My Digital Realization

As I draw closer to the end of my internship at Berkman, I realize that I’ve actually been here for more than seven weeks. I guess it’s true that time flies when you’re having fun… or really that when you’re this busy you don’t notice time anymore. But putting aside all the technical skills I have acquired in this period, I have also undergone a process of realization.

Two months ago I was just another Digital Native; clueless about what the term actually meant, the digital dossier I was accumulating and the extent to which my digital identity was expanding online. Like all my other friends, I would post my phone number and contact information online without pondering over the implication this could have on my privacy and never think twice about why I was texting a friend a seat away from me in class, rather than just talking to her. And never did I realize that I was probably spending more time in virtual spaces than in the ‘real’ ones.

But now all that has changed. At Berkman I have become acquainted with issues ranging from digital innovation to activism. I now more fully appreciate the time I spend with friends and colleagues in a restaurant while engaging in a face-to-face conversation. Having heard the accounts of people who have been sued by the RIAA – one of whom woke up one day to find a gun pointed at his head – I am now truly aware of the implications of online file sharing. (Something which I had been totally oblivious to in the past, as freely downloading copyrighted music is common in the areas in which I have lived).

And has this insight now restricted the way I interact online?

Definitely not. In fact, it has just made me a more knowledgeable Digital Native. Having spent time on both ends of the spectrum, I now recognize how important it is for all Digital Natives to be more informed about the repercussions of their online actions. And this is where the role of those guardians raising Digital Natives really comes to light – if parents and educators are oblivious to the digital world then it is basically impossible for them to educate Digital Natives about how they should regulate their online behavior. But, fortunately, tools are now being provided to them to do so, through mediums such as the Digital Natives project.

And so in many ways I am going back home not only a more informed Digital Native, but also almost an advocate for the cause of greater education and awareness. How far I succeed in doing so is yet to be seen but, as they say, it never hurts to try.

-Kanupriya Tewari

Digital Shadows

This week we’re taking a break from all the interviews to give you a glimpse of the world of Digital Dossiers. Your dossier is made up of all the digital tracks you leave behind – from your photos on Flickr, to the Facebook messages you send, to all the data your credit card company collects about your transactions. On a daily basis, digital natives are consistently leaving information about themselves in secure or non-secure databases. You probably do this without a second thought in you day-to-day life – but have you ever considered the amount of information being collected about you, or the extent to which this information spreads?

In this video, created by Kanupriya Tewari, we explore this issue from the perspective of a child born today – Andy – and the timeline of all the digital files he accumulates in a life span.

Digital Dossier
Click here to view the video.

Or you can watch it here

To learn more about the topic check out:
– The Digital Natives website and Wiki
Born Digital

Come back every Wednesday for more multimedia on online privacy, cyber bullying, digital activism and more!

Cyber-War and Non-State Actors

In addition to the bloody conventional war that has raged between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia (which at least appears to be at a pause, now), there has also been a less-bloody but no-less-ruthless cyber-war waged by Russia against Georgia’s technology infrastructure:

The Georgian government is accusing Russia of disabling Georgian Web sites, including the site for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Because of the disruption, the Georgian government began posting the Foreign Ministry’s press dispatches on a public blog-hosting site owned by Google (georgiamfa.blogspot.com) and on the Web site of Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski.

The attacks are structured as massive requests for data from Georgian computers and appear to be controlled from a server based at a telecommunications firm, he said.

This kind of attack, known as a distributed denial of service attack, is aimed at making a Web site unreachable. It was first used on a large scale in 2001 to attack Microsoft and has been refined in terms of power and sophistication since then. The attacks are usually performed by hundreds or thousands of commandeered personal computers, making a positive determination of who is behind a particular attack either difficult or impossible.

Bill Woodcock, research director of the Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit technical organization that tracks Internet traffic, said cyberattacks are so inexpensive that they are almost a certainty in modern warfare. “It costs about 4 cents per machine,” he said. “You could fund an entire cyberwarfare campaign for the cost of replacing a tank tread, so you would be foolish not to.”

Take special note of one element of the above passage – “first used on a large scale in 2001 to attack Microsoft.” While that is not chiefly true – the 2001 attacks came a year after DDoS attacks “slowed, and in some cases halted, access to eight major Web sites, including Yahoo, eBay and CNN.com” – the overall thrust is correct. These were tactics first deployed by loose confederations of Internet mischief-makers (or, if you prefer, criminals) against corporate entities, and are now being used as part of a coordinated war effort by one sovereign state against another. And corporations are being used as allies – unwitting or not – in this war:

[Georgia has] switched their operations to one of Google’s Blogspot domains, to keep the information flowing about what’s going on in their country.

