Being in control

In Coming to terms with the Web, The Web and the arts on August 7, 2010 at 4:34 pm


Well, another week is over, and I have a chance to get back to my Web re-education. This post is a little discursive, so please be patient (if you get bored, you can follow the fun links).

This morning, my partner and I were watching Rage.  Sometimes I like to do this: it gives me a chance to catch up on all the 80’s filmclips I missed because I was too busy doing other things during my idyllic childhood (learning embroidery, polishing up my French, playing sonatinas on the fortepiano…) Often I find I’ve missed the music, too. This occasional reorientation to my youth helps me participate in nostalgic conversations about a pop-culture I was only dimly aware of when it was happening, much as my current exploration of Web 2.0 helps me converse intelligently about Twitter (err… give me a few more weeks and I’ll understand it). Anyway, Prince’s Musicology came on, and we were arguing about when it came out. (We were discussing how the fancy lighting effects behind the stage were achieved, and said partner opined that they were remarkable, given how old the film clip must be – ie. pre-LCD).  The dispute was resolved after I challenged him to a google-duel. It turned out I was right: despite my woeful lack of pop-culture knowledge, I tend to be able to pinpoint when things happened (the album came out in 2004). We googled further, and read about Prince’s repudiation of the Internet.

The article I’ve just linked to is hardly worth your while visiting, but if you want to be distracted by it, feel free. For those more linear readers, the gist is: Prince is annoyed at having his music illegally downloaded, and sued YouTube and the like for copyright infringement (yes, I know this is old news, but there is some interesting commentary on the matter here. In particular, go to the comments).  Prince has also cancelled deals with iTunes and other legit distributors.   Oh, and he thinks the Internet is ‘over’  (does he mean the Web is over, perhaps?)

Prince looking schmick at 48. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Now when you’re famous,  whingeing is a great way to attract some column space (as did the free distribution of his latest album via The Mirror – see here for more whining, from rival paper The Guardian). Many have contended that illegal Web-based distribution of his work has only increased Prince’s renown.  Nonetheless, I think Prince’s anger is real. What’s more,  I can understand it – he is a man who lost control, after all, and however you might argue that this loss of control benefits him, he is entitled to the very human reaction to losing control: frustration and anger. Perhaps this is why he has lashed out against the Web in general, because it’s hard to argue, as he has, that it has had its day.

Anyway, Prince’s motivations, copyright law, and the death of the Web are all topics for another day. I’d like to link two other ideas my post has touched on: rounding up knowledge, and the lack of control people may feel when faced with the Web. What I’d really like to know is:

  • Do you feel a loss of control when confronted with the mass of information and opinions that is the Web? Do you feel like you have lost control of your self-identity? Or do you suspect that you have lost touch with what is important in your life? Are you unsure as to what is important, even?
  • How important is it to you to  ‘know’ something deeply, or are you happy having a finger in every pie?
  • Do you link deep knowledge or wide knowledge with power? Is there a balance we should have of both? How can the Web help with this?
  • Are you in control of the Web, or is it in control of you? And do you care either way?

This is fairly deep stuff – it’s not life, but metalife, which is why I’m going to go for a walk and clear my head.


NB I had found a YouTube clip of Musicology (well, just the music and Prince’s airbrushed visage) and linked to it, but then wussed out. Just thought I’d let you know it’s there, in case you want to reminisce.

  1. Hey Jen, I am totally with you on missing out on aspects of pop culture due to being engaged on something else. I completely missed out on the Spice Girls. As a phenomenon, I had heard of them, but I didn’t actually ever manage to hear their music or see a clip. To this day, I still haven’t heard them. I don’t even know when they were on the music scene, so I can’t work out what I was so engrossed in to have missed them. I suppose I could do a google, but somehow I don’t think I missed out on too much!
    Cheers, Rachel

    • Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for your comment. This is the challenge: to know, generally speaking, what you have missed, and then to decide which of those things are worth chasing up. My lecturer at the Con used to rave about Prince (after Beethoven), so from this little dollop of information, I guessed that he may be worthwhile listening to (Prince, that is; at times my lecturer said something worthwhile too). I haven’t been disappointed, though I can’t say I’ve delved too far. In regards to popular music, I’m happy enough having a smattering of information, but if someone insists I listen to something, I’ll generally give it a go.


  2. My sympathies for Prince, but I’m surprised he pulled his work off iTunes. I guess he freaked out. The Internet is scary with the way information and media can be easily copied and distributed.

    You posted a lot of questions. Here’s are some answers from me:
    When faced with tons of info on the web, it’s not so much a loss of control as it is a sense of being lost and wishing the internet would organise itself.

    Being in control on the Net should be judged individually. If I’m unable to discipline my atttention in real life, it’s no surprise that I’d be clicking on every unrelevant link on the Net. The times I feel out of control is when ads pop up and cover half the screen.

    • Hey esmayu,

      Thanks for braving the deluge of questions! You’re right about your sense of discipline (or lack thereof) transferring to the Web. For some people it could pose a real problem, in both time and sanity management. I don’t find I have much trouble imposing discipline on my information gathering off the Web: maybe I feel concerned that I won’t be as disciplined on it. I recall losing a LOT of time on the Web back in the early years, mainly playing Scrabble and chatting (and taking a lot of flak from non-addicts). Perhaps I have the fear of the once-addicted, confronted with the object of their obsession?


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