Life as remix

Posted: 2017-08-07 , Modified: 2017-08-07

Tags: remix, life

Parent: Views


Back to Views on life.

I think that we can all benefit from remix culture. I think it’s an antidote to two types of viewpoints: 1. Your achievements measure your worth as a person, and 1. (as a friend of mine put it,) “on a sufficiently abstract level, all human lives are the same,” so what is the point of your life?

We view life itself as remix, there’s a complete perspective shift: life is not about the flux of ideas and accomplishments out of your own head

but also about letting ideas flow through you, and understanding that often you add a little to the idea when you let it flow through you.

You don’t have to produce a masterpiece from start to finish (although that is very rewarding and is something to be valued). Even though the events in your life are the same as those that countless other people have experienced, no one has experienced it in the same mixture as you, and how you combine those different experiences in your life and make sense of them is controlled by you.

1 What do I mean by remix?

Most of us are familiar with a lot of stuff on YouTube that would qualify – think about how they are more than just the bits they remix.

Remixing is one of the four tenets of connectivist MOOCs, in addition to aggregating, repurposing, and feeding forward. See for a wealth of examples of storytelling by remix.

(Todo: actually put some examples here and analyze them.)

(Side note: I learned about remix culture in a class on modern Chinese literature and film (we also covered Internet culture). My final paper for the class compared remix culture in the US and China.)

2 Why remix?

  1. Remix is a creative act. The first step to having a remix mindset is to acknowledge remix as a creative act, even though remixing may feel less glorious than coming up with something new.
  2. A remix mindset is useful.
    • Often we create better by first learning to remix before starting our own projects. A lot of writers, for instance, develop their writing skills first through writing fan fiction; the original author has provided them with a world where they can worry about creativing narrative rather than the intricacies of world and character building. It seems contradictory but when you’re too concerned with creating something yourself, then you may not do as well as those who remix.
    • We can be more useful to other people by remixing. For example, because people have made so much curriculum, a teacher can be more useful to his/her students not by coming up with course material from scratch, but rather curating bits of knowledge that already exist on the web, from books, etc. to create a coherent curriculum.
    • Remixing is understanding that projects often start when two people bring together different ideas that the other is lacking. Talking to a friend working on a certain idea, a person can suggest related ideas and people that the collaborator should investigate. See Jacob Cole’s IdeaOverflow project.
  3. Remix counters the “achievement” mindset.
    • People ask: why should professors and researchers care about teaching? Francis Su writes about this in Grace in academia. In addition to the fact that it counters the achievement mindset, you can get a lot more done teaching than you can do alone:
      • you can get students to learn topics that you don’t have time to investigate and then teach you,
      • you can have them do research projects that would be valuable to their learning, leaving you time to focus on “bigger questions,” and
      • you create future researchers, and more researchers means there will be more progress in your field (or others). (The question isn’t, how much can I contribute? But rather, how to push ahead this field that I care about?)

3 Facilitating remix

All this said, we should make our own work easier to remix. It’s a win-win situation, in that by making our work easier to remix, we give it legs to propagate further as well as see the creation of valuable content.

Open-source, commented work encourages remixing. (The hackers are best at this.) It would be very useful to have open-source remixable math notes as well (arXiv is a step in the right direction). See Math remixing.

In order for remix, we need a kind of “hands-off” attitude, trusting in the ability of others to make valuable contributions on top of our work. cMOOCs gives this kind of context (see MOOCs); see MMORPGs as inspiration for MOOCs for more.

We should encourage remixing in the classroom. The antithesis of remixing is treating works as immutable, and giving everyone the same essay topic or problem set to do. In the humanities we shouldn’t just teach students to “”analyze“” works as if they are immutable, and in the sciences we shouldn’t just teach students to “”copy“”, i.e., all do the same problems with the same recipes. Rather, we should ingrain students with the values of reinterpreting, recreating, repurposing, sharing, and feeding forward. Literary purists may frown, but I think reenacting/reinterpreting classics in a way that keeps up with modern life is a wonderful example.

See also

Trefethen p. 141, Randomness in art