“In a sense,” notes Jim Stogdill, “They must be saying ‘we can’t keep our sites up, but we don’t think [Russian hackers] can take down Blogspot, given Google’s much better infrastructure and ability to defend it.'”

Set aside for a moment the cheesiness of a nation-state needing to outsource its information-space to Blogspot, and try to consider the whole bizarre set of exchanges of tactics and technologies in play.

  • Georgian troops move into breakaway region South Ossetia
  • Russian troops respond, repelling initial invasion and pushing Georgian forces into a full retreat
  • As part of continued counter-offensive, Russia adopts online assaults – first used less than a decade ago – and also used by Anonymous in their protests against the Church of Scientology
  • Due to the success of those attacks, Georgia takes refuge on the servers of one of the world’s most powerful corporations, whose market capitalization of US$158 billion dwarfs Georgia’s GDP of $20.5 billion, using a service first developed less than a decade ago

Thousands have died in this war. And while DDoS attacks are more a function of propaganda than lethal violence (and Russia’s straightforward bombing of cell phone towers probably more effective, tactically), it’s worth considering the degree to which online actions and innovations by individuals and entrepreneurs can be adopted by states in support of bad actions. This isn’t an argument in favor of locking down or making online life less open, but rather this should be a moment to realize another of the problematic aspects of a world that’s not flat but instead characterized by interconnections that increase complicity among a wide range of actors, whether that complicity is an active choice or not.

Digital citizenship is a tricky business – online, it’s not entirely clear where one’s loyalties do or should lie. What of international human rights activists whose own governments spy on them? Or software entrepreneurs whose products are adopted by repressive governments? It may simply be the case that with the near-zero cost of moving ideas around the world, we must get used to our ideas being carried forward and adopted by those with whom we disagree or even find abhorrent.

What of responsibility, then? I think our responsibilities online ultimately are no more or less than our responsibilities offline – be conscious of our actions and how they effect others, and always seek to treat others justly.

Jacob Kramer-Duffield

What do you do with a digital native?

As you might guess from Jacob Kramer-Duffield’s write-up of a recent Berkman listserv debate, the question of what it means to be a digital native has been somewhat of a hot topic lately. At last week’s intern meeting, discussion of the issue somehow ended up as a mass argument over, among other things, whether the car was a comparable innovation to the PC, whether the digital revolution is better or worse for society than industrialization was, and whether determining any of this actually mattered, given that only about a sixth of the world’s population has regular Internet access. I think the question — “Who/what is a digital native?” – is controversial because answering it requires us to contemplate other discomfiting questions that are hard to answer definitively.

The first is this – are people of all ages still “relevant” in a digital age? The Digital Natives Project maintains a) that digital natives are defined more by their habits than how old they are and b) that older people (often called ‘digital immigrants’) may be more tech savvy than their younger counterparts. The term “native” does not mean better or worse, it merely distinguishes youth who have been raised in a world of mainstreamed digital technologies – Web 2.0, social networking sites, etc. All the same, a lot of parents worry they can’t keep up with what their kids are doing online and feel left behind. Some adults find the term to be an affront – they consider themselves far more fluent in technology than most young people and don’t see how they themselves might be anything but native to digital space.

Here’s the second question: “is ‘digital natives’ merely a term for the most privileged group of young people?” If the answer were yes, our project would seem precious – still relevant, perhaps, but blind to the full effect of digital technology on all levels of society. The real answer is much more complicated. It’s true that not all young people are digital natives, but the group is clearly not limited to those who have access to the best connections and computers either. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, at least 87% of American teenagers 12-17 are online. Cell phones make digital technology more accessible as well – Latinos, of whom only about 56% are online, lead other racial groups in mobile device usage. Internationally, though, only about 1 billion of the world’s approximately 6.7 billion people have regular Internet access.

Berkman is a place for work with real-world impact. People here do more than write papers for those in their field; they embark on projects to help us understand each other, the law, and the impact digital technology is having on society. One of the goals of the Digital Natives Project is to figure out what ‘digital native’ actually means – and how we might go about addressing the social divisions it implies. It’s no wonder people at Berkman can get riled up about the term. The generational and socioeconomic barriers it evokes are among those Berkmanites are working to break down, even as it becomes clear that those divisions exist with or without the Internet.

