The essay below is from a piece that I did for Loyola University (Chicago) and their website, digitalethics.org:
Though originally considered to be a much more secondary contributor to social learning, digital media and the sudden mobility of mass media have made it important to examine the media’s role in children’s socialization and parent usage of technology during quality time with their kids. New ways for parents and children to use digital media arrive every year. Media and interactive technology have pervasive influence on development and learning, and may have the power to influence our values and conceptions of adulthood; namely, priorities, expectations around relationships with others and definitions of success. Therefore, it is imperative to think about the implications of media and interactive technology use during childhood in a way that will help increase clinical understanding of media effects throughout the lifespan. Narrow-mindedness has led many researchers and policymakers to overestimate the short-term negative impacts that interactive technology and digital media have on today's youth. However, there is evidence that indicates we may be underestimating the longer term positive effects of the technology. There is a need to define what fluency is when speaking about digital media and interactive technologies. This means fostering a discussion on the three E's: expectations, level of exposure and amount of experience with digital media that is appropriate to give our children.
In 2016, my research lab at Northwestern University (the Center on Media and Human Development) collaborated with Common Sense Media to create an extensive report called, “Common Sense Census: Plugged In Parents of Teens and Tweens.” Within this report, we collected data from a large probability-based national sample of 1,800 parents of both teens (ages 13-18) and tweens (ages 8-12). The point of the report was to understand the “media diets” of modern parents and their attitudes, perceptions of and behaviors towards youth media usage. Four key findings of the survey were:
We’ve conducted many studies and published several academic papers in our lab that have made me certain that parental usage habits with screen media is highly correlated to the screen media habits of their children. Furthermore, we are now aware that children spend more time with electronic media than they do in any other activity, aside from sleep. Although most of the empirical research has stated that the negative effects that stem from media exposure may be reduced by parental monitoring of children's media use, there is a lack of clear understanding of the mechanisms and extent of these protective effects.
While I believe that prospective effects of parental monitoring of children’s media on physical, social and academic outcomes should continue to be examined, I think that we need to change the focus of our research to also look at the prospective effects of increased parental collaboration and joint media engagement with their children to develop best practices for media usage in the home environment. Although parents we survey and interview always seem adamant about monitoring their children's screen time, can they adequately do so when they are spending so much time alone consuming content on their own devices? That said, should parents need to be so wary about letting their children have unlimited access to interactive technology?
The "I have mine, you have yours" attitude that I’ve observed many parents (myself included) display in their rationale behind their rules around media devices in their households leads me to think we must actively encourage parents to not only engage in the same mediums as their children, but also find ground for joint experiences with their children. Through sharing experiences with youth and learning alongside of them, digital media can provide an avenue for youth to connect positively with their parents, peers and communities, and to promote constructive meaning-making in their lives. These insights also have important implications for reframing digital media usage within social services, and improving policy and practice to make these more youth-oriented. Through enacting these youth-oriented changes, programs can better support and inspire youth’s passions for the pursuit of meaning.
I recently attended the National Association of Media Literacy Education’s (NAMLE) pre-conference in Chicago at the Erikson Institute. During the all-day discussions, media producers, educators, practitioners, scholars and administrators all gathered to explore the current concerns of teaching media literacy in early childhood. During media literacy expert and NAMLE’s founding President Dr. Faith Rogow’s midday talk, she emphasized that media literacy is true power and agency in today’s world. We must build a foundation of media literacy education to prepare youth for the media environment they are facing every day, but often we misconstrue literacy as avoidance of technology altogether. What I took away from Rogow's presentation was that we as researchers need to not just look at literacy as avoiding negative media effects but examine media literacy as a life skill that is acquired over time. This means we have to stop viewing media literacy from a deficit perspective and more so as a resource pedagogy.
Ultimately, critical media literacies help nurture creative thinking, enhance students’ personal media practices and engender sustained change in local communities. In today’s media-saturated world, students are highly active in digital and media spaces, and it is the responsibility of parents to leverage their capacities to teach life skills. These interactions are the type that will equip students with not only academic proficiencies but also the confidence to recast existing media narratives and critique oppressive philosophies. It is through this framework that parents can best answer the question of how to ethically parent children to both use consume and produce new media.
