Friday, September 2, 2011

The future is digital

Or is it? Apocalyptic rumour-mongering, rife in the media, declares that the book as we know it is dead, and that, indeed, everything in our lives will soon become virtual. This is dramatically prophesised in sound-bite form in a recent podcast of BBC Radio 3's wonderful 'Arts and Ideas' programme (here <> from minute 13:44 onwards). The author David Boyle declares that 'the more virtual our lives are... the more people cling to what is real... If we lose touch with the difference between real and imaginary, between real and virtual, we will soon be forced to use virtual doctors and virtual teachers, which we won't really want to do.'

This apocalypticism is seen throughout history at moments of intense text technological tranformation. So, for example, the emergence of print caused consternation, as numerous literati declared manuscript to be the only 'true' form of written communication; and mechanization in the nineteenth century was bemoaned for decades by artists and writers. Still, important issues arise from these periods of transformation, and among those that need to be urgently addressed are the intentionality and functionality of visual media and digital technology, particularly for representing three-dimensional objects, like books, manuscripts, and paintings. This is why this conference on Monday 5th September in London (<>) and this one on Friday 9th in Cambridge (<>) promise to elicit interesting debate, and perhaps the beginnings of a more united theorizing and conceptualizing of the form and function of the digital.


  1. Maybe we have socially become complacent under the expectation of being able to understand the impact of technology? Or are we in a constant state of agitation?

    I prefer to compare the impact of digital technology to the rise of the automobile as opposed to the dawn of the printing press. Everyone *knew* automobiles would change everything, and fast (comparatively), and that is exactly what happened just not in the ways people expected because they were talking about the disappearance of the horse-and-carriage without conceptualizing the development of interstate highways. Which is to say, I think the discussion of digital media has a solid grasp of what is happening but not, as you state, "a more united theorizing and conceptualizing of the form and function of the digital." Too many librarians are still fussing over the question of "what is a book?" without realizing that in ten years, the "virtualization" of much of our culture will be mainstream.

    "What is a book?" is an important question, but only in context. It is repository of ideas, an object, a *text* of time and place that is as much HOW it is used as what it is used for. /2 cents.

  2. ...I myself prefer touch and feel that which holds the content of my mind's absorption. Therefore my stance on a digital future may indeed be somewhat biased. However, it is interesting that the author of the youtube video, "The Future of Communication", referred to our technological advances through "http://" as the "Tyrannosaurus Rex". The reference to an extinct creature, who held a most dominant place in a past time, encourages me to believe that it is not only I who believes the technological trend will at some point in time become extinct...And the ancestors of text as we know it...the cuneiform, hieroglyphics and print, will remain..just as the earth has endured the fads of prehistoric creatures...

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