Nikki Leon

Getting Married in a Digital Age… (how google planned my wedding)

I’m getting married in a month. Life is good. And despite the best intentions of simplicity, our wedding seems to have become a huge undertaking. Although I don’t think that anything about planning an event or about getting married is fundamentally different because of digital technology, I have noticed a few trends and used lots of interesting tools in this process.

Communication (email and instant messenger):
I’ve been spending the summer here in Cambridge, MA working with the Digital Natives project. My fiancé is living in our apartment in Brooklyn, NY. Our families and friends want to help, and they are in Florida, New Jersey, and many other places. Email helps a lot. Instant messenger [Wikipedia] helps more.

98% of the planning we are doing starts online. Just about everything we’ve needed to find or to plan has started at a search engine. Almost every evening my fiancé and I are online working on doing something “productive.” While the merits of multi-tasking are certainly up for debate, the fact that we are “there” to bounce questions and ideas off of each other has been amazingly helpful in this context. We copy and paste URLs [Wikipedia], email to-do lists, and occasionally open up an audio or video chat for discussions that require more direct attention. Because of this, not being in the same room to plan together has become pretty much a non-issue.

Im-Window

The Location (maps):
We decided to have our wedding on the Jersey shore, in a little shore town that I grew up vacationing at with my extended family (Exit 63). It feels great to stay true to my NJ roots and throw a wedding in NJ (you’d understand if you were from the Garden State).

Being that we are subway-riding city folk at the moment, we rarely have to worry about the mix of alcohol and motor vehicles. Obviously, the wedding was going to be a different story (The subway service in NJ is notoriously sub-par to, er, nonexistent). We really wanted to plan something where everything was walkable and everyone could celebrate as merrily as they desired to without having to worry about driving.

Using Google Maps and other similar map services, we were able to find a location for a rehearsal dinner, an outdoor pre-wedding barbeque, a location for the ceremony, and a hall for a reception, all within a few blocks of each other. While this would have been possible with a paper map, the combination of search engines and instant access to satellite images really helped us to feel out what we were planning.

Sat Image

Communication (the website):
Since most of our guests will be traveling to our wedding, and many of them looking for overnight lodging, we needed a way to help them find places to stay that were affordable, reputable, and in walking distance. We needed a way to communicate this information to our guests as it came in, both before and after invitations were sent. So, we built a web page and put a whole bunch of lodging options up there. While we were at it, we highlighted a bunch of “fun stuff to do while you are in town.” This is great because it gives us the flexibility to modify and update the information until a week before the wedding.

More importantly, textual links from our site to the lodging options and to the respective websites of other points of interest really harness the power of the Web, allowing users of our website to find all the information that could possibly need in just a few clicks.

We also used the “My Maps” feature on Google Maps to create custom maps of all of the points of interest, and linked those Google Maps from the entries on our website. This allows our guests to plan ahead a little and to really have a sense of space, helping us to keep everyone on foot and out of their automobiles.

Invitations (the mash-up):
My suggestion of sending out email invitations was shot down (correctly) without much consideration. My suggestion of talking invitations with customized voice recordings (“Hey Joe! Come to our wedding! See you in September!”) was shot down (unfairly). In the end we decided to create our own invitations and have them printed. Because we want to encourage people to explore the little shore town, we decided to include a little map of the area.

Google Maps again to the rescue! I navigated Google Maps to the area, took a bunch of “screen captures” of areas of the map, and then stitched them together in Photoshop [Wikipedia], an image editor [Wikipedia]. We found Creative Commons-licensed images and icons on Flickr that really helped communicate the smart but chill vibe that we wanted too, even with my meager artistic skill. To make the map simple and iconographic, I traced the map in the vector graphics [Wikipedia] editor, Illustrator [Wikipedia], with the help our friend Del.

Then, we emailed a PDF [Wikipedia] off to the printer and sent them via the good old fashioned postal service.

Invitemap

Inviteicons

RSVPs (the semantic web):

My favorite part of this process so far is has been collecting the RSVPs. To keep printing (and environmental) costs down, and to keep our sanity, we decided to ask people to RSVP online. Although there are many methods of creating forms for websites [Wikipedia], Google provided the solution that was easy and met our needs. We created a spreadsheet in Goggle Docs, and then created a form that guests can fill out that dumps the data directly into the spreadsheet. Google Docs auto-generates the html code for the form, which we embedded into our website.

Wasn’t all of this a lot of work? Actually, no. It probably only took an hour. Opening and counting that many RSVP envelopes would have taken twice as long, and would have been a slow, cumbersome, and error-prone process in comparison. Better still, we get emails every time someone RSVPs, and checking out the notes people have written along with their RSVP a couple of times a day is a lot of fun.

