Back in May I attended the annual conference for the International Communications Association for the first time. It was held in San Francisco, which made it quite convenient. danah boyd and I presented a talk based on some of our research on looking at home kids put together their MySpace profiles. The context for the talk was a panel entitled “The Rise of Remix Culture: Identity, Power, and Imagination.” I wasn’t really a part of the panel organization process, and so going into the preparations for the talk, I found myself wondering what “remix culture” really meant. While I have used the term “remix” in the past as a way of describing some specific practices on MySpace, I wasn’t (and still am not) a big fan of it as an adjective a specific form of culture or as a new form of cultural expression. As it turned out, my co-panelists, Mark Latonero, Aram Sinnreich, and Marissa Gluck, also offered some of their own criticisms of the term, which made me feel a bit less like an outsider.
Here is the text from the talk. It’s not that long, but to make it even shorter here is the basic gist: With respect to the teenagers that danah and I have talked to on our separate efforts, we have noticed a few patterns in how teenagers describe how they first learned to make their profiles and how they put them together. A MySpace profile isn’t really “mine.” That’s not just a cynical way of saying it’s Rupert Murdoch’s, either. Rather, a profile is the product of collective effort and collective technical resources that is ongoing. When teenagers (and adults as well) copy and paste code to create their profiles, they are not really remixing media, at least not in the way many people use the term “remix.” Rather, they are mixing code. This is not a trivial difference.
The result is that they are mixing pointers to other people’s materials, or at least materials that are technical managed and perhaps even “owned” by others. And this leads to some interesting tensions when savvy, snarky, and irritated media hosters have to deal with those who are stealing their bandwidth (see this guy and this guy though both contain some not so pretty pictures including a quite disturbing one in the second). Presidential hopeful John McCain ran into some trouble on his MySpace page this past March.
Given the nature of the practices and the tensions that come as a result, I don’t feel that comfortable simply lumping what teenagers are up to on MySpace and the resulting network of media into some unknown concept of “Remix Culture.” Rather, I’d like to understand what is different about MySpace profile customization than other cultural practices, such as remixing music or video.