On this auspicious RSD, delightfully coined as a ‘nerd’s Black Friday,’ I thought I would craft a post on our current cultural fascination (and my eternal obsession) with old tech. From the vinyl swoonage of my inner hipster streams an affection for older media formats. In the spirit of my typically mashup blogstructure, I’ve peppered the following with a dose of nerdery, John Hughes refs (Pretty in Pink record store heyyah) and a decidedly-dork link drop.
Elsewhere on the internet, T Berners-Lee (#semweb<3) issued a rather relevant press dispatch providing some worthwhile, if informally articulated, perspective on legislation to limit piracy as piloted by record labels (see: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/04/berners-lee-dont-let-record-labels-upset-web-openness.ars). One wonders in retrospect how the internet inspired these legal concerns, how old music media slowed legislative headache in its low-tech limitations, and for this among other reasons, I’ve defaulted to a rather luddite posting.
I write this with a pang of resistance, as it is with rarity that I self-identify as old (*shudder*) but the current technological timeline chronicling our collective [te]Xistence demands a certain comfort with the realization that the ’90s were a while ago, that the internet dawned a while ago…and that we’re now in the swelling season of rapidly appreciating generations of hardware. How we will grapple with this ephemedia has become a buzz topic in the archives and art worlds alike, as projects in net.art and new media demand a new approach to conservation, and a particular perspective on the romance of technostalgia to support those programs and projects we choose to preserve.
I’ll begin with an anecdotal <aside>
When I first considered art restoration as a career path, I accepted that chemistry and art history would have to blend in an rather bizarre educational program defined by my own crosswalk of departments and operated on a platform of optimism + obscure nerdery. With time, my interest in contemporary art favored an education in code over chem, and it is with honesty that I acknowledge the importance of technology for long-term preservation of our postmodern cultural memory, conducted in the catalogs and crosswalk metadata maps of colloquial web archive known as the internet. Our affection for the grooves and snapcracklepop of vinyl, for album art and liner notes in the age of paperless playlists à la Pandora coordinates well with our nerdy re:interest in former formats, and the now obsolete storage devices of our early internet da[ze]. What some of my undergrad students reference as “old school” now collects in a rather pathetic category that includes Mac products with the rainbow apple-logo, and the dial-up tones that at one point audio-tuned the boot-up. #betTheresARingtone. We have a whole tag vocabulary that equates 10-year old techologies with “vintage” and “retro”, and a rather anachronistic attraction to self-identifying as “analog” All this is fascinating in such a collapsed timeline…tech tempis fugit indeed.
Rhizome epublished a blog post about this type of phenomenon, entitled Projected Projects: Slides, Powerpoint, and a Sense of Belonging, and my own recent treatment of it can be attributed to a techcrunch article about Prince of Persia complimented by this lecture by Doug Reside (digital palimpsests…see previous postings). All of the aforementioned in some way contributes to a contemporary catalog of our attraction to old media, and the attempt to both preserve previous formats and furnish persistent platforms to host those products that defined how we all grew up with the internet, that characterized our carousel through technoyouth. Those of us who recall the pluckiness of a polaroid or the plastactile quality of the floppy now watch as these filter to the techvogue of a new generation. Consider the current cool of “retro” gaming like “5th avenue frogger” or the techno trope of the wizard/princess single player set-up (see photo).
But with companies like Kodak sloowwwwly retiring from the media memory-making that has so long been their default domain (I’m looking at you microfiche), we must also confront this nostalgia with caution, and potentially with alarm.
Fred Kilgour: Microfilm will be “one of the most important developments in the transmission of the printed word since Gutenberg.” Christian Science Monitor Magazine (9/14/1940)
Steve Paul Johnson: “End of Microfilm?” on census information and microfilm obsolescence (12/19/1999)
It remains near-impossible to predict the success or failure of any-one medium (case in point: quotes below; case in point the undulating popularity of all music/movie media, vinyl included). The thumbdrives and cartridges of our techmemory are not immune to that same obsolescence, in fact, they might be the most vulnerable carriers of our culture to date. What of our digital memories? Wherewith our technochronology preservation protocols? Will the fbook journals be our only catalogue of online identity in the 2000s? Will our digital anecdotes and assets be clustered in a dubious Cloud? Will we even want memories, or will we allow our historic [hyper]texts to devolve to droplinks and the deepweb darkrooms of archival ether. Remember the Eloi and their apathy about intellectual memory (if you remember the book). If not (*gasp* *feelsAncient* *sulks*): remember that Wishbone episode where Weena laughs when HG Wellsbone paws through the crumbling pages of the archives (oh look, here’s a lo-fi reminder: http://www.colemanzone.com/Time_Machine_Project/BarkFuture(2).htm) yep, that’s the state of things.
I’ll punctuate this with a pile-up of unanswered questions and some “retro” screen captures featuring the old tech that some of us know, and many of us miss. On this record store day, I’m compelled to re:member technology’s incarnations in my lifetime, as I’ve watched photochemical captures transition to media memory banks that might just be bankrupt in the space of a decade. RSD and other affections for old media, I salute you.