Ch. 2

Gutenberg’s Galaxy:
The Value of Tradition

By: Z. A. Counts

THE WORD

Words are important. We all just implicitly know words are important because words act as a glue which allows us to group together different experiences under one label, but even within the wonder of words there’s an inherent lack of being able to fully express an idea or completely summarize an object. We’ve all felt misunderstood by the words we choose, or misunderstood words we’ve heard. In an attempt to remedy this we’ll establish specific meanings of what these words are meant to express within this context that you are now reading. “It is often the case that philosophical books on art begin with expansive scruples about the respective meanings of such words as ‘art’”.1

We’ll be taking one step backwards in hopes of possibly taking one or more steps forward in the future. Where is this art born? I claim it is when an idea becomes material. It is when a single thought is born into life out of an act of autonomy. By autonomy, I mean that while all objects have both a casual/compositional backstory and numerous interactions with their environment, neither of these factors is identical with the object itself, which might well replace or dispense with much of its backstory as well as its environment. When implementing this autonomous act of self governance within the constraints of a medium, art is born. “By art I mean the construction of entities or situations reliably equipped to produce beauty, meaning an explicit tension between hidden real objects and their palpable sensual qualities”.1 The manifestation of an idea through a medium that produces beauty. This means the medium is a technology. And what is technology?

Technology is anything that extends one or more of our five physical senses. This book is a form of print, is a form of writing, and is a form of the voice giving expression to ideas, which is where the chain of media working in pairs ends. An object, within an object, within an object, within an object. A series of words representing linguistic phrases of communication that represent ideas based off our perspective of the perceived object. Patterns of meaning that become greater than the sum of its parts around an autonomous theme. “Ideas don’t hang around by themselves. They must be brought into the world in some order.”2 “This sense of cohesion is the aesthetic value. By aesthetics I mean, the study of surprisingly loose relationships between objects and their own qualities. This will be explained in what follows.”1

What is art? What is tradition? What is Modern, Post-Modern, and Metamodern? To the not so tiny skeptic that lives in all of my generation’s brains, this generalization of periods can seem like an over glorification of past ways of thinking for nothing but the sake of generalization. Some would even go as far to describe it as an metaphorical act of attempted self fellatio from those that perceive themselves as the avant garde. Somehow in a position so close to the thing they desire most but by design never come close enough to touch it. This act of synthesis can be seen by artists as the first true sin towards the artwork itself. To the artist it is obvious that this generalization ignores form in favor of function. Those who observe function know the artist is never free from the universal they must create from within. The artwork is born forever trapped within the belly of the beast. For this same reason the artwork itself is autonomous but significantly related to both the artist and the broader background it was created within.

“It was Levi-Strauss, I think, who showed you have to distinguish the following two propositions: that only similar things can differ, and only different things can be similar.”3 This creation of differences and repetition of forms is a force with unpredictable effects which creates an object in itself. This guiding principle of tradition within these patterns requires the artist take place in an act of judgement of what is and isn’t favorable from the neverending past. A sense of beauty to dictate the constant progress towards the future. Progress dictated by the creator’s decision of what objects will and will not contribute to that difference and repetition of tradition.

So tradition is used to describe what is beautiful about a culture through formalism, but what dictates the forms? “As I see it, formalism is best defined in terms of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, where it is closely linked with the term ‘autonomy.’ Kant employs the term ‘autonomy’ in his ethical philosophy by contrast with the term ‘heteronomy.’ Autonomy in ethics means, above all, that an ethical action must be undertaken for its own sake, not for some ulterior motive, for the sake of a reward, or with a view to the consequences of the action. The ethical act is motivated only by itself, through consideration of pure duty. This is why Kant refers to his own ethical philosophy as “formalist” in character: it is not primarily a matter of the good or bad “content” of an action, but of whether it was motivated by ethical consideration alone.”1 If beauty is the subject’s disposition in this ethical action, where does this sense of beauty come from?

Although you might think of beauty as harmonious, beauty is a study in contrasts. An object can only be seen to embody perfection if it also embodies a correlate degree of imperfection, so before a judgement can be made of the validity of tradition one has to come into contact with what themselves perceives as beautiful and not beautiful about the culture as a whole. This self perception of beauty can never be pulled from the view of beauty that the group as a whole has formed for the individuals standard to be held against. To even know how to judge something we must be aware of the scale it is being judged against, but against what? It’s opposite? What is the opposite of beauty? Ugly?

“Ugly is not the opposite of beauty, they’re more like good and evil twins. The opposite of the beautiful is the literal. Where the literal is defined as treating an object like it’s interchangeable with its qualities.”4 So to make a literal statement you describe the object’s qualities accurately. Consistent undermining of objects causes materialistic fetishization within it’s perceived qualitative confines. This constant push for recognition is why aesthetics is the basis for philosophy.1 This still begs to question, where does this contrasting force that gives birth to beauty arise from?

“Desire full stop is always the desire of the Other. Which basically means that we are always asking the Other what he desires.”5 In other words, Lacan is explaining that desire pushes for recognition. It is less a question of what we desire as much as it is that we be recognized. This means beauty, which is embedded within the forms of tradition we experience culturally are an amalgamation of the forms we desire of the Other. This results in the aforementioned traditions being just shorthand ways of referencing past patterns of desire from how we relate to them in the neverending present. Although the patterns themselves can be useful, they are often limited by the medium in which they are communicated within throughout time and space. This in itself is not a new idea by any means and was one of the many topics explored by Marshall McLuhan who is best known for his persistently misinterpreted phrase “the medium is the message”10. To put it simply, this means the manner in which we receive our information should be the topic of discussion rather than the actual content itself because the content will adapt to the form of the medium.

One of the most physical illustrations of the message adapting to the medium is through the art of Architecture. The layout of a specific building dictates how it’s visitors will navigate through that form. For instance since visitors must walk around material objects like walls and functional materials like seating there is a sense of control of the participant. This autonomy creates a hierarchy in architecture where the building plan decides to a degree where each visitor will go from that moment forward. Obviously this isn’t an exact science, because you never know exactly how someone will move throughout a structure. Honestly, it’s hard to be too perfect when creating anything when quantum theory tells us that even though it’s small there’s a chance someone could potentially walk through any of the walls in the structure. Should the structure adapt? Should this minute chance be planned for?

Obviously not, but the catch lies within how tight we engineer these guiding forces we create patterns within, and how aware we are of inherited traits of the medium we create with. To a degree the question of “How much autonomy should a visitor be given within an architectural structure?” is dictated by the limitations of the medium. So a better question is. “How much autonomy is given to us when creating an architectural structure?” There are obvious limitations thanks to physics that dictate the form of any structure as well as material efficiency, but they are also limited by the pattern of forms of previous acts of creation. The participants are limited by both the limitations the creator and medium place on their aesthetical experience. Exponential increases in technology have given creators mediums with vastly less limitations. Unfortunately McLuhan passed away in 1980 before he could see the rapid technological advancements of the 40 years up to the writing of this book. Since this book is to be a book of justice in retrospect, we will examine how advances in the mediums in which our tradition is conveyed affects our sense of beauty as a whole. Now, with the words mapped, we will move onto the page on which words fall upon.

