20 May, 2011

The Persistence of Electronic Memory

I listened to part of an episode of Spark's broadcast on the CBC called, "Digital Impermanence, Pervasive Computing, and McLuhan Today," May 8, 2011, specifically the first and last segments, "Why the Medium is Still the Message," and "The YouTube Trapper and the Idea of Digital Impermanence."

There's a quote in the first segment, from media critic Marshall McLuhan: "[the computer] ends nature."  Also, about electronic media in general: "understand everything that is going on and then kind of neutralize it as much as possible.  Turn off as many buttons as you can and frustrate them as much as you can."  And from his son, Eric McLuhan, there's some interesting discussion on the detrimental impact of new media on a person's ability to imagine and work on long-term goals.

Spinning yarn by hand and reading books about handspun, in light of the McLuhans' assertions, start to look positively heroic.  Blogging about handspun and keeping up with online content about handspun, probably not.

It's difficult today to imagine that a decision to turn off the button would cause significant frustration in anyone–except the person who turns the media off and adjusts to its absence–because the number of content creators and broadcasters has multiplied considerably since McLuhan gave the interview.

In the last segment, archivist Jason Scott talks about the risk of entrusting uploaded content to companies that may discontinue service and support in the future.  I think this risk could become an issue for fibre artists who manage and share their content extensively in many forms on many sites for the benefit of themselves and others.  Retrieval is the whole game.  Such sites include LibraryThing, Ravelry, Flickr, and YouTube.

You may also be interested another Spark broadcast "Stealth Social Marketing, Haptics, and Obsolescence," May 15 & 18, 2001, for the short segment, "C'mon, Get Haptic."  Haptic relates to the sense of touch.  Mark Paterson talks about the delicate and involved skills that used to be common when using technology when he was young and about the rich tactile experiences people had.  For example, setting the needle to play a record or pressing a manual typewriter key.  He contrasts this to today, where we swipe smooth touch screens.

Makes me think about how we shop online for fibre to spin into yarn without touching the product first.  There is a weavers guild that elected to keep printing costly, time-consuming newsletters and sending them through regular mail rather than switching to email because members want the enclosed woven fabric samples.  There is software that lets weavers and knitters see and tweak designs before committing them to fabric.  I show my handspun to people and almost all of them say, "Let me see it," and hold out their hands to touch the yarn.  Such a mix of the virtual and the concrete.

Paterson says he is not making any sort of value judgment about change and the difference in haptics then and now.  If anyone did make such a value judgment, I would understand.  The original Luddites in 1811 were weavers.

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