Sunday, March 05, 2006

How has MP3 technology and audio file sharing on the Internet affected our perception of music and our interaction with it?

What initially began as a simple format to compress audio files, MP3 technology has spawned a cultural revolution that has fundamentally changed the nature of business, artistic expression, copyright, and the understanding of music itself. By 1999, the name MP3 had surpassed pornography as the number one request for Internet search engines, a position which the latter held for over a decade (Carry and Wall, 2001). However, this amazing popularity of the MP3 format, and the subsequent controversy attached to it was not simply a result of a new file compression technology but rather the practice of file sharing over the Internet which it facilitated.

As such, it is the purpose of this writing to examine the many ways in which the sharing of MP3 files over the Internet has dramatically augmented the economic, cultural, and political character of society, while also fundamentally changing the way in which we view art, expression, and music. As Gurak (2001) points out, technologies have consequences, and at the heart of any examination of technological based issues is the social. Therefore, this investigation into the effects of MP3 technology and internet file-sharing will make this one of its central concerns because technologies are not neutral or isolated, they are developed, shaped, and implemented by social and political forces (Gurak, 2001). Conversely, technologies such as MP3 file compression and peer to peer (P2P) file sharing on the Internet change the ways in which we perform and understand social interaction and communication (of which music is a part) (Gurak, 2001).
To begin to understand how much cultural force this process can have, one only need to think of one word. Napster. Regardless of your ideas on file sharing technologies, or your experience with them, almost everyone is familiar with the immense controversy that surrounded this word just a few years ago. The combination of a little technology and a one determined college student forever changed our ideas behind the interaction between the political and the personal, artistic creation, and business in a matter of a few years. Not since the introduction of the Internet itself have we been offered such an explicit example of how technology can alter the way in which we interact and communicate, while also making quite clear the connection between technology, culture and policy.

By: Mike Cline
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