Culture Jamming: Our Dominant Medium

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When making music required a big, heavy and expensive piano and lots of lessons, music was good. Real good. But the electric guitar changed all that! Good thing!

With the electric guitar, all sorts of folks who didn’t have the “right” education and tools could teach themselves to play, and could afford an axe, and could play out anywhere. It changed music.

And not just in that it gave birth to the new phenomena of Rock & Roll. It changed ALL music. Everywhere. Even music that didn’t use electric guitars. The effect was more than just the use of the instrument itself.

And it helped change us. We became a different culture, based on rebellion and individualism and talent and style and power. The effect was far more than on just the domain of music.

There is some sense in which distribution media have affected the content developed for it, and even other media, and even our culture. But can you imagine Ali standing over Liston wielding an iPod? It might be cute pop-art, but it wouldn’t speak to the power of inventing your own revolution, in the way that is embodied by the electric guitar.

I think that Croquet or any other virtual world technology, when used merely as a distribution media, does not go nearly far enough. The medium itself should afford each of us new ways to create content as well as merely distributing it. So to me, the scalability of a collaborative world technology is best measured not in just how many people can simultaneously use content, but in how many can participate in creating it.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. I think <a href=”…“>Michael and Winston</a> might tend to agree with you. Funny, just before reading this on Wetmachine last night I had spent an hour re-reading a Jimi Hendrix biography. . .

    I want to see how Croquet changes things, but certainly one of the key ideas of the web itself is that we little people can create and share ideas without corporate backing or approval. Which is why it our freedom is hated by so many corporations, as amply docmented over the last few years here on wetmachine.

    About which more anon. In the meantime, bring on Croquet’s glorious new world of virtual collaboration everywhere. Sounds pretty cool to me.

  2. this explains the popularity of the below SACRILEGE!!!!!

    warning: cultural travesty and inauthenticity masquerading as evolution and authenticity; punture in the morphogenetic field and a societal trajectory towards codswallop; lack of integrity to pursue the Holy Grail of the Cream of Culture and instead live in Blade Runner replica worlds of shadows of reflections of fleeting glimpses in Plato’s cave….. WHERE IS HENDRIX AND ALI WHEN WE NEED THEM!!!!!!!!

  3. Rock on, dudes.
    It’s not a guitar (on the video) – it’s a video game!
    I love it!
    And I love the screed, too.

    Both are great examples of the Internet as distribution medium. And in both cases, it’s still too damn hard to create in this medium. (e.g.,…) John’s example was easy enough to distribute, but not so easy to create. I happen to know from out-of-band communication that Paul took more than two days to make his comment. Creating or even communicating is not as easy as playing a video game-guitar.

    Yeah. As an instrument of solitary creation, the digital computer is certainly coming along. But as for collaborative creation, the Internet aint there yet. It’s still an iPod, not an electric guitar.

    jamming starts at 5:40 as a possible suggestion for the marriage of medium and content, joy, sensitivity, laughter and tragedy, irony and the catharsis of stepping outside the rigid boundries imposed by linguistic categories on the macrodimensional world of solid and liquid “objects” and their “purposes” in the consensus reality that many chase their tail trying to master….

  5. Thanks, Paul! That was one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever experienced. It is exactly as you say.

    I also found the introductory discussion interesting, what with the union nonsense affecting the performance. And the visual mashup at the closing credits was a nice chaser.

    And to prove yet another point on this thread, the Wetmachine spam filter prevented me from adding the above as a comment. I had to enter it without the middle paragraph, and then edit it as owner. Not exactly spontaneous, easy, collaborative, or egalitarian.

  6. To me, the point of the synthesizer is not really to sound like ordinary instruments that are lacking their natural vitality. The opportunity is to come up with an entirely new range of sounds for the electric guitar and a new musical vocabulary to go with it. For example, when Charlie Christian put a pickup on his guitar, he wasn’t playing the licks of an acoustic guitarist. There was a new music to go with this essentially new instrument. When Hendrix added wah-wah and fuzz, it wasn’t an updated Charlie Christian; it was an entirely new instrument with a new sound, a new vocabulary, and new music to go along with it. Therein lies my interest in the guitar synthesizer: that something entirely new will appear. But my hunch is that the technology hasn’t quite gotten to the point to enable that to take place.
    (from a Guitar Player 1986 interview with R. Fripp)

  7. Spot on, Paul, on several levels.

    I know it’s hard to have a conversation with someone who keeps going meta on you. But here I go, again.

    This thread is about the significance of disruptive digital technnology where the disruption comes from being easy-to-create-things-with. We’re using the electric guitar as an illustritive analog of an easy-to-use creative instrument (and one that is viscerally powerful). This brings us to the general role of new instruments or media, and that brings us to the relationship to what has gone before and sampling. Here you haver sampled Fripp (a guitar player we both admire), talking about anti-sampling (on guitar).

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