118 posts tagged technology
Maybe I’m feeling sentimental because I just watched an episode of Entourage called “The End,” but it breaks my heart to open “Media Gazer” and see a page of negative headlines. “2 major lessons from the demise of The Daily,” “Another Apology,” “Leveson blame for police reluctance to identify high-profile Savile probe suspect,” “Hackers Behind Tumblr Worm Say They Warned Tumblr of Vulnerability Weeks Ago,” “30 More Buyouts Coming to the New York Times,” etc. If a first time reader landed on “Media Gazer,” they might get the impression, the wrong impression, that the apocalypse has come a little early this year.
I haven’t worked a very long time in the media industry, but I have worked at publishers large and small, print and digital, at magazines, newspapers, and startups trying to help legacy companies through the print-to-digital transition. I don’t think I’ll ever hold an editorial position at such a company, though I might speak from a time too soon and a mouth too young. Regardless, it does hurt me to see old, print media so wounded, so down on itself. Digital innovators are enjoying a surge of positivity and collective excitement. Look no further than events like the Mashable Media Summit, which testify to the forward-thinking, collaborative nature of digital media development. But the self-sabotaging rhetoric of so many media companies—and it is really an endemic problem, no longer isolated or containable—is disheartening.
I do not feel sentimental because I have any real financial or practical investment in the survival of print, but rather because I love what print stands for: I love the memories I have of paperback books, used books, falling-apart books that my parents studied in high school, of newspapers stained with maple syrup, of Gourmet and other magazines that have passed into the great digital beyond. And I worry that my children and, perhaps, my students, will not share those memories. I do not believe it is possible to qualify digital media as more or less ethical, moral, “good” than print. But I do believe that everything great and beautiful about print will yield to what will be and already is great and beautiful about digital.
Yet the growing up of print into digital has been way more painful than it needs to be. We are experiencing a catastrophic loss of confidence in the durability of print media values. It is true and unavoidable: what print stands for will and must disappear. If we were to occupy some golden age of print forever—a halycon that never existed, mind you—it wouldn’t seem so pleasant. For print was a mere step in the continuous evolution of the word. The world of the printed word per se is dying. To fight against that death is to prolong our suffering. For print must perish or decline into ignominy. To paraphrase Emerson (poorly), nature hates that which becomes. Twenty, ten, maybe five years from now, I fear that we will turn back and regret our resistance, indeed, our completely understandable but nevertheless irrational reluctance, to embrace the digital word with good feeling and generous spirit.
Letting go of the things we love, that we have named icons of our values and dreams, is a necessity of becoming: the movement of ourselves and our worlds along the arc of time’s arrow. Everything into newness. Thus growth, which cannot mean anything other than entropy, is aching, is agony. Everything that becomes more is becoming less, decaying in forward-motion. The pain of maturity is that going towards something demands an ending ahead. The magnitude and seriousness of that pain, its sincerity, should be neither underestimated nor dismissed. That is why the ending of a television show, however silly and fun in its heyday, can bear such weight on our real lives. We run our imaginations over the characters and their fictions and sense the texture of ourselves. There is something native, of us, that we discover in them. We form emotional attachments to their limited, unreal existences because we see what we wish to be in their images. Like the ending of Seinfeld, or Friends, or Entourage, the ending of print media, which is, in fact, the ending of a story about the printed word, threatens a fantasy that has become monstrous in proportion. The death of the television series or of a historical narrative finishes something we thought infinite. The End disrupts the illusion that the values we have inscribed on stories have become immortal.
There are already too many clichés about how endings and beginnings are synonymous. Opening and closing doors, etc. My favorite comes from a ‘90s song, nostalgia, I know, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” The end of print means the beginning of digital. But Semisonic’s lyric (or maybe Seneca’s aphorism? so Wikipedia says…) refines my mediocre epigram: while a historical account of print has effaced its many minor deaths and rebirths and transformations, there is no sudden “end” of print and “beginning” of digital. The transition from print to digital has been a long-time coming. We might as well look forward into the present.