Taking the emphasis off technology itself and becoming more worried about the cultural shifts that happen within these mediums is imperative. When most experts first conceptualized best practices for parenting in the digital age, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr did not exist. Our research indicates that social media is now an intrinsic part of the everyday lives of today’s youth. Moreover, portals to digital spaces are always emerging, changing, and closing. As new tools and spaces are developed and gain traction, the size, scope and practices of affinity spaces will change. Just as literacy researchers call for continued theorizing of adolescent literacies in the digital age, it is imperative for parents to be willing to enter these affinity spaces and understand how they shape their children's literacy practices and meaning-making processes.
The approach we should take as parents is to understand that all of us have changed the way we live because of the way we use these devices, but we also must be aware that they are just tools. They are neutral. What we do with them, and what we demonstrate for our children, and what we let our children do with them is what determines the outcome. Just as we need to learn to drive a car safely, we need to learn how to drive the internet safely. Again, this is another tool that increases our freedom, increases our ability to do things, but also has great potential danger. But we don’t get in cars thinking, “oh, I could get addicted."
We must turn our youth into social architects, and the best way to do so is to continue to encourage parents and children to explore both their critical mindsets and participatory practices together. This means rethinking technology in terms of the future of work, respecting/encouraging multiple points of entry and encouraging parents to model the media usage behaviors that they would like to see in their children. However, parenting techniques must be informed by growing research from media scholars and pediatricians on the long-term consequences of repeated exposure to electronic media and emotional development. Only then can we truly bridge the digital divide that occurs at the second level — where household technology is available, plentiful and heavily used, but rarely a shared experience.
For more, see the full article at: https://www.asc.upenn.edu/news-events/news/comm-major-alum-qa-jabari-evans-c04
Communication Major Alumnus Q&A: Jabari Evans (C'04), Recording Artist and Doctoral Student
02 Oct 2017
Jabari Evans (C'04)
Undergraduate Student News, Awards, and Events
Alumni News, Awards, and Events
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Communication major at Penn, each Monday this semester we're running a series of Q&As with notable alumni. The series kicked off with the Washington Post's Ashley Parker (C'05) and Teach for America's Mika Rao (C'96). We continue today with Jabari Evans (C'04).
Jabari Evans graduated from Penn in 2004. He is a recording artist (known by the stage name Naledge), a nonprofit founder and director, a graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Social Work, and a current doctoral student at Northwestern University.
According to Wikipedia, you published a book as a teenager. That’s not something many people do. How did that happen? And what was the book about?
It was a book of essays and poems. I have always been interested in being some form of writer or journalist since age 7 and this was just my decision to publish what I was writing in my personal journals. The funny thing about that is during my Freshman year at Penn, most people were feeling each other out and trying to figure out that "thing" that made us different within the Penn community. I would casually mention that I self-published a book and people were so amazed. I never thought it was such a big deal, though. Since my parents were academics and had published things before, I was heavily exposed to people who were helping Chicago youth to explore their creativity in that way. It really was with their (my parents) guidance that I was able to pull it off. It's my outdated views but you can still buy it on my site (link is external), if interested... Ha!
How did you get into the music business and what has your experience been like?
Around the age of 15, my love for writing transformed into a love for performing and rhyming. I explored that talent the minute I got to Philadelphia and was blessed to meet a number of like-minded individuals who encouraged me to keep going. My managers at the time (Givenchy Martin C'01 and Dan Solomito C'02) are both Penn grads, my producer/DJ (Mike Aguilar C'01) was a Penn grad, and several other music people I interned for during my time in Philadelphia (particularly Angela Nissel C'98) were Penn grads. It was a roller coaster ride that took me to Los Angeles to live after graduation to record demos, halfheartedly work corporate jobs, perform nightly in smoke filled bars, and drive all over the country in a van until I got a record deal. I signed to Sony in 2006. I did it very hard for 8 years until I decided to go back to graduate school. The experience was great and it has taken me all over the world. I've met and collaborated with most of my heroes, and it was that time that has given me the leverage and access to do the work that I primarily do now.
