Dressed for the H-Bomb

The reading this week was excellent foundation work for our understanding of how Digital Media came to be the fluid, innovation driven beast it is today. Winston’s clinical explanation of the supervening social necessity for the computer (ballistics forecasts/charts) and the technical and mental processes that facilitated it’s inception, wasn’t extremely mind-blowing but was useful.

Unfortunately, I read Winston before I read the Fidler chapter, "Technologies of the Third Metamorphosis". Fidler only needed a paragraph to accomplish what took Winston hours. The ToTTM chapter was basically a summation of the first several weeks of Winston readings plus and informative discussion on the rise of the HTTP protocol and the Internet in general. Fidler’s most interesting point, to me, was the social necessity of HTTP protocol was social interaction.

Many complain that the internet and technological advancements in general, are making our cultures more homogenized and less social. I disagree with this generalization in light of my personal experiences with the internet and networking through email/online web forums. One thing that has become clear with all the readings this quarter is one shouldn’t be too quick to judge new technologies. Their initial purpose could easily turn out to be the least important of its uses.

Two quick "Ah-Ha’s" in Mediamorphosis: Fidler quotes Thoreau to great effect with this passage, "Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distrct our attention from serious things" (Postman would agree, but wait…!) Thoreau continues, "They are but improved means to an unimproved end". This is the part of the statement that holds the most truth. If Postman had stated his opinion in the poetic way Thoreau used, he may have demanded some respect. Our lives are not truly improved by technology. Some tasks are made easier but new problems arise. Ultimately, we all die. No Xbox or Laptop will keep us from expiring. The second point I’d like to mention from Mediamorphosis came in Chapter 2, pg.3 when Fidler states "When information moves at electric speed, the world of trends and rumors becomes the real world". This is the truest, saddest statement i’ve read since a gloomy day in November of 2004. We are indeed trapped in a world where trends and rumors are the "real world". This point is pretty obvious with the examples so I won’t waste space giving examples. If you have a TV or radio or functioning eyes, you already see this every day.

Group 4’s extra reading was by far the most exciting and awe-inspiring assignment to date. Vannevar Bush produced what is probably the greatest achievement of a "Bush" ever when The Atlantic Monthly published "As We May Think" in July of 1945. As we learned in Winston ch. 9 and Mediamorphosis, the end of World War 2 was the beginning of the computer era. Bush wisely stepped back from the discussion on this new technology and thought about how technological advancements can be used to improve the lives of everybody, not just military number crunchers. Bush was motivated by an awareness of the mountains of knowledge that had already been lost and threatened to be lost, forgotten or simply too hard to find. His vision was for a system to organize our data and allow access to that data simply and instantly. I hate to bring up Postman, but his article/speach was so out of line and prehistoric that he’s still Public Enemy #1 in my tiny brain. Postman was afraid of the technology, expected it would solve all of life’s mysteries and do the dishes too. He could not see how it could make life better. Well, the smiling Vannevar Bush is positively gloating today when he looks down on all the people using Google at the public library to find whatever information they need in an instant. This article did bring up an interesting point that applies to my area of research. In part 2 of the reading, Bush brings up compression as a method of delivering information more cheaply:

Compression is important, however, when it comes to costs. The material for the microfilm Britannica would cost a nickel, and it could be mailed anywhere for a cent. What would it cost to print a million copies? To print a sheet of newspaper, in a large edition, costs a small fraction of a cent. The entire material of the Britannica in reduced microfilm form would go on a sheet eight and one-half by eleven inches. Once it is available, with the photographic reproduction methods of the future, duplicates in large quantities could probably be turned out for a cent apiece beyond the cost of materials. The preparation of the original copy?

This directly corresponds to file-sharing and why record companies are "losing" money. I’ve supplemented our assigned readings with an extremely useful paper on the realities of file-sharing and the ways companies in other media outlets can adapt to the changes affecting the film and music industries. File compression should make purchasing music easier and cheaper. Media companies need to accept and adjust to the new reality of how consumers hear about, preview and purchase that media.

Josh Bertoff’s "Music Lessons: Is Your Industry At Risk" (pdf – UW login) should be useful for every person in class to read since it deals with all types of media. Bertoff uses the mp3/Napster/RIAA unholy union to illustrate the process of innnovation/suppression/adoption that led to the birth and death of Napster and the adoption of paid download sites like iTunes. Charts, graphs and questionnaires provide data for exploring these issues within your specific media of choice.

Brian Go, group 4

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Comments

  • Robert Pohl  On 25 October 2005 at 5:36 pm

    Amen brother!

    “Vannevar Bush produced what is probably the greatest achievement of a “Bush” ever when The Atlantic Monthly published “As We May Think” in July of 1945.”

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