THE PAGE

“If the phonetic alphabet fell like a bombshell on tribal man, the printing press hit him like a 100-megaton H-bomb. The printing press was the ultimate extension of phonetic literacy: Books could be reproduced in infinite numbers; universal literacy was at last fully possible, if gradually realized; and books became portable individual possessions. Type, the prototype of all machines, ensured the primacy of the visual bias and finally sealed the doom of tribal man. The new medium of linear, uniform, repeatable type reproduced information in unlimited quantities and at hitherto-impossible speeds, thus assuring the eye a position of total predominance in man’s sensorium. As a drastic extension of man, it shaped and transformed his entire environment, psychic and social, and was directly responsible for the rise of such disparate phenomena as nationalism, the Reformation, the assembly line and its offspring, the Industrial Revolution, the whole concept of causality, Cartesian and Newtonian concepts of the universe, perspective in art, narrative chronology in literature and a psychological mode of introspection or inner direction that greatly intensified the tendencies toward individualism and specialization engendered 2000 years before by phonetic literacy. The schism between thought and action was institutionalized, and fragmented man, first sundered by the alphabet, was at last diced into bite-sized tidbits. From that point on, Western man was Gutenberg man.” 6
There have been countless other authors who have created red books filled with pages about the fundamental misconception of humans with the objects we’re surrounded by. For example: Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, and David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000. Both of which have prospectively accurate critiques, but in my opinion malposition the problem within it’s frame. In true Object Oriented Ontological fashion I fall within the middle of the two realities; capital and debt being two objects which have both the normal withdrawal-ness of any objects in that they cannot be pinned down to a strict thing-in-itself. Instead I recognize the materialistic representations and the correlative historical reactions to the forms of which the two take, while also respecting the implications that the metaphysical objects known as debt and capital affect our individual subjects of selves throughout our being in time and space. If quantum theory has told us anything it’s that; in a quantum world the answer is only as good as the question. What do they have in common? How do debt and capital come to be?

I believe it is the doing of ownership. There was a point in time when what was no one’s became someone’s. For a moment in time all the property in the world was centralized in one individual’s hands. “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine’, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.”7 From what were the natural rights of living our lives, liberty to choose our actions, and ownership of the property of the earth we take up with our being was transformed into a form that required public recognition. A new form of us as public beings, which granted instant freedom from the tyranny of our background as a species, but also came with a correlative degree of burden and instant inequity. This inequity would transform into a higher degree of freedom through the acquisition of property for the entire species. The under developed and weak were not bound by their own means of hunting or gathering, but by the communities formed around this public in which they were within. In not so many words, “property is theft”, , but also, “property is freedom.”8Which begs to question. What is transforming our freedom now?

Arguably the medium which affects our current lives the most, in the present moment, is the screen, but the page was the prototype for the screen. As McLuhan points out, the page was also the prototype of the possession. This is an often twisted event whose effects are also often mistaken to be a byproduct of some concept like debt and capital in an attempt to find a binary solution when the world works in paradoxes. As previously stated, I believe ownership gives way to capital which comes with debt. This effect was furthered by giving the public access to the power of print, which granted completely new freedoms and a correlative degree of burdens.

The bible was to the book what the IPhone was to the touch screen. Thanks to effective product design and technological innovations both molded the medium in which they timely democratized. Although the bible had been produced in temporary capacity before by engraving in the side of rocks and by using a stylus on beeswax, the oldest surviving manuscript of any part of the bible was produced by ancient Egyptians around 125 AD. The use of strips of papyrus sewed together and placed between two pieces of wood for covers slowly began to circulate the premodern world, and parchment made from the skin of sheep or goats soon replaced papyrus. These materials and methods greatly limited the production speed and quantity, which is where printing comes into play. Woodblock printing originated in China around 200 AD. Around 320 the Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian and authorized the production of many copies of the Scriptures. Over time the copying and eventual translation lead to a confusing variety of Scriptures. This caused the Pope to commission the great scholar Jerome to make a definitive translation into Latin, which was completed in 405 AD.

“For nearly a thousand years this translation, known as the Vulgate, reigned supreme. While many translations were made, a church council in Toulouse, France, in 1229 forbade anyone who was not a priest from owning a Bible. The work of copying the Scriptures was undertaken in earnest in the monasteries in the Middle Ages. Several thousand monasteries were established across Europe, and for many of the monks making copies of the Scriptures was their chief task. They became the true guardians of the text and produced literally thousands of magnificent Bibles. Teams of scribes and artists worked with parchment to produce incredibly beautiful works of art(…) Most people in the Middle Ages were illiterate, and so picture Bibles full of wonderful illustrations became popular. Because of the huge size of complete Bibles, they were divided into several volumes, and each was very costly. Only the rich and the universities could afford them. Into this situation came a great revolutionary named John Wycliffe, whose central doctrine was, “Every Christian ought to study this book because it is the whole truth!” Wycliffe inspired the first complete translation of the Scriptures into English. He also lashed out against the power and riches of the church establishment, and became a very popular leader at Oxford. Inevitably, he was condemned by the archbishop and was fired from Oxford. However, his conviction of the authority of the Bible rather than the Pope stirred great controversy. Despite the church’s efforts to suppress the Bibles, the common people were at last able to receive and read God’s Word.” 9

In 1446 a failed businessman whose life had been consumed by poverty printed the first page on what would become the silver bullet into the heart of the premodern church. Fate was further sealed. All that was left was for time to march on and the technology to become further and further democratized. By 1500, the Gutenburg press had published almost 40,000 books across Europe. The printing press began the mass turn from oral to written techniques of translation as the means of applied knowledge. This huge increase in books gave a voice to a vast greater number of people, giving the people an identity and essentially created the “public”.4 It now had a way to communicate and begin to self organize, but in which way would it organize?

Before this wide introduction of written material oral readings were the movie theatre of the world. People would gather together as a community to experience their collective reaction to a work of art. The Bible was the first major publication to come along resulting in the church being the de facto place to experience the gathering of community. This effect was further enhanced by the early limitations the church placed on who could and couldn’t own a bible. This manipulation around the freedom of property created an easy transition from oral readings in the community to oral readings in the church. The church used technological advancements to materialize the experience of the community not realizing the ramifications the ideological constraints of the church would have on the public’s sense of community as a whole, which in turn affects our sense of beauty. This bound religion to community from the start of people’s perception of this typographical influenced version of the hyperobject that is the public. Being that the church of the time was composed of the people trapped within the time of course it can’t have been expected to have the foresight around this massive shift in the way everyone everywhere communicated with each other for the foreseeable future of our species. Nevertheless the ideological design of the bible makes it an easy target of blame for the effects of the introduction of typographical works to the masses. The resulting linear approach to forming mental models is more a result of the hierarchical nature of the medium of linear uniform type than the specific content of the stories themselves. This is obvious because you see it in the way we look at many things that aren’t religious at all. Linear uniform type gave us printed money. In 2020 a majority of people think of themselves free from the linear thinking that resulted from such grand narratives, but most people still feel more safe with physical money versus digital money. This is because we feel like we own the physical version, but each of these is just as far from owning actual value. For instance a United States dollar hasn’t represented anything of physical value since Franklin D. Roosevelt took the U.S. off the gold standard in 1933. They are both just a form of materializing faith of value, not representing actual value itself. We accept dollars in payment because we believe the dollars have value and can be spent elsewhere. The printed dollar represents the public’s faith that the government will not print too many and the confidence that the dollars will be accepted by others. This ideological pattern has much less to do with money and the bible and more about faith.