The spreadsheet keeps running totals of guests and reception meal menu choices in real-time, and allows both my fiance and I to access it from our remote locations. We were able to invite the family members and friends who are helping us plan to view the spreadsheet.

Paying the Vendors (invoices & online banking):
Managing a budget for a wedding is tricky, but Internet banking has made it a lot easier. By using bill-pay services that both my fiance and I can access, either of us can arrange to send a check to a vendor at the click of a button. We can both have instant access to what is being paid when, and adjust our Google doc spreadsheet at the click of a button to make sure that we are still on track. Doing this on paper, or doing it over the phone, would have been vastly more difficult. [Wikipedia entry for Online Banking]

Paperless (contracts):
There are a few vendors’ relationships that require basic contracting. We could either wait for snail-mail, or buy a fax machine. Actually, we haven’t had a land-line phone in three years and rely exclusively on cellphones, so the fax wouldn’t work. However, internet fax [Wikipedia] services work well. (Checkout eFax or MyFax.) Because we have an account with a fax number, anyone can send a fax to us that will then arrive in our email inboxes as a PDF. It’s super convenient, and environmentally responsible to boot.

If someone needs to actually send us a piece of paper, we have it sent to our postal-to-email bridge, Earth Class Mail. Earth Class Mail scans all the paper that arrives in our PO Box and emails to the PDFs. (Earth Class Mail will also contact the senders of mail you identify as junk and ask them to stop sending it, saving countless pounds of junkmail from ever being printed.)

 Earth-And-Hands1

When we need to sign documents, I slap a digital signature [Wikipedia] on the PDFs. This makes and image of my signature appear on any print-out, and also helps to secure the file digitally, making my signature disappear if the file is modified after I sign it. When sending these contracts back I either email them, virtually “fax” them back using our fax service’s email-to-fax bridge, or have a good ol’ US Postal service paper copy sent to the destination via our email-to-postal-mail-bridge, Postful.
While the fax services are cheaper than owning and maintaining an actual fax machine and phone line, the mail services are more expensive than regular postal mail. In the end, the two are pretty much a wash, and we get the added benefit of having everything we need on-hand at all times from our laptops, having it from states away, and no clutter in our NYC-sized apartment.

 …Using all of these various technologies certainly hasn’t changed the nature of the event itself. However, the technologies are helping us to plan a wedding more conveniently over a long distance, involving the people we want involved in planning to the exact degree that we want them involved, and getting surgical with a few of the details that we really care about, helping us plan an event that is more uniquely our own than would have previously been possible.

John Randall

The Ballad of Zack McCune, Part 3

If you need a refresher, watch Part I and Part II.

In April of last year, Zack McCune was sued by the RIAA. He ended up $3,000 lighter (he settled), but with a much richer understanding of the contemporary debate surrounding music, copyright law, and file sharing. Part I gives an intro to his story, while Part II explores the disconnect between young downloaders and the recording industry. Part III, presented here, concludes Zack’s misadventure and examines where it led him: to the Free Culture Movement, which advocates more flexible intellectual property law.

This video was produced by Nikki Leon and John Randall. You can watch a high-resolution version here.

If you’d like to learn more about illegal downloading or the Free Culture Movement, check out the following:

– The RIAA’s perspective on the issue
Free Culture, by Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group that works to protect individuals’ rights online.
Students for Free Culture
Creative Commons, a leading organization in the Free Culture movement. Founded by Lawrence Lessig, Creative Commons allows artists to modify the default “All Rights Reserved” copyright on their works to make them publicly available for distribution and remixing.

Come back every Wednesday for more multimedia on online privacy, cyber bullying, digital activism and more!

Following your religion…. the Digital Native way

India is renowned for its exotic tourist attractions, sumptuous cuisine and diverse cultural origins. Even though a majority of the population is Hindu, the country has been lead by a Sikh Prime Minister, a Muslim President and an Italian originated woman, Sonia Gandhi. Thus, India has, to a large extent, shown great tolerance for other religions and proved itself to be a truly multi-cultural state. And religion has always been important – you can’t turn a corner without seeing a temple. But this religious fervor is now being taken to the next level, in ways both traditional and novel, including online.