You started a nonprofit called The Brainiac Project a few years ago. Can you talk about what the organization does and why you’re passionate about it?
The Brainiac Project is an organization that allows me to leverage my experience as a touring hip-hop musician to be a social agent promoting change in music pedagogy and the benefits to personal creativity brought about by beat-making and songwriting. My mission is to promote recording arts careers to at-risk youth and young adults in Chicago via workshops, mentorship opportunities, educational support, and providing access to recording studio experience. I believe that by encouraging youth to explore their music dreams they can gain social competence, self-confidence, and positive connection to peers, mentors, and community. Much the way I did when I found hip-hop.
As a current Ph.D. student, what are your academic interests and goals?
As a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern, I strive to evaluate programming that could possibly address the digital divide, achievement and attendance gaps for Black youth that have continually been documented in empirical research. I came to Northwestern to explore the anecdotal experiences I had related to how youth in low income communities of color are using digital media to create content on the Internet. In planning for my second year project, I have spent the last six months leading an exploratory ethnographic study within Chicago Public Schools. This study evaluates the program outcomes of Foundation of Music’s school based hip-hop songwriting and digital music production program (SWP) in seven Chicago elementary schools. In the next 5 years, my goal is to grow my non-profit in unison with my research, consult others on cultural competency, and garner a tenure-track position somewhere.
How has your undergraduate Communication degree impacted or influenced your career?
Besides launching my music career, Penn was the place that impacted my recent decision to pursue doctoral work. My first foray into academic research came during my junior year at Penn when I was given the opportunity to be a undergraduate assistant to Dr. Amy Jordan while she had a grant to study childhood obesity and television viewing. I recruited and conducted focus groups with several families in the Philadelphia area to talk about the relationship of their media usage to their food intake. Though I didn’t know it at that time, this experience with Dr. Jordan served as the catalyst for peaking my interest in investigating issues that affect the everyday lives of urban youth, particularly as related to media usage. I used my time at ASC and Penn to investigate these interests by taking classes with people like Eilhu Katz and Joseph Turow, as well as leading African American scholars like Guthrie Ramsey, James B. Peterson, and Howard C. Stevenson. Many of my former classmates are already professors, and I ask for their advice all the time. I graduated 13 years ago, and I am always drawing from this time in my life. It has been an invaluable network. I haven't been back since I performed at Spring Fling in 2010, but I hope to visit campus again soon!
On September 10th, 2017, I not only celebrated my birthday but also my 3rd Annual #BrainiacBash at AceBounce Ping Pong Bar in Downtown Chicago. Fortunately, I was blessed to be given the opportunity to raise almost $1,000 towards The Brainiac Project and my efforts to support Chicago youth in addition to partying with a purpose. See pics from the event below:
September 05, 2017
Rappers helping Chicago schools: More than Chance
By LISA BERTAGNOLI
On Sept. 1, Chance the Rapper announced that his nonprofit, SocialWorks, has raised $2.2 million for arts education at Chicago Public Schools. "As a parent and proud product of CPS, I'm committed to helping Chicago's children have quality learning experiences that include the arts," Chance said in the release announcing the donation. Chance might be making headlines, but he's not the only rapper helping the city's schools.
CPS students headed back to class today. Here's what they can expect from four Chicago-based rappers' foundations.
Chance the Rapper
Organization: SocialWorks Chicago, New Chance Arts & Literature Fund
What it does: "Youth empowerment" through arts, education and civic involvement; the arts and literature fund is working with nonprofit Ingenuity to identify and fund arts programs at schools most in need of them. Chance also lends his name to other nonprofit efforts, such as Chicago Beyond's Go Innovate challenge.
Reach: 22 schools to date, according to SocialWorks' website.
The money: Chance has raised $2.2 million for arts education in schools, $1 million of which he donated personally. Twenty schools will receive $100,000 over three years to fund arts programs.
Classroom attendance: Chance stopped by Paul Robeson High School in March to announce a donation from the Chicago Bulls.
CPS connection: Attended Jones College Prep High School.
