Growing pains in an on-demand culture

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Being young can be exciting, and not just because it’s one of the most dynamic times of change and formation in your life.

Although I clearly have nothing to compare it to, by observation of those wiser than myself, I’m starting to think that this age allows you to be most in touch with the cutting edge, raw and often inconsistent part of culture. Whether it’s simultaneously understanding and enjoying dubstep, unironically spectating video games on YouTube, or being a part of another undeniably current facet of the zeitgeist, these pleasures seem to be mostly for the young-ish. One of the clearest developments that we are witness to and participants in is on-demand culture. While on the surface it’s merely changing the way we intake media, just a bit deeper it’s affecting more pertinent things like the idea of our careers.

Digital piracy is an obvious part of this, given its ubiquity among those who have the means (i.e. anyone with a personal computer, or, most students). Regardless of how news-conscious or culturally aware somebody is, it’s likely that they’ve noticed the Pirate Bay’s absence since mid- December, because it really is that popular. This widespread practice all comes down to a fundamental change in the way media is offered and the lengths to which consumers will go to get the content the way they want it. Pirated TV shows lack commercials while offering varied format and quality. Pirated movies allow viewers to avoid lines, fees for 3D glasses and chemically-buttered popcorn, as well as the wait for home releases. Pirated content at its most basic is free, but that apparently isn’t the bottom line. A Norwegian study via Professor Anne-Britt Gran, found that those who pirate music are also 10 times more likely to pay for content as well. Furthermore, in the instances where new media has adapted to meet the model of new audiences, they were met with great success. In 2011, Louis C.K. self-released a comedy special for $5, free of digital rights management (which prevents copying), and without middle-man companies upping the prices for their advertising and distribution services. He made more than $1 million on the sale of that special, and thus changed the comedy industry, with other comedians following suit in his innovative distribution model. The same goes for music released directly from bands’ websites taking payment through PayPal, and indie movies supported through services like Kickstarter. The content creators who adapt to new models survive, whereas those who stick to the old continue to suffer at the hands of undeniably illegal activities such as piracy. However, should the majority of the media industries change, it’s hard to argue that piracy would maintain such a popular hold.

Another and even more pertinent aspect of on-demand culture is the way it will affect those just starting their careers. Whereas a few decades ago you would reasonably seek out some profession requiring your specific degree and offering steady, contractual employment, it’s much more likely nowadays that, ideally, you would work more than one position, at least one of which would be in a freelance capacity. Many of the most cutting edge companies that make the most of smartphone apps’ capabilities are adapting to an on-demand style economy. Whether it’s Uber, that lets you order a cab from your phone; or Handy, that matches your household need (cleaning, plumbing, furniture assembly, etc.) with a willing freelance professional, there’s no end to the rising popularity of an on-demand workforce.

Given your age and station, keep in mind that you are at the leading edge of a culture that you can become a driving factor of, or by which you can be left behind. In terms of media, the fact is that you vote with your money, so pay as specifically as possible for what you want, lest you continue to encourage an outdated model of content provision. On the other hand, when you graduate, or when you choose to alter your education stream, remember the reality of career-long contractual employment versus the viability of freelance offerings, how you can add to it, and how your education can prepare you for it (if it is at all). While we may not at this moment be granted wisdom or hindsight that comes with years of experience, we are endowed with the fleeting, primed position of age and opportunity to understand what’s changing around us and how we can be a part of it.

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