrusions, surveillance and the unbounded use of personal data for commercial gain. As we all interact in these centralized commercial platforms that monetize our actions we see an effective enclosure and manipulation of our public spaces. Decentralization and democratization of the Internet infrastructure and activities is essential to keep a free, open and democratic Internet for all to enjoy equitably. But can the “small is beautiful”-idea be compatible with the building of state-of-the-art successful infrastructure in the future?
The debates around net neutrality, infrastructure neutrality and Internet monopolies reflect the important choices that are to be made. It is essential the EU formulates a comprehensive vision on the internet that addresses the protection of civil liberties such as free speech and privacy, but also the growing commercialization of our digital public spaces and the commodification of personal data with the effect of the market encroaching on all aspects of our daily lives. Only then can it make relevant interventions regarding the Internet and its governance.
Let´s discuss how to re-decentralize and reclaim the Internet for all.
[ Introduction ]
Opening remarks from Benkler & Bloemen:
The two major challenges of 21st Century Capitalism are the result of the impact of increasing well-being and welfare throughout the globe. The impact on the natural environment and the social environment.
And while the last forty years has seen a steady struggle to increase understanding of the threat to the natural environment. We've actually seen over the last forty years a retreat in the understanding of the impact on the social environment.
Throughout the industrialised world in particular, we've seen increased inequality and a series of ideas around Neoliberalism, initially finding root in the United States and the United Kingdom, then expanding to liberalisation in Europe and ultimately translating into the Washington consensus as a core development policy.
These were anchored in a set of ideas, we largely think of as Neoliberalism, that argued that uncertainty and complexity makes centralised economic planning impossible, and so prices and decentralised decisions in markets by individuals will produce good information.
They modelled universal rationality as self-interested, self-maximising human behaviour. They understood collective behaviour as always failing, always corrupting into illegitimate power. And that then meant that deregulation and freeing of markets from social and legal controls were the way to increase both welfare and liberty.
What we've seen in the last twenty-five years is that the idea of the Commons is beginning to offer a framework, to respond to these deeply corrosive ideas, and begin to allow us to create frameworks that teach us how we can increase human welfare, improve the human condition, but without undermining the social relations in the way that has been so corrosive for the last forty years.
Three schools of the Commons: The work that came out Elinor Ostrom's work and the Ostrom School, the Global Commons work coming out of the environmental movement, and what's most relevant to us here in today's meeting, is the Internet Commons.
The thing that became clear with the Internet Commons, is that even at the heart of the most advanced economies, at the cutting edge of technology and in the areas of greatest economic growth and innovation, commons are at the very heart.
From the very Internet engineering task force that created the internet protocols, through the World Wide Web, to core infrastructure like spectrum commons like WiFi or software, all the way to this great knowledge facility of Wikipedia.
We've seen commons work, we've seen how they work, we've seen their limitations, we've been able to learn how to make them operate and we continue to learn about them. But from the mentally, they offer existence proof that there is another way.
The past quarter century of commons, both on and offline, has taught us that people can affectively act collectively to govern their own utilisation of resources. They've taught us with many details that people respond to diverse motivations and that economic utility is valuable, but it's only part of a range of social emotional and rational ethical commitments.
Property and markets vs State planning and ownership, don't exhaust the capabilities, we live with a much more diverse set of ways of organising economic production, and in particular voluntaristic actions in commons, can support growth, can support innovation, can be more efficient, while at the same time being sustainable and socially more integrated.
At a higher level of abstraction we have come to understand that production and resource management are socially embedded activities, social embededness is not something from which we need to free markets, it instead something we need to achieve.
Freedom is self-governance, individual and collective, not free choice in the market, and property based market as we saw in copyright and patents, as we saw in a variety of our other areas, can actually undermine freedom in both of these senses.
So what are we to do?
Our experience of Internet Commons tells us, that three major shifts needs to happen before the 21st century capitalism challenge can be answered in a socially sustainable way.
We need to increase our use of peer cooperativism. Taking the experience we've garnered over the last fifteen years with commons based peer production and translating into a way that expanded to ever larger propositions of provisioning, so that it can provide a practical anchor and a normative anchor to material production in the market.
We also cannot give up on socially embedded market production, there is no one right path to market production, there is genuine room for ethical choice, not only on the environmental side, not only on the rights side in terms of human rights, but also on the side of economic equality and social sustainability.