Extra credit: Chance's father, Ken Bennett, is an aide to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a senior adviser to tourism group Choose Chicago.
Organization: Common Ground Foundation
What it does: Mentoring every third Saturday during the school year; service-learning projects such as volunteering at the Primo Center for Women & Children; field trips to places like Joffrey Ballet and visits to Lurie Children's Hospital; hosts an annual Youth Business & Leadership conference.
Reach: About 300 kids annually from 30 schools.
The money: The foundation's operating expenses run $350,000 annually.
Classroom attendance: Three or four times a year. Last year, Common showed up unannounced at Hirsch, Dyett and Hyde Park high schools.
CPS connection: His mother, former CPS teacher and principal Mahalia Ann Hines, serves on the Chicago Board of Education and is president of Common Ground Foundation. Common attended McDowell Elementary School.
Extra credit: He lives in Los Angeles.
Che "Rhymefest" Smith
Organization: Donda's House
What it does: Sponsors Peace on the Beach, an annual festival to celebrate the start of school; supports Teens in the Park, a free Chicago Park District event of music, games and art.
Reach: Several hundred at Peace on the Beach; several thousand at Teens in the Park.
The money: $136,626 to "provide art and music instruction to the youth of Chicago," according to its 2015 tax filing.
CPS connection: Smith's wife, Donnie, taught in CPS schools for about a decade, and Smith attended CPS schools.
Extra credit: Donda's House is named after Donda West, Kanye West's mother and the former chair of the English department at Chicago State University. She died in 2007.
Jabari "Naledge" Evans
Jabari "Naledge" Evans
Organization: Brainiac Project
What it does: Works with nonprofit Foundations of Music in exploring ways to use hip-hop composition to teach kids, particularly those with trouble learning.
Reach: Seven schools and 100 kids.
The money: Evans invested $20,000 in an Auburn Gresham recording studio that hosts after-school workshops.
Classroom attendance: Evans visits CPS schools every Friday during the school year as research for his Ph.D.
CPS connection: His 10-year-old son attended CPS grade schools until the family moved to Evanston.
Extra credit: Evans, formerly half of rap duo Kidz in the Hall, is working toward a doctorate in media, technology and society at Northwestern University.
I am happy to announce the details for my annual birthday party/fundraiser (#brainiacbash) for my arts non-profit organization, The Brainiac Project. This year's event will actually fall on Sunday, September 10th at AceBounce (230 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60601) from 5pm-8pm. AceBounce is a gastro-pub that is themed around the game of ping pong. Tickets are $25.00 for the time being but will be $30.00 after September 1st.
This event will aim to raise funds for the upkeep of the recording studio and assist with the maintenance of the organization. Additionally, this event will attract a crowd of progressive professionals and other tastemakers from the Chicago area.
Here's the link to get tickets to the event: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-brainiac-project-inc-presents-naledges-birthday-brainiacbash-2017-tickets-37054523076
Hope to see you there!
I rolled out of bed two months ago (literally..lol) and went to the 247HH studio in South Loop to build with my man Ranadeb and my colleague at NU Kalonji (Big Shouts!) to talk about a potential podacast opportunity and in true media fashion, they somehow got me to sit down for what may have been an hour long interview. You can check the best bits and pieces of that conversation below and get the rest of their great content at 247hh.com. Enjoy!
