Saturday, 7 July 2007

The Empty Format

I'm playing with a theory of media. It's called the empty format.

it involves how the form of engagement of certain media have a life of their own.

For example Big Brother is the empty format of celebrity.

Twitter is the empty format of small talk.

The iPhone launch was an empty format of a craze
(it successfully simulated catching on before it actually launched)

The Y2k bug was an empty format computer virus

There seem to be a number of things going on here:
- evacuation: loss of content
- disembedding: loss of context
- self-reference; the 'story' become the story

If that's as far as it goes it is rather McLuhan meets Baudrillaird meets Kierkegard etc.

But what's interesting is to wonder what new empty formats could be created:
- an antisocial community where no-one has any friends in their network
- a massive prize lottery with no actual prize
- a 'word mob' boosting a search term to no1 in technorati, where the word doesnt exist

Dunno what the point of this is yet, it's on the workbench.


Charles Frith said...

Hi John, I guess it had to happen but I disagree with one point about twitter because I'm on record as saying that its almost entirely contextual. That's what makes it digestible and engaging.

For instance there's the time of day, the location, the information shared the twitters social group the listeners social group, their contexts. Not only that but there's the monologue, the dialogue, the inquiry, the banter, the exclamation and the reflective tweets to name a few. I'd argue that its easily more contextual than small talk in so much that small talk in 'meat time' with fellow twitterers often revolves around tweets. Or is that self referential small talk :)

You could always give twitter try if you don't believe me.

P.S You know I'm still a fan of The John Grant :)

John Grant said...

could be right

I do enjoy the twitteresque "john is..." feeds on FB

I'm not anti it & it may be the wrong example


john dodds said...

What's an empty format? In what way empty?

John Grant said...

An empty format is a format stripped of context and content. For instance playing bridge would be a card game with a context and content (rules). Circulating strangely altered playing cards in a viral marketing campaign or alternate reality game would be an empty format. Buadrillard wrote about what would happen if you advertised a brand that simply didnt exist. that would be an empty format too.

Drew said...

But doesn't the argument that Twitter is entirely contextul show that it is stripped of definate context?

I'd argue that to be successful to a large degree online you need to be relatively free of context, or at least context flexible. The nature of hyperlinks ensures that content producers will never know what comes next for their viewers.

I love this concept. It reminds me of the term "power objects" used by an old professor of mine. Power Objects are icons with immense perceived importance but rather flexible definitions and qualities. They serve as buckets for anxieties and cultural forces. ie, DNA is a power object for morality and human potential: it explains away a multitude of concerns and anxieties.

With the twitter and big brother examples, one might assume that as much or more public concern centers around the production, rather than content or broadcasts of these media.

I'm trying to think of more examples as well...this is rich terrain.

Drew said...

In its current state: bird flu is the empty format of an epidemic.

On the Baudrillard note: advertising a brand that doesn't exist is essentially creating a free-floating pointer. An empty reference. Broadcasting this reference successfully might result in it's direction being rationalized to reflect those who are doing the viewing. Take the Y2K example. As the effects of this imaginary bug were unclear, the "virus" instead served as a bucket for all technology anxieties.

So even if the pointer is empty when it's unleashed, its reference is rationalized towards somthing or things by those consuming. This reminds me of Sturt Hall, who argued that images and representations can never truly be fixed–maintain consistant definations. In the case of an empty format, the fixing is never attempted.