Dan Wang on 5 Oct 2000 17:03:03 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] FW: <nettime> books and cdroms

>  >The question of permanence does not to me have a clear answer. Some books
>  >and a lot of periodicals and practically all newspapers are not any more
>  >permanent than cdroms. There is a good argument to be made that digital
>  >media, because of their replicability, offer greater permanence than
>  >do books.
> You can't be serious about this point, can you? To read, books need no
> other tool except perhaps eyeglasses for some. Their permanence relies
> only on the book's resistance to physical degradation. The cdrom is as
> "permanent" as the stack of technologies needed to read it - the
> production of electricity; the conversion of electricity; the reader
> hardware; the reading software; the operating system; the cdrom
> format; etc. Some of these change every few years or so, with new and
> incompatible technologies arising every decade or so. Even a major oil
> crisis can upset this stack of technologies.

You're right, but I just think it's important that people understand
"permanence" and "archival quality" as relative properties. When was the
last time you were in a rare book reading room? Books more than two hundred
years old are generally extremely fragile, and books even in their
simplicity can be hard to use; for example, old folio tomes too big to
handle and mass market paperbacks with smudgy ink and usable lifetimes
measurable in weeks. Just because a book is a book doesn't mean it is
automatically and naturally easy to read and use. There is still a very
important question of good, sensible, pleasing design that can in no way
be taken for granted.

I understand your point, and I really do agree (remember that I am a
printer and bookmaker and not a web designer partly for the reason that
having to eternally keep up to date with the latest software seems an awful
waste of learning effort), but I still think it needs to be recalled: books
as a technology may set a standard for effeciency, but that does not mean
that every book will perform its intended function better than a cdrom
performs its--there will be times when a cdrom, even with all the necessary
hardware and power sources, is used in such a way as to really justify
itself, to argue for its own worth as a medium.

> In some sense, a book resists physical degradation better than a
> cdrom. I've seen cdroms become unreadable after several scratches. In
> fact, existing technologies can make the book even more permanent. For
> instance, I've seen paper-like plastic calling cards which I couldn't
> tear at all. I can imagine some books using such material for their
> pages, so they degrade less over time.

Okay, but as books get more and more high tech, they will also become
increasingly dependent on that same "stack of technologies." Even right
now, you may be able to read one in your lap, in daylight, without any
electronic interfaces. . . but you will have most likely used a computer to
look up the book in your local public library. And if a high tech material
such as the card-stock you mention is used, don't you think some magnetic
stripes will be installed along with it, just like on the calling card? So,
in the very future scenario you're imagining, in which books make use of
hard wearing materials, an electronic interface component is quite likely
to be included as well, which only introduces another "stack of
technologies"-dependent element even at the moment the object achieves a
greater "permanence." It is clear to me that there is no way to talk about
all this without considering capitalist logics--none of these technologies,
whether books or cdroms, is inherently *anything*, and that includes
qualities of permanence, usability, effeciency.

>  >Because of letterpress's distance in technological evolution from digital
>  >media, the peculiarities of the process become that much clearer, which in
>  >turn render the peculiarities of the digital apparent once again. I could
>  >be doing a similar kind of project using dot matrix printers, and I know
>  >some people who have done just that, but letterpress is even further
>  >removed formally, and so creates a higher contrast when combined with
>  >digital elements (like Alan Sondheim's texts).
> I don't quite understand: if we are debating the pros and cons of book
> printing and cdroms, isn't it stacking the debate unfairly if you
> compare an obsolete form of book printing with the most recent form of
> cdrom technologies?

We may be debating the relative merits of books and cdroms *here*, but that
is not what my art work is about. In my art work (which is what I was
talking about in the paragraph that you address above) it is not my
intention to compare the two different technologies and argue that one is
better. What I am interested in is exposing the false character of
obsolescence under capitalism. I happen to work with the field of (mostly)
textual information delivery because the technologies that constitute the
field display interesting ruptures and continuities--beginning with
writing, continuing through myriad forms of printing and photo processes,
and now further evolving with digital techs. Points of rupture and
continuity that can be exploited toward the end of interrogating the
definition of obsolescence.

> Why don't you compare, instead, the latest book printing technologies
> (say, book-on-demand, one-off printing, etc.) with cdroms or dvds?

Well, I should say that I'm not really comparing books to cdroms in my
work. I don't use any of Alan's texts stored in on a cdrom. I just take the
texts as they appear when posted to Nettime and rework them for printing.
Aside from the peculiarity of his texts--and they do in fact exhibit what I
would call a digital aesthetic--there is no digital element in the finished
product. It's just a piece of paper, or series of pages, and, eventually, I
hope to make a book out of his texts.

> Why adapt the human to the technology? Why not adapt the technology to
> the human? The book makes me feel free; a cdrom leaves me feeling
> chained to technology.

Outwardly, adapting the tech to the human is what my project is about. What
could be more so than taking virtual-only texts and making them material,
putting them into people's hands (just like books). But, in the process of
conducting that adaptation, the original material--in this case, Alan's
texts as first posted--changes, and takes on new qualities, and therefore,
new and different meanings. There really is no way to simply and directly
translate the content created and delivered through one medium into
another. What happens to that content is what makes that translation

dan w.

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