This past Friday I was honored to be able to speak at the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) partnership event with Donda’s House called ChicagoMade: Leveraging the Local to go Global. DCASE is bringing its impactful programming to Chicago neighborhoods, making it accessible for more of Chicago's Creatives. Panel us the opportunity to highlight the cultural assets and working artists in community. I sat on a panel with Lavon Pettis and Chavonne Nash, two Chicago stakeholders that work in the fields of artist management and advertising. The event was held at Captain Hard Times Dining and Banquet Hall in the Chatham area of Chicago. I am so glad that the City of Chicago is beginning to hold events that are accessible to those of us who live on the Southside. I was even more blessed that I got the chance to do a short performance at the end of the event! Check out the video below to see the visual recap of the event:
In Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet, Pratt Institute Professor Minh-Ha T. Pham addresses the changing nature of the traditional fashion industry and details its recent infatuation with the styles and taste of Asian internet/social media influencers. Pham calls this process the “rise of the Asian Superblogger,” a group she defines as elite fashion bloggers who themselves identify as Asian or as part of an Asian ethnic group. She states very early in the introduction, that their textual, visual, and sartorial representations are what she calls practices of "taste work" (p. 15). She emphasizes that their self-representations via images posted on the internet and social media do transformative work to re-negotiate the racialized terrain of western fashion to be visible in very specific ways. She makes it clear that although these bloggers maintain an art to being distinctively Asian, they don’t aim to be any different from their White counterparts. Pham also believes that these online personalities represent themselves as authentic bloggers who are racially different from the fashion mainstream but whose race also cannot discount their unique abilities.
One of the main arguments Pham makes throughout the book is that she seeks to change the cultural perceptions of what an "Asian fashion worker" is. She seeks to discredit much of prior scholarly discourse that has focused on the Asian fashion workers as merely those whom are exploited in the “sweatshops” that produce much of the textiles and garments for the Western fashion industry. It is because of this work that Pham believes that all Asian fashion workers in the garment industry are generally victimized because of their race, gender, and class.
While acknowledging that much of the scholarly and media attention on Asian fashion workers represents them as poor, voiceless victims, Pham glorifies the stories of elite Asians in the new digital fashion economy as proof that Asians have far more power to represent themselves and to define they participate in the fashion world. She explores within this very different context of fashion labor--race, gender, and class -- superbloggers are re-shaping what "Asian fashion work" means. She uses this backdrop to state her opinion that Asian fashion workers have always also defined their own identities and created alternative working conditions even within the very limited sets of available options they have.
This is a key issue in the book. Although Pham acknowledges the Western fashion industry is still a very white industry and that are only a small handful of non-white bloggers, models, and designers who are quite successful, she seeks to attempts to explain why Asians occupy a very tenuous position as racial minorities in a white industry. Thus, she also acknowledges throughout the book that most Whites in the fashion industry only accept Asian superbloggers’ success as a novelty, a very temporal moment in elite fashion trends.
Pham maintains that the resentment that Asian elite bloggers uniquely face comes from, on one hand, being some of the most visible non-white faces and names in fashion and, on the other hand, from out-lasting and out-growing their expected roles as novelties of fashion's digital turn. They're proving to be not just temporary visitors or tourists in the western fashion system but here to stay and possibly change fashion and fashion journalism's racially-homogenous business as usual.
These new cults of personality created by Asian superbloggers differ from their traditional counterparts through collaborative, co-constructive and communal interdependence between “culted” figure and follower. While I would maintain charismatic authority has its source in the innate and exceptional qualities of an individual’s personality, Pham submits that in consumer culture’s current era of consent, the ‘culting’ of Asian superbloggers is not just a triumph for the individual bloggers but a victory for racial diversity in the Western fashion industry at large.
I'd agree with Pham that the bloggers she speaks about may be challenging many of western fashion's business practices and assumptions. The enormous popularity of Susie Bubble and BryanBoy's blogs have forced the mainstream industry to take blogging seriously whether they liked it or not. I also would agree that the success of their blogs show that Asian people can be style leaders, successful entrepreneurs, and tastemakers among western fashion audiences.
However, I believe that Pham over-romanticizes the idea these elite bloggers have the leverage to disrupt the industry they're trying to seek the approval of. In many of her examples, the milestones of success for these bloggers only tend to occur when white industry leaders (such designer Marc Jacobs did with BryanBoy) re-appropriate their work. That said, it doesn’t seem as though these superbloggers have necessarily forged a permanent path to reproduce a true community of Asian gatekeepers in the fashion community. I wasn’t quite convinced that these bloggers are as “threatening” to the status quo as she would want her readers to believe.