In 1446 a failed businessman whose life had been consumed by poverty printed the first page on what would become the silver bullet into the heart of the premodern church. Fate was further sealed. All that was left was for time to march on and the technology to become further and further democratized. By 1500, the Gutenburg press had published almost 40,000 books across Europe. The printing press began the mass turn from oral to written techniques of translation as the means of applied knowledge. This huge increase in books gave a voice to a vast greater number of people, giving the people an identity and essentially created the “public”.2 It now had a way to communicate and begin to self organize, but in which way would it organize?

Before this wide introduction of written material oral readings were the movie theatre of the world. People would gather together as a community to experience their collective reaction to a work of art. The Bible was the first major publication to come along resulting in the church being the de facto place to experience the gathering of community. This effect was further enhanced by the early limitations the church placed on who could and couldn’t own a bible. This manipulation around the freedom of property created an easy transition from oral readings in the community to oral readings in the church. The church used technological advancements to materialize the experience of the community not realizing the ramifications the ideological constraints of the church would have on the public’s sense of community as a whole, which in turn affects our sense of beauty. This bound religion to community from the start of people’s perception of this typographical influenced version of the “hyperobject”14 known as the public. Being that the church of the time was composed of the people trapped within the time of course it can’t have been expected to have the foresight around this massive shift in the way everyone everywhere communicated with each other for the foreseeable future of our species. Nevertheless the ideological design of the bible makes it an easy target of blame for the effects of the introduction of typographical works to the masses. The resulting linear approach to forming mental models is more a result of the hierarchical nature of the medium of linear uniform type than the specific content of the stories themselves. This is obvious because you see it in the way we look at many things that aren’t religious at all. Linear uniform type gave us printed money. In 2020 a majority of people think of themselves free from the linear thinking that resulted from such grand narratives, but most people still feel more safe with physical money versus digital money. This is because we feel like we own the physical version, but each of these is just as far from owning actual value. For instance a United States dollar hasn’t represented anything of physical value since Franklin D. Roosevelt took the U.S. off the gold standard in 1933. They are both just a form of materializing faith of value, not representing actual value itself. We accept dollars in payment because we believe the dollars have value and can be spent elsewhere. The printed dollar represents the public’s faith that the government will not print too many and the confidence that the dollars will be accepted by others. This ideological pattern has much less to do with money and the bible and more about faith.

“As early as 1864-1867 Karl Rodbertus elaborated his theory of “Economic Life in Classical Antiquity.” In Trade and Market in the Early Empires (p.5) Harry Pearson describes his innovation as follows:

‘This remarkably modern view of the social function of money has not been sufficiently appreciated. Rodbertus realized that the transition from a “natural economy” to a “money economy” was not simply a technical matter, which resulted from a substitution of money purchase for barter. He insisted instead that a monetized economy involved a social structure entirely different from that which went with an economy in kind. It was this change in the social structures accompanying trading activity in the ancient world the controversy might have been resolved before it began’

In other words, had Rodbertus further explained that different forms of money and exchange structured societies in varying ways, generations of confused controversy might have been avoided. The matter was finally explained when Karl approached the classical world not from our conventional mode of historical retrospect but from the primitive side. By starting with non-literate societies and moving toward the classical world, ‘he suggested that ancient economic life might better be understood if viewed from the perspective of primitive rather than modern society’

Such a reverse perspective of the literate Western world is the one afforded to the reader of Albert Lord’s Singer of Tales. But we also live in an electric or post-literate time when the jazz musician uses all the techniques of oral poetry. Empathic identification with all the oral modes is not difficult in our century”
2

It’s impossible to know the amount of money that has been printed to date, but according to Google.com there’s been more than 123,456,789 books published worldwide to date. Google also said that there’s no way to know exactly how many of those are bibles, although there have been many attempts to calculate this statistic. This is hard to calculate because of the obvious complexities of such a long history of iterations of content, materials, and changes in production methods. From what started as 150 AD Chinese block printing technology to contemporary times of being able to use a computer function to search through the bible on a screen, the methods of printing have changed, but the icon hasn’t.

If McLuhan lived in a post-literate time when the jazz musicians used all the techniques of oral poetry, we now live in a post-text time (Shea Serrano, The Rap Yearbook ) when the oral poet uses all the techniques of the jazz musician. Arguably the most influential musician in this realm is Jeffery Lamar Williams who is known professionally as Young Thug. Williams has received both praise and criticism for his eccentric and unique vocal style, which has been described as departing from traditional lyricism in that he doesn’t even really need words.
“His work is constantly rooted in improvisation, an inherently thrilling concept that’s embedded itself in black music.” -Consequence of Sound2

Williams is seen as part of a progression of emotion, feeling-based rap and has been noted for his fast working method, with several collaborators observing his tendency to freestyle tracks live in the studio or quickly develop lyrics on the spot. He doesn’t write down lyrics on paper, but has been known to plan lyrics by drawing shapes and signs. For linguists, rap songs offer one of the most unprocessed databases of vernacular conversation, and thanks to technological innovations there are songs being created at an increasingly rapid pace. The democratization of recording hardware, software, and publishing has led to people being able to record and publish music wherever and whenever they desire.

If McLuhan lived in a post-literate time when the jazz musicians used all the techniques of oral poetry, we now live in a post-text time16 when the oral poet uses all the techniques of the jazz musician. Arguably the most influential musician in this realm is Jeffery Lamar Williams who is known professionally as Young Thug. Williams has received both praise and criticism for his eccentric and unique vocal style, which has been described as departing from traditional lyricism in that he doesn’t even really need words. “His work is constantly rooted in improvisation, an inherently thrilling concept that’s embedded itself in black music.”11

Williams is seen as part of a progression of emotion, feeling-based rap and has been noted for his fast working method, with several collaborators observing his tendency to freestyle tracks live in the studio or quickly develop lyrics on the spot. He doesn’t write down lyrics on paper, but has been known to plan lyrics by drawing shapes and signs. For linguists, rap songs offer one of the most unprocessed databases of vernacular conversation, and thanks to technological innovations there are songs being created at an increasingly rapid pace. The democratization of recording hardware, software, and publishing has led to people being able to record and publish music wherever and whenever they desire.

