What is Old is New Again

Facebook has named its new app offering, which debuted today, “Paper”. As Lev Manovich points out, this naming signifies that “Old media metaphors are not going away” In fact, old media themselves aren’t going away.

Nowadays, fears that e-books and mp3s will dominate the reading and listening landscapes are all over the media. These fears seem somewhat cyclical, with the same old complaints cropping up decade after decade, as documented by the NYTimes more than once, Tom Standage in Wired, and XKCD, among others. Fear of the new manifests itself as dismissal of the digital, or whatever new technology has come to the fore.

Research has proven that not only do books have some staying power, old forms of music media are regaining popularity as well. Millenials are buying more books than other generations, and vinyl records are making a comeback. Cassette tapes, even, have found a resurgence.

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Memory, Experience, and Privilege

Here’s what was important this week

I wrote a really long link round-up piece about how technology and our memory interact in potentially damaging ways. And then I realized it was a blog post. So you can read that here:http://wp.me/p3qnzQ-5J

It’s something I find endlessly fascinating, and will be interesting to see how it progresses as technology becomes ingrained in even more aspects of our day to day life and becomes more visible (or not).

Technology is also changing many analog experiences into more digital ones. One photographer explores the future death of the standalone camera for the New Yorker, and reflects on perspective lost:

“As anyone working in a creative field knows, the perspective gained by spending time away from work is invaluable. Before digital (and outside of Polaroids), photography was filled with such forced perspective. No matter how quickly you worked, it was common for hours—if not days, weeks, or longer—to pass between seeing the image through the viewfinder and reviewing it in the darkroom. Digital technology scrunches these slow, drawn-out processes together.”

(If you want to see some truly analog photos, negatives were discovered clumped together from Ernest Schackleton’s Antarctic voyage. Unbelievably, they’ve been restored and printed.)

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Transactive Memory and the Machines

A reliance on technology is beneficial, allowing our brains to work harder, faster, and outsource more menial tasks such as keep track of which meetings are in which rooms at which times, to a web application. However, that reliance has sometime-damaging effects when coupled with a lack of understanding about how technology works and impacts us.

Camera phones can impact your memory by altering what you focus on and observe while taking a picture. When you take a photo, your brain remembers less of what you photographed, perhaps because it realizes that in taking a photo, you will have a record which you can reference later and therefore the information is less important to store. Dave Pell elaborates on this in an excellent essay on Medium:

“We’ve ceded many of our remembering duties (birthdays, schedules, phone numbers, directions) to a hard drive in the cloud. And to a large extent, we’ve now handed over our memories of experiences to digital cameras.”

This is especially relevant now since camera phones and picture-taking are near-ubiquitous in many facets of our society. Dave Pell continues, remarking:

“Snapping and sharing photos from meaningful events is nothing new. But the frequency with which we take pictures and the immediacy with which we view them will clearly have a deep impact on the way we remember. And with cameras being inserted into more devices, our collective shutterspeed will only increase.”

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Handwritten Texts

I’m going to expand on some tweets of mine from earlier today about this blog post.

Cristina Vanko spent a full week responding to all texts sent to her with hand-lettered calligraphy notes, which she then photographed and sent back as her response. 

There is a vintage nostalgia element to practicing something of this nature, a throwback akin to the resurgent popularity of vinyl or of the constructed “aged” photo filters as examined extensively by Nathan Jurgenson, and one of her friends recognizes this with the comment “old schoo+new school”:

iphone screenshots capturing conversations between author and friends

old schoo+new school and wondering what took so long

The vintage nostalgia of writing out a text lends credence to the “digital detox” movement in a unique way. Cristina is disengaging from traditional digital practice, and yet still practicing the act and art of communication, but on her own, slower terms.

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DPLA: A Digital Library for the Present

I originally wrote that DPLA would be a digital library for the future, but it’s more accurately the present, or even a delayed present. Europe has had its own overarchingly accessible online library collection, Europeana, since 2008. DPLA is a fledgling effort, yet to be bolstered by many of the collections across America (most notably the Library of Congress) but it is a work in progress. The beta version of DPLA launched today, with a press release sent out to interested people across the country, available here.

Professed within is:

“The DPLA’s goal is to bring the entire nation’s rich cultural collections off the shelves and into the innovative environment of the Internet for people to discover, download, remix, reuse and build on in ways we haven’t yet begun to imagine,” said Maura Marx, Director of the DPLA Secretariat. “Regular users can search in the traditional way using the portal, and developers and innovators can build on big chunks of code and content using the platform—we’re creating access, not controlling it.”

By creating a remixable and accessible online community, the DPLA brings one of the most venerable community institutions wholly online.  They’ve created a developer API for the available resources, meant to engineer and enhance discovery of the resources typically buried deep in library stacks or back rooms, and geographically unavailable to a large percentage of English-speaking users.

Also from the press release, a selection of available works:

“Among the 2.4 million records available at launch, you will find gems that include daguerreotypes of former Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, images of women marching for the vote in Kentucky, news film clips of the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights movement, The Book of Hours, an illuminated manuscript from 1514, Notes on the State of Virginia, written by Thomas Jefferson, and paintings by Winslow Homer,” said Emily Gore, DPLA Director for Content.”

Resources such as these could be used to enhance otherwise mundane lesson plans, or allow history students to pursue primary-source work even earlier in their studies. An online monument to America’s cultural heritage and holdings, the DPLA can give a voice to otherwise buried moments of history.