In distilling Pham’s arguments, I found it easy to relate her work to Pierre Bourdieu and his theoretical models on social and cultural capital. Her arguments about Asian fashion taste-making extend upon more traditional Bourdieu ideas of capital categories such as social capital, cultural capital, financial capital, and symbolic capital. Pham proclaims that in blogging and posting about fashion, young Asians occupy a unique position in a new multidimensional world of style; one where they are not simply members of the Asian community but also well informed brokers of every single kind of capital they can articulate through their websites and social media accounts.
One of the best parts of this book for me occurred when Pham discusses how the superbloggers got met with increasing resistance from traditional industry insiders as fashion houses began to pay them large fees for their efforts. On page 60, Pham writes about Bourdieu’s formulation of “aesthetic intolerance” to speak about racial “aftertaste” and how public curiosity towards Asian superbloggers quickly changed once their voice threatened to become permanent fixtures in the fashion media industry. She subsequently details a backlash among the industry that came in the 2010’s after many of the bloggers began to gain access to and wield more influence on the more exclusive fashion shows. She carefully dissects the published stories of mainstream fashion publications that used the Asian superbloggers to represent the face of the fashion blogging industry at large and in turn discount their true relevance in the labor market. Pham makes no qualms about her belief that much of this backlash can be traced back to the historic marginalization of Asian laborers in the fashion industry saying that mainstream fashions criticism of the superbloggers was undoubtedly racially charged.
Not so privy to the innerworkings and customs of the Western fashion industry before reading this book, I still found this piece to be very fascinating and engaging. Pham’s interviews and commentary about various Asian superbloggers indicate that these individuals have in fact managed to turn the narrative of the Asian fashion laborer “on its head” and are utilizing high fashion preferences with images that strongly tie in with their social position; and showing that subtleties of “cute culture” and Asian identity can be a major factor in their social mobility. Overall, Pham presents a compelling argument on why Asian fashion bloggers are gaining tremendous attention within the modern fashion industry and why their success represents cultural and economic shifts in the digital fashion media economy.
The Ringtone Dialectic by University of Minnesota Professor Sumanth Gopinath enthusiastically tells the history of mobile phone innovation and how the dematerializing of music led to the phenomenon of the ringtone. The Ringtone, as he describes in this book, was created almost by accident and was a fashion/vanity accessory for individuals purchasing their first cellular phones. Though a low-end innovation, the music industry and telecommunication startups took advantage of the rising trend of mobile phone entertainment to charge mobile phone users for individualization of their phone ringers and ring backs played to incoming calls. After reading this book, I think that Gopinath carefully presents the ringtone as a remarkable cultural phenomenon that demonstrated a high degree of popularity and polarity therefore, that makes it (surprisingly) worth historically assessing.
Gopinath starts off the book by talking about the murky yet fabled story of origin for the ringtone. He states that the commodification of the ringtone occurred in several stages. These stages provided the outline of a model for ringtone development, whereby functional tones became: 1) monophonic ringtones or simple melodies; 2) polyphonic tones (MIDI synthesizer music); and, 3) digital sound files (the most associated with the development of MP3 files). Gopinath points out that these developments in the ringtone industry did not take place the same way in different regions around the world. Instead, convergences of national legal systems, consumer preferences, and the interests of local wireless firms and handset manufacturers led to differing rates of acceptance for each type of ringtone, as well as ringtones generally.
Gopinath recounts that sound file ringtones heavily favored the music industry, since legally sound files fall under the more lucrative category of sampling rather than covering or arrangement. For monophonic or polyphonic synthesizer arrangements of tunes, only a small royalty would to the original music’s composer or songwriter via a publishing company. For a sound file ringtone, however, sampling rights allowed the music label that released the original sound recording to claim 40–50 percent of these more lucrative ringtones. Sound file ringtones gave higher returns to their right owners because of their ability to accurately reproduce current radio hits, their higher price, and their relative ease of production.
During the early 2000s, ringtone sales were often outpacing the recording single sales of the same song and music industry officials leveraged ringtone sales to help them recoup their losses from stagnant record sales and budget expenses for various artists. Gopinath points out in Chapter 2 that many major record label executives believed the ringtone could “save the music industry.” With the music industry’s efforts to reclassify sound file ringtones as being record single sales rather than licensed products, the recording industry moved briefly in the direction of equating record sales with ringtone sales and profited handsomely. During this era, the biggest U.S. music trade magazine, Billboard Magazine, even created the Hot Ringtones Top–20 list for polyphonic ringtone sales in North America.
