The Future of Media

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It was bound to happen sooner or later. Even my favorite magazine finally found itself the victim (hopefully not fatality) of the economic times we’re living in. Paste Magazine, beloved highlighter of wonderful music, film and books, recently announced their own financial issues and began a campaign simply titled “Save Paste” that asks fans to help them out by donating to the cause to keep it alive.

Paste MagazineIt’s a funny thing, these times we live in. I’m a keen appreciator of technology, with my relatively new MacBook, my iPhone, etc. I have an external hard drive for all of my music and gave up collecting any physical musical product a few years ago. I have a few vinyls lying around, but I’m not cool enough to actually dive back into that format and sit still long enough to appreciate it for the effort. And I’d eventually like to get my hands on a Kindle from Amazon, the iPod of literature, to see what that would be like

Yet I also somehow hold a longing for the tangible, for the medium that you can truly taste and see and touch and smell and feel. I sometimes hate my virtual world and refuse to use Twitter because it seems the last great stand a person can make against the constant broadcasting of our lives. Ridiculous, I know, but a man’s gotta draw a line somewhere, right? I love a great book and the feel of it in my hands at night. I totally get the vinyl argument. And I hate seeing this part of the industry slowly crumbling like the planet Vulcan (sorry for the spoiler).

So I wonder what balance will eventually be displayed, if any at all. Will all that is tangible and real decay in a landfill while virtual forms rule the earth? I’d like to believe that there will at least be a community of people who reject that in various ways to create a consistent market for things you can truly hold. It’s this community as well at the Rabbit Room where some of these things will saved, I believe – smaller niche communities where people appreciate the same common things. But I wonder what you all think. It’s an interesting shift in front of our eyes and I wonder what the artists and art appreciators among us see (and hope for) in the future.

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


15 Comments

  1. Paulh

    Well, as for me and my family – we constantly are downsizing our lives; trying to live without,more simply and going against the new thing or fad. With Technology continuing to form at rapid speed (you should see what the new 4G wireless technology will be able to do… hold your phone up to a Coke machine and you can pay for it), I have this urge to run, not walk, to the nearest vacant feild in the BLue Ridge and claim it as a homesteader. I have fought tooth and nail to not go all digital. I love the tangible.However, living in an instant gratification driven world, it does have a place. Virtual paychecks, virtual music, ..virtual pubs.

  2. Loren Eaton

    On a related note, I read my first e-book about two weeks ago. Though the convenience is wonderful — who wouldn’t love having most any title in about 60 seconds? — it’s not quite as smooth a transition as CDs were to MP3. It’s a tad challenging, for example, to find that previous passage you really liked; can’t riffle the pages!

  3. Benjamin Wolaver

    The real question, I think, is what kind of society this new tech will produce. When all tangible things have finally been replaced with plastic and screens, how that will that affect the cultural inclinations of the consumers? Our world has been completely shaped by The Book, The Plane, The Car, etc… but when your car is automatically driven (a development I don’t think is too far away), when we no longer have fighter pilots but only unmanned aerial vehicles controlled from another location, and our entire artistic palette is contained on a small handheld device, how does that transform the psychological makeup of a people?

    We still have a connection to the earthy past, but what about two generations down the road?

  4. david

    i think it’s unfortunate that you’ve given up on CDs, matt! there’s something about reading through lyrics while listening to a track, seeing the artwork that is intentionally framing those lyrics.
    but you’re right – all the kids are buying singles on iTunes, not even full albums on iTunes, let alone CDs or vinyl.

    newspapers, books, printed information… it will certainly be interesting to reflect on this post in 5 years, or 10 years…

    in the newest issue of Collide magazine, they take a shot at what the Church will look/function like in 25 years… i haven’t read the article yet, but just thinking about the shifts that will necessarily occur in the next 25 years makes my stomach churn, but i’m not sure why…

  5. Bill Knipe

    I like what Pauhl said about homesteading. The yearn to grow and build things tugs at me ever stronger as this world quickly loses its face-to-faceness. I’m fighting tooth & nail not to become connected to an iPod, Twit my life away, and I don’t even want to know what the new 4G wireless is. An essay about the length of those in The Rabbit Room is about all I can stand to read from a computer screen. Give me a hardback and my patio anyday.

  6. whipple

    I concur with David. Holding the liner notes and your hands and before your very eyes is a good thing.

    Sometime in the future, they will come. They will knock on your door in their plain grey jackets with nametags. Behind them will be their van, and the team of people who have come to digitize all the paper in your household. Oh, you’ll get to keep your documents, of course, and your novels and textbooks and pictures and Bibles, but the physical copies will have to go. You understand. This is the Green Revolution after all.

    “We are bound by law to appropriate your paper for recycling,” they’ll say. “By order of the government, all the information contained in physical format in this building shall be downloaded to a convenient, secure, digital format, accessable by an undisclosed password of your choice.”

    But some will resist. There will be those who stow their books away. In the floors and behind the walls there will be copies of East of Eden and The Brothers Karamazov. Leaves of poetry will be carefully taped to the top of the ceiling fan, entire volumes double-wrapped in plastic bags filled with water and made to look like ice packs. Bibles will be stuffed into old unused chimneys. Some will even (very quietly, by word of mouth) start libraries.

    Okay, so it’s not that apocolyptic. But I do imagine a future when people will visit personal libraries (like, I dare say, many of our own) for the same reason that they visit record stores. For example, in an era of direct deposit and automatic debit, my wife and I talked recently about tithing. We pay most of our bills electronically, but we agreed that there’s something good and proper and necessary about writing that tithe check and physically letting it out of our miserly fingers.

