Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Whose Violent Descent?

Stuart Moulthrop promotes a very interesting discourse and approaches the "threat" of the Internet to traditional written text very rationally in this reading. Addressing the age old threat that Media Ecologists so ardently point out is possible with the advent of the next big technological gizmo with writing capabilities, Moulthrop points out how the cross hares have landed on electronic hypertext and the Internet. The concerns voiced are over the fear of written text's redundancy in the face of a new digital realm granted an array of sources and access to the knowledge seeker. The problem that critics claim is, however, that through digitization this will be mutated into a hollow means of recreation, and that as a result, written text will be defeated at the hands of a "toy shop" as the reading so wonderfully phrases it. The glaring problem in this criticism is that of course, this threat that hypertext poses is no different than that of every new technological medium before it (including written text itself). To point out this criticism is nothing new under the sun, written text threatened the capacity of the mind to remember things, television is believed to "rot our brains", the Internet is just next in line...
The truth is that, when almost every technology is introduced it has strong ties to entertainment and often is thrust into the role of a commodity to be sold and packaged as representing a variety of functions, recreation being one of them usually. 
Another key criticism I felt worth pointing out, was the fear of a monopolization of information with the digitization of text. With or without the world that hypertext allows, this monopolization of information already exists, they're called COLLEGES and UNIVERSITIES. Oh...and there's the fact that the majority of books circulated and sold around the world belong to say, a handful of publishing companies. They may fool us by selling them through smaller more "intimate" publishing companies, but these are still owned by the same publishing juggernauts (i.e. check out Time Warner's holdings in the publishing game). Moulthrop asks us to "imagine a world without bookstores" where the 'burden' of physically buying a book is replaced by accessing some type of digital book catalogue directly. As menial as physical shopping may be, the bookstore won't be going anywhere for the same reason the movie theatre is sticking around, people value the intimacy of shopping. Something about being able to pick up and see (read if you will) what you're getting. 
Jay David Bolter is quoted as referring to things as "the late age of print", claiming that print is on its last legs, but since the technology isn't completely developed/available it's still hobbling along. Let's give written text and old Gutenberg some credit, its managed to stick around for a couple of centuries and change the way we communicate, learn and live our lives. 
Moulthrop may bring up some fragile fears, but he brings it home pretty rationally claiming that if we understand and acknowledge what hypertext represents to the future of text (print text included) and the availability and access of knowledge than we might not have to look at things so ominously. The Ecologists point out finally, that before we go making hypertext into the next VCR it might just end up like the Sony Beta. Big changes in our climate are rare. 
I'd say the violent descent is going at more of a moderate plunge...

1 comment:

Lance Strate said...

Another way that it's been put, by Douglas Rushkoff among others, is that the kids growing up today are digital natives, born into this online world, while we, to varying degrees, are digital immigrants. So it's only when the natives take over that we will finally touch down, whether it's a crash landing or not remains to be seen.