“Rap is the largest repository ever of natural black English speech(…) the closer that rappers deliver their lines the way they would actually speak around peers, the more it gives you a window into black English vernacular. As a linguist, I get to hear the cadence of how people in Atlanta actually talk with their peers.”12 The most groundbreaking aspect of a Young Thug track lies in that often its lyrics communicate more effectively with the viewer than traditional speech could. This could be through encrypted slang, elaborate similes, the particular reductions of a speech dialect, double entendres, cross-referencing seemingly random objects. “It’s almost like a Rorschach ink blot test. In a way, what Young Thug originally meant becomes less interesting than your own interaction with and interpretation of his music, which depends entirely on who you are.”12

Similar to the abstraction of forms in the visual arts, Jeffery’s use of deliberate slurring and mispronounced words makes the listener have to engage further to try to figure out what words he’s even saying, much less the meaning. In many cases it can just be up to the listener if the lyrics have any meaning to them at all. Williams style of not being bound by the medium of the page or word itself makes him one of the post-text generations’ creative visionaries. But how did it happen? What moves us from the page to post-text? What cultural boundaries birthed a Young Thug?

“Rap is the largest repository ever of natural black English speech(…) the closer that rappers deliver their lines the way they would actually speak around peers, the more it gives you a window into black English vernacular. As a linguist, I get to hear the cadence of how people in Atlanta actually talk with their peers.”12 The most groundbreaking aspect of a Young Thug track lies in that often its lyrics communicate more effectively with the viewer than traditional speech could. This could be through encrypted slang, elaborate similes, the particular reductions of a speech dialect, double entendres, cross-referencing seemingly random objects. “It’s almost like a Rorschach ink blot test. In a way, what Young Thug originally meant becomes less interesting than your own interaction with and interpretation of his music, which depends entirely on who you are.”12

Similar to the abstraction of forms in the visual arts, Jeffery’s use of deliberate slurring and mispronounced words makes the listener have to engage further to try to figure out what words he’s even saying, much less the meaning. In many cases it can just be up to the listener if the lyrics have any meaning to them at all. Williams style of not being bound by the medium of the page or word itself makes him one of the post-text generations’ creative visionaries. But how did it happen? What moves us from the page to post-text? What cultural boundaries birthed a Young Thug?

THE SCREEN

Similar to the consequences of the printing press’s moveable type the screen has crafted the ways we perceive information itself. In a lecture on new media at the Museum of Modern Art in 1966 Marshall Mcluhan described a point that has been well echoed through time that Georges Seurat was painting with pixels long before there was a screen to place them on. This was done typically by painting various colors of dots over a lighter background that give the illusion that light is peaking around each dot from an illuminated background. In this lecture Mcluhan proclaims that pointillism seeks to engage the viewer by the light shining towards the viewer instead of reversed from viewer towards object. “Seurat was consciously seeking to engage his reader in depth in the making process. Edgar Allen Poe hit upon this with his detective story technique, he discovered if you leave out all the connections in a story the reader becomes profoundly involved in making them and completing the story”.13 The invention of the film can be traced back to artist’s experimenting in ways to capture snippets of reality, but before its digital form film was originally just a series of still images that moved in rapid succession. If an image flashes in front of your eyes your brain retains that image for about 1/5th of a second after it’s gone which creates an optical illusion that lets you see a series of images in rapid succession as continuous motion. Within it’s time period this basic scientific phenomenon was seen as nothing less than an act of magic. Film quickly developed into its own artform that blended literature, drama, photography, and music. This began the neverending mixing between the print versions of reality with their digital counterparts. This act of translation into a digital clone inherently gives the content itself the characteristics of the digital medium. How does this translation shift our view of the concept of content as a whole?

From the beginning the screen relied heavily on the viewer to “fill in the gaps” in between cut shots and scene transitions. The viewer’s sense of linear thinking was again forced to stretch to accommodate the medium the message was within. There was no assumption that had to be made in between panels of illustration or the turn of the page. This is the same logic Mcluhan uses to argue that film engaged it’s viewer deeper than it’s stage or print counterparts. Historically the sets that were created for the production of a television show required the viewer to do more filling in the blanks between transitions. In film you could now go back and forth instantly from multiple views and scenes without an intermission where the crowd waits for a full stage crew to assemble a scene. The stage and boundaries of the medium of which the performance took place required that the scale and setup methods be somewhat exposed to the audience, but this is completely hidden in films. This required the viewer to place more trust in the medium. The viewer was required to assume there was a link between cuts and scenes; thus the viewer was required to build those connections in their head every time the scene view changed. Until contemporary innovations the television program had been created in a method which is closer to a traditional stage performance than a movie was, but was mostly at the fault of budgetary constraints instead of them being drastically different mediums. How has the structures we’ve created around the film affected the ways we experience it?

The screen has trained us in a pattern of assumptions without any direct control or interactions with the tuning of those assumptions. The way we’ve historically communicated with the screen was through capitalist markets. One way this is illustrated is through the data we have since the cinema began. For instance, since 1930 the average shot length of English language films has declined from about 12 seconds to about 2.5 seconds in the present day. (Barry Salt, Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis 3rd. Edition, p 367) Some people have attempted to point to specific phenomena that could have caused this like MTV, claiming that the music video killed our attention span. Salt’s data shows no inflection point around or since the birth of the music video on television. Rather than any specific culprit I believe this trend has much more to do with the democratization of the technology of the screen and our continued evolution to our environment. In contemporary times almost everyone alive was born into an environment which was engulfed by the screen to some degree.

Similar to the aforementioned book and bible situation, I don’t think any specific content on the screen is the culprit. However, I do think the processes in place to choose the programming has had a drastic effect on this trend coming to materialization overtime. Film has understood what we want better. Companies have developed concepts like ratings to better and better understand what the public wants. Real time generation of ratings through technology have allowed the public to affect what would happen on the screen more directly by their actions. Mcluhan went on in his Lecture to contrast the generation who learned to “read and write” before they learned to watch tv and those that learned in the reverse. He describes the latter group as “grim.. They’re not light hearted, they’re not playful, they’re not detached, they have no fantasy of the old movie world or the old book world about them. They’re deeply involved and take everything very seriously”. In modern times this lack of detachment and seriousness may sound like a positive trait in our current time, but Mcluhan was referring to the way in which some media had begun to engulf the viewer more deeply. This creates a less and less detached viewer to the fiction they are actually watching, because to an extent they are less detached. Their actions dictate the screen more than ever. Mcluhan describes the relationship between mediums on level of engagement as being “hot” and “cold”. This is not to say that if a medium is labeled “hot” it is not forever labeled “hot”, moreover that it is “hot” comparatively to the sample size. During his time I think this may have been a slightly harder concept for the public to understand, but in the Post-Netflixian era it has become the forefront of the public consciousness how much more engulfing television has the potential to be. This is because of the repetition in content, length, and actual ways to engage. One contemporary example of technological advancement in this area would be the 2018 Netflix release of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch which allows you to choose what happens within the story via interactive options appearing on the screen. How hot would Mcluhan find this engulfment of senses?

