Newsweek is going digital. Completely online. No print product. The Guardian is considering a similar move.
I admit I have bouts of sentiment for the printed page. In general, however, I allow my head to rule my heart in thse matters. The China Mieville quote I posted a few days ago persuades me that we don’t really need to fetishize print.
However, I think that two commentaries on this news from two of my favourite bloggers miss something in their enthusiasm for this transition. Continue reading “How Going Digital Could Threaten Civil Society”
I’ve just started reading The Information by James Gleick (Fourth Estate). It is about the history of information, writing, and IT, and it won the English PEN Hessel-Tiltman Prize this year.
I was struck by a passage in the book, discussing ‘African Talking Drums’:
Before long, there were people for whom the path of communication technology had lept directly from the talking drum to the mobile phone, skipping over the intermediate stages.
This rang a few bells. First, this nugget from Alain de Botton:
If technology is developing well, what was normal when you were a child should by now seem ridiculous.
Which seems to me to be a variation on Arthur C. Clarke’s famous suggestion that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. What’s interesting with regard to the African Talking Drums is that they are seen as a kind of primitive technology, even thought (as The Information explains) the language is so complex it appeared to be a form of magic to the white slavers, colonialists and anthropologists who heard them.
These technological leaps are interesting, I think, because so much of our culture is tied up in technological advancement. It dictates what kind of jobs are necessary and profitable, of course, but also influences design.
I am reminded of Jason Kottke’s posts on Timeline Twins (for example, watching Back to the Future today is like watching Bridge on the River Kwai in 1985, because the gap is 27 years in both cases), and also Human Wormholes and The Great Span (for example, this old man who witnessed the Lincoln Assassination).
It also makes me think of my great-grandfather, who (along with everyone else of his particular generation, I suppose) was alive to hear the news of the Wright Brothers achieving powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and also to watch the Apollo landings on the moon from 1969-72.
Think finally of the uncontacted tribes of Puapa New Guinea and the Amazon, who must consider the aeroplanes that fly overhead to be magic.
Jason Kottke thinks that the stills video camera will become obsolete in a few years time:
As resolution rises & prices fall on video cameras and hard drive space, memory, and video editing capabilities increase on PCs, I suspect that in 5-10 years, photography will largely involve pointing video cameras at things and finding the best images in the editing phase. Professional photographers already take hundreds or thousands of shots during the course of a shoot like this, so it’s not such a huge shift for them.
I think he underestimates the convenience that the traditional method provides. Editing even a few moments of video is a lengthy process, and selecting a precise frame or three from a length of footage will be too time consuming for the average punter. Granted, professional photographers do fire off dozens of snaps in quick succession, to increase their chances of capturing ‘the moment’. But the ratio of wheat to chaf in this process must surely never approach that generated by 25 f.p.s. video (or film). I don’t doubt that at the very high-end, photographers will continue to use this technique, but the act of editing, of post-production, will keep the time premium high, and restrain its use to a limited number of professionals. Without devoting the time to inspect every single frame, how can you be sure the quality of the image would be any better than normal? It is certainly not an appropriate technique for photojournalists on a deadline, or the amateur snapper with other things to do.