|> Neural Magazine|
Bruce Sterling: the Dead Media interview.
by Alessandro Ludovico
Tell me all the essentials about the current status of the project and how to contribute.
So far we have established a ten-page Master List of Dead Media, a compilation of 385 working notes, and we have 600 readers around the world. People join by sending me email at email@example.com. It is free.
Why is so important to take a census of the dead media? Is it related to the necessity of understanding the new one's?
Absolutely. You can never understand media evolution without studying the fossil record. It's especially important to study dead media because there are no industries supporting them and no commercial reason to keep this technical knowledge alive.
Do you think that any dead media could be useful for a revitalized use in, for example, not so developed countries?
I wouldn't recommend this, except, perhaps, for some kinds of handicraft media that might become museum trinkets for the tourist trade. Tribal drums, wampum, and so on.... There are many backwaters of the world where old media still barely hang on as "fossil media," such as the carrier pigeon service in the Indian state of Orissa. But most dead media are created and die in the advanced states before they become widely spread.
Are you in contact with anybody who's able to start a little museum or event committed to the project?
There are a great many museums around the world which have some particular dead media aspect: telephone museums, computer museums, old office equipment collections, industrial history and so forth. But there is no institution existing which would take "all forms of media" as its purview -- that's just too wide a topic for a good museum collection.
Talking about living media, instead, do you think they are fighting each other in a Darwinian (or evolutive) way? And who's going to win?
There is certainly some competition among media: Sony Betamax versus VHS and so forth. But most media tend to evolve toward some special protected niche within the greater media ecosystem. Media have different design qualities which suit them for certain uses: mass media, personal media; cheap, expensive; ephemeral, long-lasting; portable, site-specific, and so on. Expecting one medium to become the ultimate medium is like expecting a jungle to have only one kind of tree.
What about the cemetery of data in forgotten diskettes, or piles of punch cards?
I expect this issue of digital decay to become the next big scandal after the Y2K affair. People will be shocked when they realize how much is being lost and how little has been done to guard against this.
And if 'the medium is the message' what about the tons of e-mail bounced back and never sent again?
Yes, that's a problem, but the idea of tons of your email being kept without your knowledge is even more scary.
Do you think there's any media that could change and sustain the verbal-based communication of the Greek agora' system, still in use in most southern Italy small town?
Actually the ancient Greek Agora system had some very remarkable media technology associated with it, such as the kleroteria, allotment tokens, bronze and wooden juror tickets, tagging ropes, water clocks, ostraka, steles, monumental bulletin boards, and so on. It took a lot of information management to run ancient Athenian democracy. I've lived in America most of my life and you don't see many people here who would sit around and talk politics in a public square. I do see large numbers of people walking around and using portable telephones in public these days.
The biggest drawback of the inter-European communication, as widely noted in Holy Fire, is the large number of idioms, one too much different from the other, and the lack of a uniquely adopted second language. In this case, all the dozens of yearly lost languages and dialects (due to loss of documentation and living speakers) seem to be the dead media of our ancient roots. Travelling in Europe, which were your impressions of the inter/national lack of understanding?
The loss of human languages is a very large and pressing issue, but it's one that we don't study in Dead Media Project because we decided that languages are not "media." Language is innate to humanity, it does not involve a device or a machine. The world is well on its way to a uniquely adopted second language, English. But I don't know if that will be good for other languages or, for that matter, good for English. It may help us communicate more quickly but it certainly means a huge impoverishment of mankind's intellectual heritage. Every language is a fantastically complex and expressive intellectual construction -- except for artificially invented languages like Esperanto and Volapuk, there is no such thing as a simple and primitive language.
Talking about the States, what's, in your opinion, the Internet incarnation (web sites, e-mail, digest lists, chat rooms) that's strategically used for the veicolation of the ideas?
They work, but they don't work well enough. Chat rooms are a bad joke, they are almost useless. Digests are very worthwhile, but they make huge demands on the digest editor. Email lists are only as good as the contributors, and they tend to attract fanatics, flamers, and other time-wasters. As a social phenomenon I am surprised at how bad these things are. It seems to me that most computer-based forms of media are badly designed and getting worse -- they may have more features and cost more, but in terms of creating and sustaining a human community, they are surprisingly bad and may even be counter-productive. After twenty years, no one has invented a really good word processor. It's a scandal.
Make a census of dead media could relate with making a census of dead ideas concerning communication. What about a census of failed communication theories?
Are there any communication theories which *haven't* failed?
Is there any documentation about 'dead media' on the web?
We have a couple of websites run by Dead Media fans:
For your working notes:
- Dymo machine, a tiny plastic machine that can engrave adhesive tapes of colored plastic through its daisy circle of letters (as some old analogic typewriters)
*They're not dead, I saw them for sale just a couple of weeks ago
- Detachable fonts lettersheets (Letraset, R41)
*I can still by Letraset downtown at the architectural graphics store
- Microdrive cartridges (a sequential tape in a microcartridge, where the start was connected with the end, for Sinclair QL home computer)
- All the speaking interface for home computers (Currah for Sinclair Spectrum for example, or S.A.M. for Commodore 64)
- Dead printers
- Walls with cancelled graffiti sentences
*Grafitti is thousands of years old and in no danger
- Videotapes recorded in V2000 standard
- The megaphone
*No way! They're all over the place