One thing to ponder is how McLuhan’s concepts of hot and cold would apply to the meta restrictions and narratives within platforms. Twitter has less characters than a blog, so it would be a cooler medium, but in practicality we know Twitter engages most current users in a much hotter way. Does this mean it is about engagement per section of view? Engagement per pixel? Or efficiency of engagement? Either way it means there’s another meta layer within the page.

What will the concept of a “page” be to the generation born into a world once the last tree has died and the last book burned? In a purely digital world a page doesn’t make you think about something in sequential order, or in a certain layout, they are seen as an individual snapshot into an idea. What will a book be when a website is just a group of pages? A website’s pages aren’t numbered sequentially, because they aren’t bound by order; they’re bound by the limits of the idea. They’re a portal into a different pattern of thinking. This thought of a future extinction of books is an obvious hyperbole that could easily be written into a self published science fiction novel in current times, but even within the current entrapment of time we see the COVID-19 pandemic pushing people further and further into a fully digital ecosystem. This will further and further pull people away from the linear thinking of the previous version of the page. What will the phone icon mean to someone born in 2220 when they’ll never see a phone with that silhouette? Or probably even a phone. Maybe they would have phones, and maybe they would see that silhouette… Could the use of the icon make that specific silhouette of the phone so popular that it never goes away?
Would they still have icons?

The screen has trained us in a pattern of assumptions without any direct control or interactions with the tuning of those assumptions. The way we’ve historically communicated with the screen was through capitalist markets. One way this is illustrated is through the data we have since the cinema began. For instance, since 1930 the average shot length of English language films has declined from about 12 seconds to about 2.5 seconds in the present day. (Barry Salt, Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis 3rd. Edition, p 367) Some people have attempted to point to specific phenomena that could have caused this like MTV, claiming that the music video killed our attention span. Salt’s data shows no inflection point around or since the birth of the music video on television. Rather than any specific culprit I believe this trend has much more to do with the democratization of the technology of the screen and our continued evolution to our environment. In contemporary times almost everyone alive was born into an environment which was engulfed by the screen to some degree.
Similar to the aforementioned book and bible situation, I don’t think any specific content on the screen is the culprit. However, I do think the processes in place to choose the programming has had a drastic effect on this trend coming to materialization overtime. Film has understood what we want better. Companies have developed concepts like ratings to better and better understand what the public wants. Real time generation of ratings through technology have allowed the public to affect what would happen on the screen more directly by their actions. Mcluhan went on in his Lecture to contrast the generation who learned to “read and write” before they learned to watch tv and those that learned in the reverse. He describes the latter group as “grim.. They’re not light hearted, they’re not playful, they’re not detached, they have no fantasy of the old movie world or the old book world about them. They’re deeply involved and take everything very seriously”. In modern times this lack of detachment and seriousness may sound like a positive trait in our current time, but Mcluhan was referring to the way in which some media had begun to engulf the viewer more deeply. This creates a less and less detached viewer to the fiction they are actually watching, because to an extent they are less detached. Their actions dictate the screen more than ever. Mcluhan describes the relationship between mediums on level of engagement as being “hot” and “cold”. This is not to say that if a medium is labeled “hot” it is not forever labeled “hot”, moreover that it is “hot” comparatively to the sample size. During his time I think this may have been a slightly harder concept for the public to understand, but in the Post-Netflixian era it has become the forefront of the public consciousness how much more engulfing television has the potential to be. This is because of the repetition in content, length, and actual ways to engage. One contemporary example of technological advancement in this area would be the 2018 Netflix release of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch which allows you to choose what happens within the story via interactive options appearing on the screen. How hot would Mcluhan find this engulfment of senses?

One thing to ponder is how McLuhan’s concepts of hot and cold would apply to the meta restrictions and narratives within platforms. Twitter has less characters than a blog, so it would be a cooler medium, but in practicality we know Twitter engages most current users in a much hotter way. Does this mean it is about engagement per section of view? Engagement per pixel? Or efficiency of engagement? Either way it means there’s another meta layer within the page.

What will the concept of a “page” be to the generation born into a world once the last tree has died and the last book burned? In a purely digital world a page doesn’t make you think about something in sequential order, or in a certain layout, they are seen as an individual snapshot into an idea. What will a book be when a website is just a group of pages? A website’s pages aren’t numbered sequentially, because they aren’t bound by order; they’re bound by the limits of the idea. They’re a portal into a different pattern of thinking. This thought of a future extinction of books is an obvious hyperbole that could easily be written into a self published science fiction novel in current times, but even within the current entrapment of time we see the COVID-19 pandemic pushing people further and further into a fully digital ecosystem. This will further and further pull people away from the linear thinking of the previous version of the page. What will the phone icon mean to someone born in 2220 when they’ll never see a phone with that silhouette? Or probably even a phone. Maybe they would have phones, and maybe they would see that silhouette… Could the use of the icon make that specific silhouette of the phone so popular that it never goes away?
Would they still have icons?

THE EXPERIENCE

The representation of form through the medium of the icon becomes a self influencing process when experienced over time. The forms we create are affected by how we ourselves perceive the forms. We understand an object partly because of how it is represented and partly how it actually is. In contemporary times we see a rapid trend of unconscious synthesization of information because of the rapid increases in capabilities in which technologies relay information. It doesn’t even matter the type of content: branded, unbranded, stuff we hate, stuff we enjoy. More data is going in but we’re processing less and this becomes even more paradoxical by the fact that we’re given the opportunity to consume information in whatever manner we wish. Modern technology unlocks a seemingly endless variety of mediums. It’s exactly whatever we want, whenever we want it, and in whichever manner our heart desires. Which leads to the question of what, when, and how to choose what? Why can’t we put our finger on it? What do we desire?

We feel like we consume a larger amount of information but remember less because we collectively haven’t adapted to understand how what we consume is being synthesized. Similar to the mass distribution of the book by the printing press, the contemporary technologies are molded most influentially by early adopters whose ideology is an easy scapegoat for the limitation of the medium itself. Does it matter if you watch a video of a conversation or just listen to the same conversation on a podcast? Does it matter if you watch the conversation on Vimeo or YouTube? What is the value of that conversation?

Although my perspective could be skewed because of my young age at the time, I believe that ten years ago these would sound like dumb questions to most people, but I think has greatly grew to one of the more prominent public thoughts because of things like wrestling and post-truth politics. This leads to the questions: what is a Vimeo, and who is a YouTube? According to the collective consciousness known as the internet a brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. It’s a common idea tying together a group of commercial objects. Rather than breaking down step by step the exact ways in which the concept known as a brand functions in 2020, we can just go on a journey together through an anecdotal example that I feel illustrates the ways we each connect with this hyperobject called a brand.

