a strange invitation


re:re:re: FWD
January 20, 2007, 12:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

‘First we thought the PC was a calculator, then we found out how to turn letters into ASCII- and we thought it was a typewriter. Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television. With the World Wide Web, we realised it’s a brochure’: Lev Manovich

It is true that the Internet is perhaps the greatest advance in communication since the invention of the printing press. This is obvious, and certainly doesn’t require a media degree to figure out. Across vast distances, action and reaction potentially occur almost at the speed of light; traditional hierarchies concerning linear consumption of a text have dissolved almost as quickly as notions of authority over distribution of the written word.

Despite the forecasting of changes so prolific, that New Media authors inferred metaphors so grand as to imagine the extension of the central nervous system through electronic means (1), it is of some concern to me that the ‘information superhighway’ (2) has fallen into the general use, not as a tool for increased individual production enabled by comparative freedom from both state and corporate control, but through modes of consumption set in place during the era of ‘disorganised capitalism’. While at one time, advertising executives scratched their heads as they sifted through the wreckage of the dot-com crash in the mid-nineties, they must now wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s business as usual: the general fears of the advertisers’ evaporated in much the same way as the threat to traditional adverting presented by the establishment of the video recorder. In fact, those that anticipate increased autonomy from ‘passive consumption’ outlined in previously accepted sender/receiver models as hard-drive television recorders enter the home, should take heed, the threat of increased user control over advertising for example, necessarily dictates that, in order to survive, advertising (once explicitly demarcated from program content), must retreat further from view. Convergence, it appears, is a primary characteristic of any advance of any ‘advance’ in mass of media technology, of which the blurring of programme content with the interests of advertisers’ is but one example.

The merging of apparently disparate elements is of significant importance in common uses of the Internet. If the Internet expands the author’s role to that writer, editor, and publisher at the site of production, the ‘consumer’ has similarly extended her reach, reappearing through the World Wide Web as marketing agent, advertiser, and distributor. The popularity of the FWD: is a case in point. While the World Wide Web is commonly lauded as enabling greater participation of the user, the persistent sender of the FWD, lies flaccidly between consumption and reproduction (3), in such a way that the user’s role in the exchange of information is reduced to that of intermediary, blindly recycling the ideas of others, unconsciously doing the work that was previously undertaken by boards of executives. Lynne Truss (4) notes that while productivity of businesses has dramatically increased through the ability to communicate via the World Wide Web, its overall effect is a loss in output, as bored administrators diligently pass around personality tests, questionnaires and amusing asides like worker ants, desperately trying to make it through the tedium of the 9-5.

The persistent offender in the case of FWD’s is neither writer, nor even typist, and the bulk of them that lie in my inbox go unread and unloved, and they certainly die in my hands. So I may miss out on popular cultural icons such as the hamster dance, and the StarWars kid, yet it’s a small price to pay to avoid the sinking feeling I get when I open a message from a good friend to discover some thoughtless nonsense from somebody with nothing to say (5).

1. Marshall Mcluhan
2. A highly emotive term in itself coined by Vice President Al Gore in a speech given in 1999, giving rise to the commonly held belief that Al Gore invented the Internet.
3. According to Stuart Hall’s revision of the sender/receiver model of mass communication
4. Eats, Shoots and Leaves
5. Although I have to admit, I’d like to see the swirling patterns again that make the hand you’re holding the mouse with go weird

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