RW, Revived by Lessig

Lessig starts off with an analogy, describing how the elite spoke in Latin during the Middle Ages, while the masses did not. Instead, they spoke in local, or vernacular languages such as French, German, and English. Today, according to Lessig, text is today’s Latin, and the masses use different forms of media (TV, film, music, music videos). Relevant to this discussion, Lessig also writes about Read/Only (RO) and Read/Write (RW) technologies. RO technology is a one-way interaction, seen as an extension of older forms of communication, such as newspapers or books. RW technology, however, is a more dynamic, two-way interaction. An example of RW technology includes remixes, or the creative “mashing” or re-creation of music and videos to produce variations/re-interpretations of original material. Because of the tehcnological age we now live in, “you can do

almost for free on your own computer” (1086). Essentially, economic barrier that once limited the masses from performing remixes has been removed given the digital age.

According to Lessig, the remix makes arguments “far more effectively than could words.” Rather than asserting the truth, a remix is able to show it. He makes the argument, that it is the usage of familiar, original content that gives remixes their power. As explained by Victor Stone in an interview, “When you hear four notes of the Beatles’ ‘Revolution,’ it means something” (1088).  Lessig also uses examples of a remix of George Bush, titled “Hard Working George,” and a remix by the band Negativland, which faced legal action after using tapes of Casey Kasem from the band U2. In response, Negativland said , “Why did we have to use the actual original…the actual thing? Well, it’s because the actual thing has a power about it. It has an aura. It has magic to it. And that’s what inspires the work” (1088).

Furthermore, Lessig argues that remix creates two good: community, and education. Remixes occur in a community of remixers, members of which create in part for one another. He uses the example of people who create anime music videos, discussing Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. Creators of these videos aim to both learn and show off, according to Lessig. Shifting more towards the discussion of education, Lessig writes “‘Entertainment’ is separate from ‘education.’ So any skill learned in this ‘remix culture’ is ‘constructed oppositionally to academic achievement” (1090). He continues to argue that “internet-based learning is learning driven by found interests” and that kids learn more effectively when they work with something they feel passionate about, as is the same for adults.

Discussion Question: Lessig views using remix technology drives community, and is an important educational tool. In the context of Lessig’s argument, what role should media, specifically remixes, hold in the academic environment now and in the future?


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