My brother really enjoys films, movies and television specifically. Before seeing a movie he normally hears about it through advertisements, personal word of mouth, or one of the places he frequents on the world wide web. This could be as simple as seeing the name or go as far as watching the full trailer. In the end it doesn’t matter though because in marketing terms my brother has entered “the sales funnel”. He wasn’t consciously aware, but upon coming into contact with a branded object he is transported into a narrowing capitalist shaft of deception designed in hopes of extracting some form of work. It doesn’t matter if my brother loves it or hates it, either way he is the unsuspecting host of an idea. There’s an involuntary reaction to seeing any form of branded material that creates an energy of judgement about what the viewer was exposed to. These factors of excitement obviously depend on a wide variety of variables, but the key concept is that these variables are everything the viewer perceives as relating to the current view of the brand. The brand itself is composed of sub brands. Objects that compose a larger object. For instance when my brother is watching a trailer he is experiencing an assemblage of the existing brands that probably includes the specific actors, the director, the writers, who produced the film, etc etc etc… At the end of the process of the assemblages of sub brands within the context of the current view my brother would then have an involuntary judgement. His depth of knowledge of the subject matter is mapped against his interest in what he sees. The new object is held against the perceiver’s accumulated knowledge of what makes that category of object enjoyable. That new object he mentally forms as the brand of this new film is held up against the accumulation of what he deemed enjoyable from the past brands and current view. Irrelevant of my brother’s judgement of the specific branded content it doesn’t change the fact that from that moment forward he will be familiar with it. Forever have experienced that object to a degree and thus formed boundaries around that new idea. Well, “forever” being as long as he retains that memory. In reality we don’t all have photographic memories that retain every object we’ve ever come into contact with, so there’s a time limit on attention. Similar to how our eyes have a certain gap in time in which different images can be shown in rapid succession so it appears they blend together, branding functions in a similar fashion. The closest thing to a science behind branding is hypothesizing and testing this gap. This is done by the building, retaining, and measuring of how the brand is experienced. Which leaves the question: how does one communicate a brand, and how does one measure people’s reaction to that brand?

The way a brand is communicated is via marketing. Marketing is defined by The American Marketing Association as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large”. For value to be communicated it has to appeal to some desire of the customer for them to consider the object to be valuable. Which becomes a competition between brands of who most effectively communicates the filling of a desire to the most number of customers. In many cases the biggest downfall of this process lies within what the brands aren’t even aware they’re communicating. For example when businesses were required to adapt to communicate on the web, business leaders had no idea about the medium itself or how it would mold the message. Capitalistic innovation slowly developed the roles of User Interface(UI) Designer and User Experience(UX) Designer to handle the relationship of how the potential customer and technological instruments of the brand communicate to each other. The UI Designer’s goal is to make technology easy to use, and consumer friendly. The role requires an understanding of human behavior and design principles. Their goal is to quantify the steps consumers will use when accessing technology, then design models that streamline the steps in the process to create a better user experience. UI is an important aspect of UX. A UX designer is concerned with the entire process of acquiring and integrating a product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function. This person understands and then optimizes the entire process to the most authentic expression of the brand self-awarely within the materialistic constraints of the mediums.

In practice the UX designer is given an impossible task of optimizing the entire process within too many mediums to have knowledge of the full range of idiosyncrasies within each, especially with the bureaucratic nuances that come to form around this whole process required for the vision of the brand as a total to be brought to materialization. What are the mediums open to the brand? What is the brand’s budget? This leads to the catch-22 that is that the UI/UX designers are only able to affect problems and implement changes relative to their scope of specialization. With greater layers of specialization require proportional layers of management to handle the information in between those layers, which bureaucratically runs the information through a system that judges if those changes are worth it for the whole. A system to make sure everyone is on the same page. The decisions are made in modes of historical retrospect via hierarchical models rather than working in self contained modules that are able to adapt as quickly to real-time to the medium as possible. By modules I mean autonomous means of production directly in contact with the medium, similar to the logic Karl Rodbertus used when starting from the realities of the primitive side with monetary systems. The effects of this misstructuring is compounded by the fact these are two of the only professions that practically start to handle the problems of how technology shapes our actions, and take action to change the technology in real time for an autonomous goal.

An argument could be made that even that goal isn’t autonomous to the economic system it is within, but for now it’s autonomous enough, because of how closely in contact it is with the medium itself. The point is the roles of UI and UX designers illustrate how by real time monitoring we can optimize to the fact that mediums mold the message. The downside behind this observation is that it illuminates the problem of how there’s no one to handle how the brand as a whole interacts with the people as a whole. Who takes care of the large problems? What if a brand is good for itself but bad for us? Fast food? Gasoline? Nuclear weapons? Who is steering that ship? In the current United States system if there’s a “brand strategist” for the sub brands that comprise the military industrial complex as a whole it would be the government. Like other autonomous actions, we see a conflict of interests within the steering when the captain of the ship allows the sails to move with the winds manifested by the whims of the medium itself. The medium of contemporary politics being capital. Even if the government was completely authentic to how the public wish to manage this brand there’s still the inherent degree of separation from the ownership of the brand itself because of the institutional apparatus behind the funding to become representative. This creates an unclosable gap of inauthenticity within the communication where the public speech exists through politics and brand. This is similar to that of the individual UI designers handling smaller problems within the context of what the medium of the institution, and capital resources deem adequate instead of towards the technological medium itself. The productive forces that bring the brand into material are dictated by the medium of capital itself. This leads to a never ending race towards optimizing the pure idea behind the brand into the medium of capital instead of optimizing the medium to the pure idea. This optimization towards the medium of capital is inherently just an optimization towards the idea of ownership itself. This can be seen by the assemblages of economic systems we see in contemporary times.

In 2020 the two biggest economic powers are the Chinese Communist Party and The United States of America. The cliche Capitalism vs Communism, but interestingly over time the positions have moved further into a similar grey area between the two. This is a point that contemporary Philosopher Slavoj Žižek makes often. “The ultimate irony is that, while former communists (China, Vietnam) are today the best managers of capitalism, developed capitalist countries go furthest in the direction of collaborative or cooperative commons as the way to overcome capitalism.”15

Slavoj points out that each system has been optimizing in ways towards the same goal of being most effective in the capitalist global marketplace. Both have inherent limitations due to the mediums they exist within. A global background of hyper competition based on a pseudo medium of overly limited resources. To clarify, there’s limitation on the medium, meaning the resources themselves, but it is the awkwardly placed frame that creates this pseudo effect. This is where the international corporation becomes impactful because it has the ability to engineer around that problem. We see this in practices such as outsourcing, foreign lobbying, off-short drilling, etc… In reality we know “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” in many perspectives. Families are fed. In contemporary times many look at these practices as unethical and not even effective strategies in the long term. Although they may or may not be unethical and they are perfectly legal. Shouldn’t the political system be responsible for this disconnect in our collective long term interests vs short term interests and create laws to compensate for this shortcoming?

