Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Future of Media

I got into a debate with my eager-to-argue roommate about the future of print media. Neither of us seemed to legitimately believe the point we were defending, and both wound up as reciprocal devil’s advocates. While both of us share a love for books (including their content as well as their materiality [trophies?]), I posited the idea that in spite of the current rate of ‘hyper history’ and the frequency of obsolescence, the infinite nature of digital information itself is so immune to decay that acidic, non-archival, materially costly media simply cannot last (I forget who said that the cost of paper is going to go up...) Sure, Adobe could go out of business, .pdfs could go out of style, and a hundred years from now people will be baffled to see the file extension, but you sure as heck better bet that Wikipedia will be able to tell you all about it, the ancient Acrobat Reader setup .exe (as well as the Windows Vista emulator software on which to run it) will be available from some p2p file sharing network on some historicist’s harddrive or some torrent tracker, as well as everything that everyone bothered putting on the web. Hard drives may crash, but it is becoming increasingly more unreasonable not to have so many periodic backups to so many infinitely accessible places that the abilities of the internet will become the means by which we can create a truly indestructible, everlasting time capsule (until the world’s electricity goes out at once and every hard drive simultaneously reformats.)

My roommate argued that no e-book reader could ever approximate the experience of reading a real book, or even mitigate the discrepancy to the point where even a portion of the population would accept it. I returned the idea that our expectations for the experience of ‘reading a real book’ come from our conditioning and past experiences, and for people in the future (maybe even already,) our standards are far more influenced by the interaction we’ve had with computers. While I couldn’t comfortably say that word for word I’ve read more from screens than paper pages, that doesn’t seem far off. Not only will glowing back-lit screens begin to seem more natural, the genre of novels and other lengthy books could very well begin to fall out of fashion in correlation to the strain on the eyes from prolonged screen-gaze, and instead the majority of our informational intake will come from other faster place (like blogs?)

In the same way that the internet has exploded the opportunities for independent music artists who no longer have to rely on record labels and distributors to produce and proliferate their music, our access to literature is not dictated by publishers. Not only is it more wide spread, but it is more instantaneous, and while that is not always a desirable thing, the option is open. Though an author may not choose to post his novel in progress on his blog chapter by chapter (or even letter by letter in a live chatroom!!), the possibility is there, and is waiting to be fully utilized and expanded.

Some people seem to have been disappointed by the not nearly ‘realistic’ CAVE (I initially thought that I was,) and unimpressed by the currently available, meaningless(?), computer generated poetry, but it seems that this is the way things must inevitably move (according to pretty much all of the readings this week,) and will necessarily advance and progress in such a way as to provide an expanse of content and material for viewers to experience and alternately discard as garbage or embrace as brilliant as we have come to do for the current popular media.

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