Why the Death of the Flip Camera Matters to Writing Studies and New Media Studies

This past week, Cisco announced that it would no longer be making it’s Flip video camera. It’s surprising. And it isn’t. Clearly, the market for the Flip had topped out and was declining. But was the market so dead that they had to kill the entire product? Couldn’t they have sold it to someone else? I’m not an accountant, so I’m guessing there must have been some tax advantage or something to shuttering the whole program instead of selling it at a loss. I don’t know. What fascinates me about the Flip, though, is how much press (A LOT) this story has been getting in the tech world. Here’s the Huffington Post’s story: Cisco Kills Flip Camera, Lays Off 550 Employees. What is it that’s so compelling about this action? The huge chunk of money ($590 million) that Cisco lost? The hundreds of people who lost their jobs, especially in this economy)? The cautionary tale of a enterprise company who was arrogant enough to think consumer products couldn’t be that hard to master? Probably all of these things. Such a tangle of bad news and ineptitude.

Here’s what the story DOESN’T mean: that amateur/social/casual/off-the-cuff video practices are on the decline. They’re not. Look at the continuing growth of YouTube/Vimeo/Blip.Tv, or the incorporation of video technologies into phones, tablets, and webcams. This stuff’s been around for a long time, sure, but the social video phenomenon has really been explosive the last few years. So, no. Social video isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I’d like to think that the Flip played a significant role in that growth.

Okay. So why does the Flip matter to writing studies and new media composing? Two reasons. First, I think it broke new ground. It was simple. Portable. Intuitive. And reasonably affordable. Basically, if editing your video wasn’t hugely important to you, you could pick it up and use it with very little instruction. The Flip broke down some barriers to how people thought about social video. People became more comfortable (maybe too comfortable?) in front of the camera. This shift made for some pretty awful video, sure, but it also paved the way for creative geniuses like ZeFrank to explore whole new genres of textual production. I’m firmly convinced that comfort WITH a camera, IN FRONT of a camera, and HAVING ONE AROUND all the time are three essential elements to incorporating moving visual images into our scholarship more seamlessly. We need to learn to capture more, not because we want to remember it, not as a document, and not as an archive or proof that we’ve been somewhere or done something. We need to capture more because social video is increasingly becoming it’s own sort of language. In the way that cinema/film has developed some of it’s own language conventions… in the way that photography has, too… Social video is just beginning to get a foothold in our consciousness as a non-novel mode of communicating. I think it’s great.

On the other hand, the Flip is dying. And that’s okay, too. (Culturally, I mean; I really am sad about all those folks who are losing their jobs over this.) We need to see the death of the Flip as indicative of the important transition I write about in the last paragraph. People have developed a need for social video. As a culture, we’re really learning how to us it for the things it’s good for. What I’m getting at here is the advent of the smart phone. I’m convinced that the multipurpose phone is a great development for writing culture (and so are tablets). When we encounter an event that we want to capture, document, think about later, remix into something new, or explore more fully, or even to collect, many of us have our smart phones on us, at the ready. Now, instead of our default mode (maybe writing it down, or snapping a picture), we can choose between video, audio, still, or alphabetic capture. And within each of those modes, we can put the work through various filters, edit/remix it, and share it across multiple venues. We’re learning. We’re starting to inhabit a world where our notion of “language” is increasingly capacious. (Derrida called for this a long time ago, btw. As did others.)

I want to participate. Note that I didn’t say “contribute.” There’s a big difference. I don’t see this blog or most of the videos I post to YouTube as contributing to a conversation. Some of them do, or at least they try, but that’s the scholar in me. And it’s the least interesting part of what I’m trying to write about here. I’m looking forward to a time in my life/our culture where producing a “text” doesn’t have the cultural capital that simply “doing” now lacks. I want social video (actually, social media) to become a way of being. Not something I make. I don’t want it to be a hobby, or a mode of production. I’d like for it to become more seamless in my life. I want to integrate new media communication into my life in a way that it becomes a mode of thinking, communicating, and recording in the same way that I’ve already established alphabetic writing as an essential part of my life. Sometimes I write as a mode of thinking through a problem. Sometimes I write because what I need to say needs to be a one way conversation. Sometimes I write because the complexity of my thought needs the large, asynchronous space that writing can provide. Sometimes I write because I’m trying to work with certain types of abstractions that I can only deal with in words. And revision. Yep. I haven’t really said enough about revision here. But I’m running out of a reasonable expectation of you attention. So I’m going to have to wrap up here soon.

So. You’re darn right I rock a smart phone. And the iPad is a little window into the future of textual production. How could I not want desperately to use one all the time?

Without the Flip, we wouldn’t be as far along this path as we are. I’m proud to have known the Flip. I’ll always remember it with nostalgia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *