Sunday, January 24, 2010

Negroponte Switch

One day, I'll fess up to myself that this site is dead, and move on and stop feeling guilty for having nothing to write about. Anyway.

I was thinking about the Negroponte switch earlier - the little homily that says something like 'everything that was wired, will be wireless, and everything that was wireless, will be wired'. So phones go from tethered to mobile, etc.

I wonder if there's a comparable rule operating around culture that says something like 'everything that was tangible will become intangible, and vice versa'.

So music - it came on discs of stuff. Now it comes from nowhere - magically into my devices. I'm old fashioned - I still buy CDs, because I rather like browsing in record shops, and hdd crashes have taught me it's nice to have a physical backup around. My livingroom is groaning under the weight of DVDs, CDs... I keep thinking about getting rid of them, but I have an issue with the *potential of not being able to replace the experience*. It's like giving potential knowledge away.

Films are going the same way, and much as it pains me to think it books seem to be next. (it pains me, incidentally, because I love books as objects a very great deal, and once considered a career as a bookbinder.) Cultural objects are evaporating in to the datasphere. Look, here's some art about it.

Relationships, too - the management of relationships at a distance used to be about gifts, letters, little tokens. Now it's about facebook.

The third version of this rule might be memory. Something like 'everything that was forgotten shall be remembered, and everything that was remembered shall be forgotten'.

So- I no longer remember dates, phonenumbers, vast swathes of real data (because it's there in my databases, at the poke of a google - the internet is one huge memory prosthesis come factmachine).

But what does get remembered now is the minutiae of people's lives, and people who would otherwise have drifted away in to the big 'I wonder what happened to..' are brought to mind every day by facebook. There is no ephemeral, any more.

I've been having some interesting discussions with people recently about what this means for grief and bereavement: not the least because of Leslie Harpold's legacy slowly disappearing from the web, but also because of a couple of cases of friends finding out about deaths of people mostly forgotten via facebook. I wonder what our carrying capacity is for our histories to remain present? Is it better that people do just disappear, are forgotten over time - are we giving ourselves an unnecessary burden in maintaining emotional ties?

Is there only so much one can bear in mind?

I'm not sure. Sometimes it feels that way to me (and I often feel as if I would like to quietly retire from facebook, that 'friends' there don't need to know that I'm having fishfingers for breakfast, etc). But I'm an inveterate forgetter of birthdays, and drifter away; I may be different.



Ryan said...

I'm doing research on the Negroponte Switch and came across your post. It's not relevant at all to my research, but it was a very interesting read nonetheless. I will definitely peruse your blog a little more when I have some extra time.

Good post!

Oily Muggie said...

Thanks. Interesting read, as always.