In many contemporary cultures, the older generation lament straying from the old ways and attempt to incite young people to show more faith, become more spiritual and, of course, stay away from ‘Western Influences’. Ironically, it is some of these ‘western influences’- namely social networking sites and blogs, – which are spreading the religious fervor among youth. People have always advocated for greater tolerance between Hindus and Muslims in India, and this is now also reflected online – online blogs like the Indian Muslims Blog describes itself as a window into the Indian Muslim life and regularly feature bloggers who discuss issues like greater tolerance between the two communities. However, sites such as these are balanced with a larger number of sites solely aiming to spread religious fervor among Digital Natives surfing the net. It seems to be working. Recent polls show that more and more young people (under the age of 25) feel themselves to have greater belief in their religion now. So, how are Digital Natives getting in touch with their religion?

Well, they don’t really have to do anything new – one click on YouTube allows you to listen to multitudes of different bhajans (devotional songs), on Facebook you can join religious groups or even become a ‘fan’ of your religious idol and if you want to check up on a old religious fable all you need to do is Google it or check up on blogs with archives of stories – like the Hindu Blog. So, for a Digital Native, following religion online is actually more convenient, and so easier, than doing so offline. To read, discuss, debate or listen about their respective religion online is much more convenient than it is to actually do so by searching through libraries or even go shopping – and this may be the incentive behind the increase in religious fervor in the country. This would then also explain why now it is easier to criticize other peoples’ religion online than offline.

In the midst of efforts for greater religious tolerance, there is a backlash- Digital Natives now in India are finding it easier to criticize each others religious traditions, whereas in virtual settings they have to face less severe consequences. Thus, now each new video posting on YouTube is accompanied with at least a couple of negative comments and each new Facebook group seem to always be having a heated argument on its comments thread. In fact, many times the debate will even turn to criticisms and comparisons of religions; with Muslims questioning the way in which Hindus worship idols etc.

So, are Digital Natives in India are becoming more religious, or simply more vocal about their religious contemplations?

Good? …. Bad? …Well that’s yet to be seen.

-Kanupriya Tewari

Digital Natives Definitions Redux, Episode n+x

An episode of the local (for Boston) NPR show “On Point” sent around Berkman last week inspired a spirited conversation. The conversation ranged from the definitional – concern that the term Digital Natives was “relying too much on age as the determining factor of Internet and technology savviness” and the riposte that DNs are “not a generation but a population” – to the big-picture theoretical.

Detlev Matthies offered that,

To my understanding the point is the change of the society that framed the personality: the experience of the networked society of the informational age asks for a different understanding of “person” and “identity” than the industrial society did (Even though that was already information based – Manuel Castells gave a good description of this difference in his “The Rise of the networked society / Prologue: the net and the self” )

Digital Natives’ Nikki Leon added,

What I’ve found the most defining factor of Digital Native-dom is that, for Digital Natives, constant and consistent use of technology for both social and work purposes has become mainstream. For many tech-savvy Gen-Xers (some of my DN team members included), their use of the internet for networking and creative work was ahead of the curve and in some cases distanced them from their peers. For Gen-Yers like me, it’s exactly the opposite — “What do you mean you don’t have a facebook?” “I txted you to let you know I wasn’t coming, didn’t you get my msg?” “The syllabus was posted online. Don’t come into my office and tell me you didn’t know what the assignment was.”

Of course, this is a long-ongoing conversation; Henry Jenkins’ thoughts on the matter were referenced –

Talk of “digital natives” helps us to recognize and respect the new kinds of learning and cultural expression which have emerged from a generation that has come of age alongside the personal and networked computer. Yet, talk of “digital natives” may also mask the different degrees access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities. Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us.

As long as we divide the world into digital natives and immigrants, we won’t be able to talk meaningfully about the kinds of sharing that occurs between adults and children and we won’t be able to imagine other ways that adults can interact with youth outside of these cultural divides.

And John Palfrey recalled his reply to Jenkins:

In [Born Digital], we argue in favor of greater connectivity. That connectivity might be between parents or teachers or lawmakers who don’t live any part of their lives online and our kids who do. That connectivity might be between those in industry who are threatened by what these kids and others (us) are up to online and the culture that we represent. That connectivity might be between technology companies and their users, whose identities they seek otherwise to control. That connectivity might be between those of us in the rich world and those in less rich parts of the world, as [Global Voices] makes possible.

I’ll throw in my US$0.02 as the last word here. We all greet the world as it comes, and the world is always changing. What one might call Digital Natives are those who are and have been coming of age in a world where increasing amounts information relating to all of our existence is continually coded and transmitted in 1s and 0s, stored and collated, swapped and correlated. The world that their children come into will by turns make this one seem clunky and primitive, but neither that nor this world is in itself a better or worse thing. Technology does not have a moral component: it is the people who use it. Technology does not do the work: it is the people who use it. Today or yesterday or tomorrow, everything is mediated through technologies – it’s different technologies, but the same humans mediating.

