Thursday, April 10, 2008

keeping it old school

In his Introduction to Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins shares this quote from George Gilder: “The computer industry is converging with the television industry in the same sense that the automobile converged with the horse” (Jenkins 5). Gilder, in other words, is arguing that computers and all the media that have come with them will render old media obsolete and lead to the latter's destruction. Jenkins, however, goes on in his article to refute Gilder's view and show the potential for new media and old media to combine in exciting ways that don't necessarily result in either disappearing from society.

Despite Jenkins' convincing argument, Gilder's pessimism about the fate of traditional media got me thinking about what it would mean for old media to become completely obsolete. It's honestly hard for me to imagine such a completely digitized society. There are some aspects of our media culture today that simply don't translate to digital form in my mind. I believe that there is a limit to what we will accept in a digital form as readily as in its traditional form.

There are two examples that spring to mind: newspapers and the readings for this class. Despite the fact that nearly every news agency now simultaneously publishes online any article that appears in print, newspapers have not gone extinct. Sure, readership is down, but if the exact same content (often with additional features) is available online, why aren't readers canceling their subscriptions in droves? Along the same lines, almost every reading for this course is available on MyCourses, so why do most students go to the trouble and expense of printing out the readings?

I believe it is because our generation has developed two modes of reading: short-term and long-term. For short-term reading (surfing quickly from site to site to gather information, checking on the latest March Madness scores, etc) we turn to the Internet first, if it's available. But when we want or need to settle down and spend a long time examining one source, we need physicality. Scrolling through pages and pages of text is hard. When I try, I find myself losing interest or getting distracted by one of the other windows flashing at me on the taskbar. Of course, this may just be a weakness of our generation. Perhaps future computer users will be just as comfortable laying on a hammock on the beach reading Moby Dick off their laptop as they would be with a physical copy of the book.

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