Most good blog posts, or at least the ones that attract the most traffic, draw a line in the sand – taking an unequivocal position. So just on the heels of the iPad launch, scores of tech bloggers are taking that stand against the onerous, closed nature of Apple’s latest offering. And the Church of Open Media has issued it’s doctrine against the iPad decreeing it a heretical, “retrograde” device.
The iPad is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again. That is why media companies and advertisers are embracing it so fervently, because they think it returns us all to their good old days when we just consumed, we didn’t create, when they controlled our media experience and business models and we came to them.
Update – The Chorus of Returns Begins
Your humble blogger here, updating as I sit in an airport terminal waiting for a flight to Mexico City to cover the First Lady’s visit. I felt I had to update what I published yesterday as we’re now seeing the chorus of “I’m Returning my iPod” posts. Jeff Jarvis even made a video outlining his reasons. Maybe this is a shift that will ultimately prod Apple to re-think pricing and exclusivity agreements with publishers. Maybe it’s a few high profile bloggers using their influence and reach to voice concerns that are valid and point to salient shortcomings in Apple’s offering. Maybe folks should’ve read the label before they bought it?
Look, I’m no iPad fanboy. I may eventually buy one, but I’m not suffering from the technolust that swooned those first in line to get theirs. I’m more interested in how the device will change the worlds of publishing and advertising. And now, the conversation is being framed as either/or in terms of participatory vs. walled content. I think that’s a false choice, and that there always will be choices in how we consume, create, share and interact with content. It’s perfectly fine to simply, passively consume media and that is precisely what the device is designed to do.
Lean Forward – Lean Back
I’m not sure who originally coined the terms “lean forward” and “lean back” media, but the premise is simple. If you’re not familiar with the terms, lean forward media is the kind we create, engage with, mashup, share, link to, comment on, embed in our blogs etc. Lean back is the kind we passively consume.
Examples of “lean forward” media
- blogs and the comments on them
- embeddable video
- links to content within a blog
Examples of “lean back” media
- certain TV shows
- certain iPad content
Both of these types of media have intrinsic value and I don’t think we need to frame this as one replacing the other. This blog falls into the category of lean-forward and I hope all of you enlightened readers here engage me and each other in a robust dialogue in the comments. But what is it that makes people think that ALL media has to be like this blog?
What is wrong with people wanting to just be part of the audience? I don’t buy this notion that every bit of content needs to be open to some online peer review, or worse – the ill tempered trolls of the interwebs. I further don’t buy the notion that all content – from blog comment, to link, to twitter mention – is sacrosanct. Most critics of the iPad seem to hold this belief. To them I say: if you’re REALLY worried about the iPad hobbling your generativity… DON’T BUY ONE.
Walls, Windows, and Doors
Apple is building walls around it’s media empire. It want’s to set the price for apps and subscriptions and much of the content thus far doesn’t allow for much by way of sharing or commenting. So what? Apple is a company that’s in the business of delivering value to their shareholders. How they get there – whether by open source or DRM ensconced walls -is up to them, not us. The iPad is not a tool of individual media empowerment and as such, I’d equate it to a really great piece of stereo equipment. It’s an entertainment appliance.
That’s just fine for most people. If you’re reading this blog, you’re exceptional (on many levels). Not just because you’re reading my blog, but that’s certainly a plus. You are part of my social graph, and I have to get your attention on Twitter or Facebook first to get you over here. But most people aren’t this connected on the web. In that respect, we are exceptional. We are the digerati. But the self-ordained high priests of the Church of Open Media would have us believe that everyone is out there contributing content. That’s where I and others are given pause.
This is the place where this brand of critics fall most deeply into the same kind of echo-chambered trap as the news industry — by thinking that most people should think and behave like themselves. But most people are not and will not ever become creators of sophisticated media. Instead they’re working in bakeries and insurance offices and having babies and teaching people to play the fiddle.
The social web allows us to create, collaborate and connect in ways constantly being innovated. Social media, citizen media – whatever you want to call it – at the minimum, gives us a window into power structures like media, press and government – transparencey. At it’s most open, we’re allowed through the doors and given an opportunity to help shape and create content. Increasingly traditional media are opening windows and doors and extending their brands to online audiences. By and large these are good things.
But I think there will continue to be a strong desire for people like you and me to lean forward, engage, share, embed, post, comment and shout out to the world. I also think there are more people in this world, who are just as happy to read, watch, absorb and ponder while leaning back. Both of these approaches are just fine and I simply don’t understand all of the histrionics of this non debate – debate. Am I missing something here? Please lean forward in the comments below.