We should be be neither Utopian nor dystopian in our vision of today or tomorrow, but meet the world as it comes and work with our fellow humans to make it a better today and tomorrow. The most important technology for that end is communication, and while wafers of silicon do make it easier for use to communicate with more people than ever, faster than ever, we should never lose sight of the fact that the most important part of those communications are the humans on the other end of them. And to that end, we hope you will continue to participate in this conversation – these communications – with us.

Jacob Kramer-Duffield

Fans and Creators

Henry Jenkins talks a lot about co-creation, and with good reason – without the fans interpreting a cultural work, there’s really no imaginative space for it to occupy. Most co-creation, however, is an exercise done by fans either independently or collaboratively as fans – not in collaboration with the artist. However, perhaps this is changing:

For [NIN’s] latest album, “The Slip,” fans won’t have to steal anymore. It’s available for free. “This one’s on me,” Reznor blogged… [he] created the new set of tracks for fans to download, remix and share on his Web site…

Reconfiguring songs has always remained central to Reznor’s thinking about music; he frequently follows official releases of NIN records with long-format remix albums. Before parting with Interscope, he fought with it to post the basic tracks from his songs on his site for his devotees to do with as they pleased.

The concept of the remix does away with the idea that the official, “first” recording of a song represents the definitive version. Reznor has always had problems with authority. What better way to subvert his own influence than to encourage his fans to remix the new NIN record before it has really solidified in the public consciousness?

Some fans have already started giving him a run for his (free) money. NegodJaeff, taking the bait, brings Reznor’s “Lights in the Sky” vocal way forward and pushes the screwy piano further back to create a prouder, more effective ballad. 15Steps concocts an infectious beat for “Echoplex,” and Soundtweaker’s grimy, hook-conscious version of “1,000,000” sounds considerably more fun than the “original.””

Reznor has had an interesting journey to co-creator, as well, emblematic in a more vociferous way of the relationships many musicians have with the modern recording industry:

When he discovered in 2007 that in Australia, [Interscope] had priced his album higher than other releases simply because his fans would pay more, he angrily encouraged a concert audience to download illegally. “Steal, steal and steal some more,” he raged, “and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing.”

Nine Inch Nails, of course, has benefited from years of radio play and MTV time with hits like “Head Like a Hole” and “Closer.” But Reznor has also been particularly savvy about maintaining a relationship with the hard-core fans spawned by those hits and his sound and aesthetic, generally, selling out concerts regularly even when he wasn’t receiving radio play.

What this latest move seems to indicate is a further evolution of both his and his fans’ perception of their relationship, and of the nature of creative production. Reznor is still the source and reason for fandom, but he is not the only voice that matters – he’s just the one that starts the conversation. In this model, being a NIN fan becomes more like being a member of a semi-official club or even collective – “People who listen to/remix NIN.”

Fans have always desired this sort of interaction with their creative idols – who hasn’t played air guitar or sung in the shower, imagining oneself in the role of, or onstage with, a favorite artist? – but Reznor, aware of the relationship that fans have both to music generally (download, listen, sometimes remix) and his music more specifically, has taken the next step and become something closer to a peer with his fans. The president of the NIN club.

This is a similar sort of sentiment and approach taken by Weezer, who have for years maintained excellent contact with their fans online. Their latest single, “Pork and Beans” is both an anthem for the idiosyncratic (“I’mma do the things/That I wanna do/I ain’t got a thing/To prove to you”) and a celebration of community, as the video features a score of Internet meme stars first performing some variation of their gags and then all dancing together, and with the band. It’s pretty much as awesome as it is sweet.

One interesting question to ask in all of this is – given these evolving relationships, are fans more or less likely to want to reward a creator (even/especially when they’re not required to pay for it [at least legally]) when the relationship is closer to one of a peer? Or, if not a peer, then at least not some sort of marble godhead. Of course, most people know very well they’ll never hang out with Trent Reznor or Weezer – but if they do a good remix, or video, or something, maybe they’ll get an e-mail from them saying, “Hey, that’s cool.” Or maybe that e-mail will come from another fan, and connecting together over that piece of culture draws them closer both together and to the band. Or perhaps something entirely different – finding out is half the fun.

Jacob Kramer-Duffield