Apple,  Software

iLife erases the Consumer Producer divide

Mike Kozlowski, in this post makes an interesting distinction between Apple’s iLife applications that organize media (iTunes and iPhoto) and those that produce media, iMovie, iDVD, and now, GarageBand. He extends that distinction, effectivey, to one between consumers and producers. He goes on to point out what he thinks is an erroneous assumption on Apple’s part:

Real people never create anything; they take advantage of specialization of labor to let the really good creators&emdash;the Peter Jacksons, the Steven Spielbergs, the Beatleses, the Vanilla Ices—make all the movies and music necessary, which they then purchase/steal and need help organizing and using.

I’ve never edited a movie in my life, never mastered a video DVD, and never even considered making a multi-track music recording. Neither have you, if I might be permitted to play the odds here. By aiming its media tools at creators instead of consumers, Apple is either confusing Jobs’ Pixar coworkers and celebrity friends for normal people, or deciding that its long-time 5% market-share is too big.

He also has a thoughtful followup post here. I see his thinking, but I disagree. First, I’m not sure how much time he’s actually spent with these applications; it doesn’t sound like he’s spent much. I have; not only as a user, where I use iTunes and iPhoto almost daily, but as a creator of movies in iMovie and of self-contained “projects” in iDVD. I’ll be using all of them in my teaching this quarter. I’ve also tech edited four consumer books on the iLife suite; this means reading every word as a user, and following the instructions, just as a user would. So I know the applications fairly well, and, having taught a quite a few people how to use the iLife applications, I know users pretty well too.

My students will, many of them, already have a web site. Many of them will already be blogging with Xanga, LiveJournal, or Blogger. My students take for granted that every class in the Social Sciences and Humanities they take has a class web site. They carry MP3 players, love ripping files, and have, many of them, digital cameras.

They have ready access to computers, scanners, printers and burners in any of the computer labs on campus, and wireless access is available in most of the public areas. They don’t make the distinction between consuming and producing that Mike Kozlowski does. Sure, they listen to the latest from Black Eyed Peas, but then they want to create their own mix using just part of it to make a “new” composition. These are not “musically gifted” students in the ordinary sense; they’re not musicians, but mixing, like custom playlists, are part of the way the appreciate music. They not only expect to see PowerPoint or Keynote slide shows, they produce them themselves to accompany their own presentations. They’ll make their own videos too, which they use in class. These are students who have been using computers for at least the last five years, and the wealthier ones, since grade school. Technology is part of their everyday life.

The point of iMovie is that you don’t have to be Steven Spielberg—you don’t even need to have a video camera. An enormous number of people, including me, use iMovie’s “Ken Burns” effect to make movies from stills. I use the caption tools to add text tracks to non-English audio. And iPhoto does more than just categorize your photos; it lets you edit them, even improve them, and produce web pages and slide shows, without typing a line of code. I use iPhoto quite often to create web pages of ancient artifacts for my students, quickly, easily, and efficiently, without typing a tag. Yes, I could create the same pages by hand, but I don’t have to. iPhoto allows me to use my time in other ways. I’ll use iDVD to create a disk students can take home to review or to the library, with the slide shows QuickTime movies and web pages I’ve used in teaching nicely oranzed via navigational menus, so they can look at them and respond on their blogs.

iLife is used by ordinary people outside of education, too. My brother and I are creating CDs now for our parents, with family images on them, and slide shows of the birds and wildlife he photographs. We’re using iPhoto to burn the CDs and make movies. Soon, we’ll be sending them DVDs since it’s easier for my mother and father to see the pictures and movies on TV than on her lap top. My brothers-in-law both send my mother-in-law digital video they’ve made, on CD, on the Web, (via .Mac) and on DVD. I can see using GarageBand to add soundtracks to home movies or slide shows, and especially, for teaching about the underlying rhetorical structures of music. People who don’t have the physical skills for music performance can, with GarageBand, still learn about and make music. The point of the “producer” aspects of iLife is that iLife makes creation possible for the “ordinary.” When the basic limit of skill (not talent, but the skill or craft) is lowered the way iLife lowers it, ordinary people can create. That’s the key; it’s creation for the rest of us. Sure, we’re not Spielberg or Johnn Meyer, but we do have a creative spark, an impetus, and a desire to share. That’s the underlying concept, and it’s the one Apple is capitalizing on. The fact that the suite works together, that the hardware is easy to set up to use the software, will actually sell the hardware.

It’s kind of like when Apple first started showing postscript laser printers and their output to traditional cold type printers. First, the printers said it was crap; then they found out how inexpensively (comparatively) the crap was to produce, and how easily the pages were set and printed, and then they said, essentially, it’s pretty good crap, where do I get it? And remember how at first desktop publishing and naive users meant “throw every font you’ve got on the page”? But peoplel learned; that’s going to happenn with digital art too. People will learn; the truly talented will move on, from iPhoto to PhotoShop, from iMovie to FinalCut Pro, and then they’ll burn a DVD one off, and get it mastered, and a new indie film will be available for the rest of us.

That’s pretty cool.

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