  7. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I think the digital transformation will intensify the beauty of tangible things, art in particular. I don’t know that digitization lessens ‘things’ a much as it forces the creator of those ‘things’ to make something of true quality. For instance, I’ll probably never buy a pocket paperback ever again. I’ll buy the heck out of a special edition hardback if it’s a book that I want to appreciate. Same with music, movies and anything else.

  8. Brad Griffith

    I’m reading a book (hard, tangible copy) right now by Shane Hipps called Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith. I would love to see a review of the book on the Rabbit Room. Hipps argues that various media themselves, and not merely the message carried by them, have transformative power in our lives. We can either be aware of that power and use technology well, or we can remain ignorant and be changed in ways that we did intend and without our permission. It’s quite interesting.

  9. Chris Yokel

    The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s work “Simulacra and Simulation” would be an interesting supplement to this discussion. Baudrillard argues about how modern society is increasingly moving away from reality by creating a “simulacra” reality of the real. The problem is that we are starting to believe that the “simulacra” is the original reality, hence, increasingly living in a simulation. It’s an interesting read….although you may feel like you’ve been sucked into The Matrix already after you read it 🙂

  10. Mark

    I can’t help but think of Malcolm Muggeridge (the medium is the message) and Marshal McLuhen (sp?). I think one of the most important responses that we can have to the changing media is occurring right here: that of being critical. When we digest new media, fads, and trends without even thinking about them, they assume control over us. But when we are thinking about how they affect us and what kind of effect they are having, we are on the right road.

    I personally love the idea of Kindle and Itunes and other such new media. Like Pete said, i think one of the best things that will come out of all this mess with newspapers and the print media will be the tightening of our consumption of just any kind of product. Christians should be leading the way in desiring products that are more than just a passing piece of art: we should desire excellence.

    Who knows if this shift will directly correlate with that, but as with any form of technology there are always positives and negatives, and it’s our job to think critically to see which outweighs the other.

  11. Kristin

    I have been thinking about this very idea for a while now, and for some reason it shocks me that it passes through my mind so often. I’m 22 years old and should be drinking this wonderful technology in, right? (I admit…I do tweet.)

    One thing I’ve learned over the past year or so is that as much opportunity there is for good to birth out of something, there is just as much opportunity for evil. We live in a fallen world, and only by God’s grace does He allow us to catch those glimpses of goodness when things (such as technology) are used in a pure way, in a way that makes much of a brilliant Creator/Artist/King/Saviour, that builds the kingdom. Yet, because this world has not been fully redeemed and made new, those same things can also take us farther into sin than we ever imagined. I hope that makes sense to someone out there, or am I the only one that can testify to this?

    Honestly, the quick reaction I have would be to run as fast as I can into the mountains of North Carolina, build a log cabin, leave the technology behind and surround myself with only what is tangible. But I’m quite certain it wouldn’t shield me from this fallen world, and I would miss my computer after a week. It’s simply only a thought.

    Here is a video I found that somewhat hits on this topic. It gives me a good laugh every time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jETv3NURwLc

  12. Rob Dunbar

    Brad,
    Some of what Shane Hipps says was covered in Neil Postman’s classic book “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” Postman himself, I gather, was influenced by MacLuhan’s ideas.

    It’s hard for me to imagine that all forms of communication will become digital. There are some things that can’t give the same effect: the textures (not just the colors) of a Monet painting, or the glossiness of a photo. We’re physical as well as spiritual beings, and what touches us most deeply affects and satisfies our full nature (thus the Incarnation). So maybe the kitsch will end up pixelized, but I’m with Pete (#7) here.

  13. Bret Welstead

    I find myself all over the map on this topic.

    This weekend I began going through C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy again. Man, do I love lying in bed or sitting on my couch by the front picture window, flipping through the pages of this plain 1996 paperback edition of “Perelandra.” Feeling the paper, smiling at how the dog-ears bend so easily because I’ve done this before, taking care not to push the binding so much as to pull the pages from their cover. I love books, though I’m not even a huge appreciator! I don’t hunt for first editions, or even hardcovers most of the time. But I love reading from an actual book.

    At the same time, I see Kindle as the answer to my prayers! I could have several versions of the Bible, the latest by Rob Bell or Donald Miller or Andrew Peterson ;-), the classics of the faith like “Mere Christianity,” and today’s paper all in a device that slides into my backpack and weighs a fraction of the books it contains. Part of me desires the ability to bring my library along with me. Most of that part of me is the student, wanting always to have knowledge at my fingertips.

    But I can’t see sitting down on my patio with a cup of coffee and a Kindle. It just wouldn’t be the same in terms of peace and joy and tactile experience to be treasured.

    So I go both ways. And the same goes with music. I have held onto my CDs from the past 15 years (still digital, I know, but I never got into vinyls and tossed my tapes), but most of the new music I own was purchased through Amazon or iTunes and resides on my computer. I’ve been considering ripping all of my CDs onto the computer to free up some shelf space and remove some clutter, but for the liner notes of which I — in most cases — have read every word.

    I can’t believe that we’ll totally lose the printed word in the coming decades, but I can’t deny that, if culture demands the quick download, the immediate gratification, then publishers will look to another mode of profit, and printed books will become rare and expensive.

  14. Aaron Roughton

    This just in:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104644575

    It’s a story I heard this morning on NPR about a company that makes an “ATM machine for books.” You can walk into a bookstore and request any book and they can print it up while you wait. Makes me think of Pete’s posts on publishing his book. You could skip publishers altogether, along with the up front costs of printing thousands of books to distribute. But people who wanted a printed copy could still get their hands on one.

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