In thinking about our class discussions, Gopinath’s discussions of some of the global cultural implications of the ringtone industry attempt to explain, from different perspectives, a small set of arguments. First, he says he believes the appearance of the ringtone itself helped to create new forms of high–tech production and consumption, demonstrating a broad “continuum” between those employed as ringtone composers and those involved in forms of consuming/using and representing the ringtone, such as professional artists, songwriters, and composers on the one hand and average mobile phone users encoding their own ringtones on the other. Second, he uses his historical analysis to state that the shift from preset monophonic ringtones to sound file ringtones resulted in numerous disturbances in the ringtone industry, the music industry and broader society. Gopinath believes that although these disturbances were very subtle, they were taken for granted as part of the general instability of the high–tech and entertainment industries, ignored and deserve recognition. Finally, Gopinath believes that the ringtone can be understood as the intersectionality of social conflicts, in which age, national, ethnic and gender divisions are present.
Before reading this book, I never even thought about the idea that the ringtone industry had some ethnic implications as well. As noted on page 28, Gopinath smartly noted that during the “ringtone movement,” African Americans that rarely bought digital music downloads or had access to personal computers now had the option to purchase their favorite music through personalization their mobile phones. Gopinath backs up this point by showing that the top musical recordings of the ringtone charts frequently looked like a replication of Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Charts of that era. I suppose one could even argue in retrospect that the ringtone industry demonstrated the future importance cell phone access would have in helping to close the “digital divide.”
Ultimately, the ringtone industry thrived because it made a commodity of personalization. Personalization was what Gopinath referred to as the ringtone industry’s “ideologeme” (unit of ideology) in the Frederic Jameson sense. The “dialectic” of economics and cultural form existed because this personalization of ringtones was something that the music and mobile entertainment industries exploited for profit, something that musicians and composers freely exploited for inventiveness and digital creation and something mobile phone companies used to build databases of information on customers to better customize devices.
Frederic Jameson’s Marxist stance provides a brilliant synthesis Gopinath’s argument, in which the analysis of ideological utterances, class struggle, and modes of production are combined in overlapping temporal frameworks. Gopinath titles the ringtone industry as a “dialectic” by creating two parallel sets of time scales devoted to cultural production — in this case, economics and cultural form— the two of which are interwoven together, with the economic taking greater priority as the latter time–scale broadens.
For me as a person who spent over a decade in the music industry and sold ringtones as an artist, I never considered anything about the ringtone industry to be worth re-examining before reading this book. However, after reading this text I realize that there is some validity to the author’s claim that besides bolstering the economy of the music landscape, the ringtone ushered in society’s obsession with mobile content and was the pre-cursor to the mobile application craze of today. Keeping this at the forefront of his examination, Gopinath proposes a framework for analyzing the phenomenon of the ringtone, in which we should consider the ringtone as “a high–tech fad, as a conflict between larger and smaller forms of capital, and the ringtone as indicative of a long–term shift in productive capacity from the United States to all the way to Eastern Asia.” Even still, the Ringtone bubble would ultimately burst in a similar way as the dot com bubble did: with empty promises of sustainability for a redundant micro-industry. Gopinath details the rise and fall of this process very tediously but with great precision and gives an interesting take on what many scholars wouldn’t naturally consider a “historical” moment in the mobile entertainment industry.
AirGo showcases the strong young voices who shape Chicago and beyond, sharing their stories over the air, on wax, from the stage, and across the city. Each episode of AirGo features a live longform interview with and some sort of on-air performance from an artist, writer, activist, thinker, actor, or musician whose work and spirit is reshaping the city and the nation’s contemporary culture. Explore the stories and voices that are reshaping our culture with AirGo. I enjoyed being on this podcast and I look forward to hopefully collaborating with the guys from AirGo in the near future. Check out our conversation below:
Raised on the East side of Chicago. Globally Local. Cheers!