Unfortunately the political apparatus cannot afford to employ the teams of writers it takes to draft a law, so many times those are outsourced to hyper capitalist lobbying groups who’s environment is a metaphorical fish tank, whose water is circulated based purely off efficiency towards the medium of capitalistic revenue itself. I find this problematic, which I mean with every layer of irony. Although there would be some people that would argue, I believe ethics and politics are wrapped up into the medium of being alive. We are forced to communicate any actions as a human through the lens of our Individual ethical background. In the view of Socrates ethics and politics are inherently connected. Without politics ethics carries no value, and without ethics politics becomes an apparatus of harm. “The highest of all virtues is the political art which includes statecraft and makes men good politicians and public officials.” In other words, Socrates is saying the purpose of politics is not to capture power, but to conduct a study on power itself. A metaphysical perspectively healthy superconductor for all forms of power that the public could generate. In Socrates’ view, political ethics make good and proper citizens and both knowingly public and delusionally self insulated “private” persons must learn the art of political ethics.

In a modern context the medium in which this political art is brought to material is through the corporation. We increasingly use the corporate structure as the medium in which to learn the art of political ethics. In contemporary times political ethics manifest themselves most practically through internal corporate regulations. We see this in events as simple as the sudden rise in firing for ideological beliefs, or once any current worldwide figure is deemed hanus enough by the public, a cooperation will simply refuse to do business with that person. We see this from everything from who politicians will accept monetary donations from, to who is allowed to create a post on Facebook. Facebook is the only free app accessible in some countries around the contemporary world. There is no international court of free speech, but if everyone is talking in the same place, it creates the opportunity for there to be one, and any use of this power creates its existence. This is an opportunity businesses have handled in dramatically different ways. Many have tried to put the burden off to politics, some to the public, and some have simply tried to pretend this opportunity doesn’t exist. As a result of ignoring this shift in mediums there’s been an increasing miscommunication in both the economic and political worlds. This miscommunication between worlds is most prominently on display every time someone from the U.S. Senate or some random subcommittee you’ve probably never heard of asks Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerburg, or Jack Dorsey a question. Not only is this prominent in the ignorance of the political apparatus, but the level of separation everyone has from the reality of what’s actually going on. At a certain point, neither party understands what’s going on, or the questions they’re asking each other. There’s too many components for one person to understand the subtleties and nuances to answer specific questions. The high number of degrees of separation make the connection so weak it is unreliable. For instance if a random subcommittee member asks Jack Dorsey why someone was banned from Twitter, or asks Mark Zuckerburg what specific tools Facebook’s employees use there’s a good chance both legitimately have no idea because both run multiple corporations that are all too complex for one person to completely understand. The CEO’s of large corporations have briefings from the leaders of each division within the company, and to a degree only receive summaries of what’s going on.

Another hiccup is that many of these degrees of separation between what people know is going on and what is going on lies within algorithms; which no one completely understands in these use cases. All we know is that in these use cases they’re functioning as a black box to absorb the surplus enjoyment of the public while shielding any specific individual from the backlash that comes with a failure of ethics. Whatever makes the most money makes the most money, and whatever gets the most clicks gets the most clicks. No one can blame a specific person or problem because it is decentralized. This leads to our political and public views to be driven by what corporations optimize for. What do corporations desire? Is there a difference between money and speech?

The current system has most corporations run by a group of people known as a board. A board of humans, who act for the desire of the company’s interest as a whole. Consequently this means their ethics doesn’t come from them, but from the perceived benefit of the whole. The current infrastructure says the board owes it to the shareholders to make as much money as possible. This places the desire on capital itself. Amazon is currently optimized to make as much money as possible, especially during a global pandemic. Jeff Bezos cannot change what the system in which businesses are in force them to optimize for.
What happens if you don’t just optimize for capital, what if you just go with the black box? Just roll the dice and see what happens.

I don’t believe there is a random throw of those dice. I believe in some ways the throwing of the dice itself is a political act which will be judged autonomously for beauty after the metaphorical role. We see this most prominently with the innovations within the medium of anonymity, which has taken a whole new trajectory in the digital age. It is becoming increasingly apparent that in the end someone ends up bearing the responsibility for the filtering or not filtering of data. I believe that Jack Dorsey generally has little knowledge or control over what happens on the Twitter platform or in the Twitter corporation. I believe Twitter’s handling of communication during the 2020 election cycle has shown it to move directly or indirectly off the holes in the political world through a variety of apparatuses. There’s many specific rabbit hole’s that could be gone down at this point about who runs the campaigns of who and where those people used to work, and how decisions are made within the company, but for the sake of staying on topic and aiming more at the medium itself we’ll just simplify it to the point that these platforms mainly operate at the mercy of capital, cultural bureaucracy and algorithms. It seems in many cases there is no specific captain of the ship, but the ship still maintains semi autonomously afloat. Jack seems like a nice guy though. I’m sure it’ll all work out because he means well as he watches the ship drive itself.

Steve Jobs on the other hand was a ruthlessly efficient manager, and would be described by some former employees as an “insensitive asshole”. In this context the details of his managerial practices are also less important than the fact that he constructed some of the most effectively designed visions for brands that are in current existence. Jobs’ most obvious contribution was as the CEO of Apple, where he developed the technological and conceptual infrastructure for the brand as a whole. Pure impact alone isn’t what makes Jobs so influential, it was more his pattern of thinking. He chose to architect the brand as a system to develop technology and patterns of thinking that set the brand’s future products and captains at a trajectory closer to that gap between the creator and the medium itself. He set the brand on a mission to build the best product for people. Obviously the word “best” is completely based on the creator’s perspective. While it could easily be argued that, directly or indirectly, Steve Jobs business practices caused great amounts , there was also an obvious amount of benefit the public received thanks to this autonomy he wielded. Take for instance the launch of their free podcasting service which transformed everyone’s telephone into a free podcast studio which could broadcast globally. This benifited both the public and the creator greatly. This freedom of creation allowed the public to rapidly create, and Apple to be years ahead of the curve and has made their platform generate the most accurate data of what is desired within that medium. Another example of this efficient quantification of desire is the Apple app store which has consistently given real time accurate data of what people are experiencing across their entire life. Through all of contemporary technology the most consistent way to put it’s digital “fingers” on the pulse of the world is the app store simply because it is the one that the most amount of digital fingers directly or indirectly interact with. One leg it has up on potential competition for showing what things people actually desire is that it is entirely digital. Since people can download things for free like facebook, twitter, Angry Birds, etc etc etc.. The Apple Appstore on the Apple Iphone gives the most accurate real time data of what those people are needing in their life that the digital world can provide. Unfortunately there does seem to be a post Steve Jobs era where the vision of the Apple brand seems to have fragmented throughout different roles and leaders. The brand no longer wields the advantage his presence fulfilled by centralizing the idea for the entire system easily. This does not have to be a single person, but the vision has to be vividly clear. How succinctly was the entire unit moving towards one idea. Many times this was done easiest by leading the company, but Jobs also showed how a pattern of thought could work across multiple brands via the many positions and corporations he worked at across his life(Pixar, Disney, etc etc etc…). Forthcoming generations of visionaries have also had Jobs’ shortcomings to learn from, and have contributed to the rise of culturally conscious CEO’s and captain’s of the ship.