And finally, we need to turn our political understanding to one that has peer pragmatism, that understands the limitations of the traditional State, while it also understands the limitations of the Market. That builds on our experience in self-governing communities like Wikipedia, with the overlapping and nested relationship, with the distinct continued ethical commitment of Citizens to their practices. With continuous challenging, but also with distribution of power to much more local bases, to form a new political theory- based in our commons based practices, of our relations as Citizens and the State.
So however important a particular part of the Internet Commons may be from a practical level, at the level of ideas, our experience in Internet Commons over the last quarter of the century, is beginning to teach us how to shape Capitalism for the 21st Century, so that is not only sustainable from the natural environment perspective, but that it is also embedded and supportive of it's social environment.
The Commons is a perspective that looks at stewardship, equitable access and sustainability, and it looks at the collective good beyond individual rights exclusively. So instead of conceiving of Society as a collection of atomised individuals, principally living as consumers, Commons points to the reality of people's lives being deeply embedded in social relationships- communities, histories, traditions.
So this perspective is very helpful when conceiving of the Internet as a public space, as a common good, and how we might want to organise this public space. What kind of infrastructure is provided and who controls the infrastructure. This is what it insists on, on the protection of the Internet as a public space, accessible to everyone. So just like a bridge or street, it's an infrastructure, and it must be controlled and managed in the interests of Citizens.
The central issue of the debate on net neutrality, has also been will it be continue to be managed as a mixed use of commons, or will discriminatory tiers of service transform the internet to a predominately commercial system, for production and distribution.
So the key questions are: Who controls the infrastructure? What are the terms and conditions under which the public gets access? and this has far reaching implications for our society.
The domination of the Internet by several large actors raises important policy questions, about how to manage it. The thwarting of net neutrality rules in Europe just suggests just how vulnerable the open internet really is and it's therefore necessary for policy makers to have a real vision that acknowledges the gravity of these issues.
It was reading professor Benkler's book 'Wealth of Networks' years ago, that give me enlightened research, key insights, why we are and how we are living in a time of deep economic change, change of the modes of production, due to digital technologies, and what the role of social peer production can be, might be.
But also, that it's not a given in which direction we will go. It's not pre-determined, we have to give it a certain shape.
What he also alluded to now is that, our institutional frameworks to a certain extent, reflect outdated conceptions of human agency. The idea of the rational individual who is just out there to increase his material gain through rational calculation. We create and we share because of curiosity, because of social connectedness, because of psychological well-being, there is an element of cooperation and human reciprocity there as well.
So this human capability has really been shown or has really been brought out by the Internet, by digital technology, but it's also taking place, these forms of cooperation and collective action, are also taking shape offline; lots of commoning initiatives, community gardening, co-housing, ethical financing.
So to go back to these institutional frameworks, how can we as professor Benkler said, he named these three things, how can we increase the use of peer cooperativism, and how can we make sure there's a shift towards socially embedded market productions where there's self-governance as well, which is community based. The third point he made is to enhance the political understanding of these commons based practices that are beyond the Market and beyond the State, and I guess that's partly what we're doing here, enhancing this political understanding.
So how do we need to tweak the institutional frameworks, what do we have to take away, what do we have to add? and that's also why in the analysis in our paper 'A Commons Perspective on European Knowledge Policy' we discuss this and we talk about copyright legislation and net neutrality and european positions at the world intellectual property organisation, which are all relevant to this.
What kind of sharing economy do we want, do we want a democratised one where we empower everyone to be a producer, or are most of us still consumers in this economy. Are we producers just in the sense that we share our data, and all our actions online and offline are commodified, we pay with our privacy to be part of it.
So in order to get a good grip on where we should go, how to go ahead, we should take a step back. Take a step back and see what kind of society we would like.
And a key question is: How can we create a structural environment that enables society to fully reap the benefits of knowledge sharing and collaborative production, in a way that's also socially sustainable?
And what could the role of EU be? At this moment, the European parliament is considering a new copyright framework, there's a digital single market strategy, there's the data regulations, lots of things going on. So the next panels will set out some big ideas, and will also give some very practical examples of people engaging with building these peer to peer networks or other initiatives, that will make more concrete what we are talking about.