An argument can be made that the best optimized integration of these two worlds is being done by Shawn Carter. Shawn Carter is an American musician, record executive, and businessman. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential hip-hop artists in history, and is often cited as one of the most visionary businessmen of contemporary times. The brand of JAY-Z began its musical career in 1996 after Carter’s founding of Roc-A-Fella Records the previous year. JAY-Z’s album was released to widespread critical success, and solidified his standing in the music industry. This provided the foundation for him to conceptually use conglomerate integration to build a portfolio of corporations that have no direct connection to each other minus the fact that they’re all related to the manifestation of Shawn Carter’s ethics. I’ll elaborate on this further for clarity. No one knows how Carter acquired the money to start Roc-A-Fella Records but after his success in the music industry he used the capital to fund the clothing retail brand Rocawear in 1999, and in 2003, he founded the luxury sports bar brand 40/40 Club. Both businesses have grown to become multi-million-dollar corporations, and allowed Jay-Z to fund the start-up for the entertainment company Roc Nation, which was founded in 2008. In 2015, he acquired the tech company Aspiro and took charge of their media streaming service Tidal. You can now watch a JAY-Z music video that features Shawn wearing Rocawear that was shot in a 40-40 club on your Tidal streaming app in which Shawn receives all the royalties, publishing, and fees. The important aspect of this is that the pieces also function while not being used together. You can find much more content related to the vision of Shawn Carter on Tidal than just JAY-Z music, and can walk down any sidewalk in Brooklyn right now and you’ll see 10 hats with a Paper Plane on it that express Shawn Carter’s vision.

Carter has gone on since to release twelve additional albums over the last 24 years, and has even extracted value out of the linguistics and styling of the “JAY-Z” name. In 2020 JAY-Z was featured on the vast majority of tracks on the debut album of the brand JAY ELECTRONICA ” titled ‘A Written Testimony’. JAY ELECTRONICA is a brand created by the artist Elpadaro F. Electronica Allah. Stylistically and linguistically the brand names of JAY-Z and JAY ELECTRONICA are obviously very similar, which causes the audience of JAY-Z to be predisposed to the JAY ELECTRONICA brand. This brings Shawn value through previously mentioned business ventures. Shawn owns a part of JAY ELECTRONICA in brand and production, but building pyramids of artists off of co-signs is a normal marketing tactic in hip-hop and music culture in general.

What makes Shawn’s collection of brands so powerful is the integration of seemingly unrelated businesses harmoniously. For instance, throughout the imprisonment of Robert Rihmeek Williams, known professionally as Meek MIll, Carter was one of his biggest supporters. JAY-Z wrote a passionate op-ed for The New York Times about Mill’s unjust imprisonment and Carter even went as far to assist with millions of dollars in Williams’ legal fees, which is not a widely publicized fact by any means. While Meek is signed to the artist management company Roc Nation, Carter’s support extended beyond economical value to the specific business transaction to that of the brand that is Meek Mill. Williams has gone on to be a passionate spokesperson for criminal justice reform partly as a result of the system he’s within, a system that rewards ethical action. A more obvious example of this would be Carter’s involvement in the film TIME: The Kalief Browder Story, which is a six-part documentary series which tells the tragic story of a young man from The Bronx, New York named Kalief Browder. Browder was a young man accused of stealing a backpack who spent over 1,000 days in pre-trial detention at Rikers, approximately 700 days in solitary confinement, before his case was dismissed. Kalief maintained his innocence throughout, and ultimately committed suicide. Although nothing can bring back a life or even single handedly change the system that took it, the film did bring awareness to the massive issue of criminal justice reform and more practically drew heat to an especially troubled jail complex which was later voted to be closed down and separated into 4 smaller jail complexes by 2026. Unfortunately this self proclaimed “aggressive” timeline fell 6 years short of the COVID-19 global pandemic we see hitting New York, and prisons especially hard in the present moment. Obviously immortalizing victims of broken systems through film isn’t an effective long term solution, but Carter utilizes his collection of brands in a unique way that I feel combines political ethics and economics. Carter describes his motivation for his involvement in the film as that to immortalize the story of a prophet.
“I believe our prophets come in many shapes or forms(…) Sometimes our prophets come in the form of young undeveloped energy that will teach all us grown-ups how to love better and have more compassion.” – Shawn Carter

Conceptually this is the approach he carries over across all of his business and artistic ventures. Similar to Steve Jobs utilizing his concept of “design better products for people” seamlessly across the multiple corporations he was involved in, Shawn Carter utilizes the concept of helping people design themselves better across a vast variety of mediums. I feel the ecosystem of corporations and disciplines he utilizes as mediums to experience a single ethical vision has created a series of brands that is one of the best designed in contemporary times. It’s by far not the most expansive or effective but it is the most authentic because it has centralized the idea and decentralized the production in a way so that the brand is conscious of the inherent flaws within the medium itself. The iterations of the brand work to edit the systems they’re within while the centralized theme exists conceptually outside the system. This allows it to compensate for any perceived imperfections within the system itself. While there may be specific instances we see of visionaries creating brands like Carter’s that combine politics and economics in a conscious manner, as a trend those are not results that the current system’s pressures are designed to select for. The current structure is set up to decentralize blame in order to minimize risk. The further and further we go into a fully integrated digital world the more these pressures will continue to be amplified. We as a system will be forced to be more and more aware of the systems we create and how they affect future system’s and frames of thinking. This will force us to further and further anthropomorphize ourselves and the world around us.

CONCLUSION

If Gutenberg’s Galaxy, which we may regard today to refer to the accumulated body of recorded works of human art and knowledge, was created off the stability of the written medium where will this new freedom of the digital medium take us? I believe this rapid increase in the speed of information is setting forth a new visual typography of experience where we envision thing’s less linear and more as a network of semi related situations affecting each other in real time. We constantly affect objects, and objects constantly affect us. This is because we are objects, and so is everything else. This will force the public to break out the effects of the hierarchically restricted mental model building that has resulted from the more modern screen but really the image itself. This will mark the changing of galaxies, where there will be a new increased individuality and sense of public created as a result. I believe it will lead to new functions of ethics in culture. Just like the printing press created the public voice, I believe over time the digital age is giving a public voice to all objects. What happens when the walls can talk? Or every wall is now a screen we can play videos on? Or what if we can make the walls look like a Malibu beach view? Or what if anything can appear however we desire. The continued increase in the amount of autonomy within creation will result in a simultaneous rise in the amount of destructive capabilities, so although this technology will continue to increase the capacity for communication it will also increase the capacity for miscommunication. I believe the only way to thread this needle is to be aware of the system and conceptually take control of the medium to make the most ethical steps forward in time together.