The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Disposability

Posted by BigWords on February 12, 2012

Two (interconnected) subjects. Both with the passing of time as a massive influence.

You know what makes me feel old? The vanishing white dot. One of the reassuring things about old television sets was that white dot (and kids are probably reading this wondering what the hell the white dot was), and it is generally ignored amongst people who talk about television these days. LCD may provide a better image, and it certainly helps that I can plug various laptops and the desktop into the television so easily with a USB plug – unlike getting the horrid Amstrad to play nicely – but I miss the routine come time to switch off. There was a sense of completion once the television began to switch itself off, and that final act of displaying the display disappearing into infinity was, unlike the abrupt cut-to-black, a moment to digest the contents of the programs.

And hiss. I haven’t listened to music with a noticeable hiss in years, and while some may see that as a step forward, it does have the unintended side-effect of removing humanity from the wider universe. It’s background radiation from the big bang, which is awesome if you think about it – that cassette tape of Joni Mitchell singing Woodstock becomes exponentially more awesome when you canhear the universe around you.

What does this have to do with anything, other than reminding younger peeps that there was life before their arrival on the planet? It goes some way to explaining the frustration I have with current technology. I have been thinking, more and more, about how things used to be, especially in the last couple of years, and there are a plenitude of great ideas which have been completely abandoned in favor of keeping ahead of the technological curve, while simultaneously instantly dating everything currently produced. Is there a single thing I have bought in the last twelve months which is going to have a lasting cultural effect? No. Have any books, or films, or television shows, which appeared in the last six months displayed properties which will give them a lasting touchstone? Probably not.

Now, waitasec – before you start pimping your favorite shows, or plugging a film which needs love and care, spend a few seconds thinking about longevity. The reason that Shakespeare has lasted is down to numerous factors, but constant exposure to new audiences is right up there. Has any film (save for Star Wars, which doesn’t count) so completely excelled in its’ goal as to have a potential audience for the forthcoming half-millennium? No. not yet. No computer games, television series or radio shows seem to have had the exposure to prevent them fading into cultural memory, then disappearing completely as the decades and then centuries pass.

The white spot. The hiss. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears… in rain.

What’s going to last? Not the CD. Or the DVD. Digital downloading has largely begin replacing those. The television (as a unit in itself) and the personal computer are converging with every passing year, so each of those are probably doomed to obsoletion. Do you remember photographs? Proper photographs? Film strips, and chemical developing, and the giddy sense of accomplishment when people don’t sigh and shake their head when you show them the large sheets with pretty images? Well, seeing as those have already been replaced with digital photography (a horrid “improvement” which I refuse to be impressed by until it is BETTER than film) you might think that there isn’t anywhere for the form to go. Well… No.

We already have digital video picture frames. Say goodbye to stills.

Somehow, miraculously, I am still able to purchase 32mm stock here in Scotland. I haven’t looked very hard, but I am pretty sure I could get other formats if I hunted far enough, so I’m not alone in ignoring the sheep-like flocking towards the-future-which-we-didn’t-ask-for. THIS IS NOT WHAT WE WANT.

There’s a long way to go before companies realize that pumping out product with a relentless stream of advertising is against their best interests. In the past companies used to sell the same product, year in and year out, for decades. There would be (very minor) tweaks every so often, but essentially the catalogs remained static. In reinventing products each year it tells me something about a company. It says, very clearly, “we have no confidence in our product”. It tells me that the company is more interested in screwing people out of money than it is in providing quality goods.

I’m not arguing for a static approach, but one in which new features are included only where the new feature adds value.

The descendents of humanity, who will look back on this moment, this era, will no doubt conclude that the entirety of the species has delved into a collective madness which compels us to cast aside logic in the hunt for shiny and “current generation” gadgets, ignoring the pointlessness of such a pursuit. In a year’s time these too will be outdated. And those will be outdated a year hence. We are in the creation of an ultimately disposable lifestyle, unable to see how completely we are throwing money into a bottomless pit.

And none of it matters. In five hundred years no-one will care. We aren’t leaving anything of lasting, historical, importance. Disposable is disposable. Something is missing, and it is the stability. Media, while largely outside of the main argument of manufacturing things of lasting importance, is as fragile as anything else. There are shows which, merely a few years after initial broadcast, are already from a lifetime ago in real terms. Their focus is so alien as to be incomprehensible, and are all but unwatchable. Books, also, are affected by the march of progress.

Maybe it is time for a deep breath. A moment to reflect on ow we can all leave something (just one thing) that will speak to the future. Something important. I haven’t worked out just how to push any of my projects into the “important” category, but when I do I will be ecstatic. I’m fed up with the disposability of everything, and I want to know that there is a chance (however small) that there is hope for something bigger… something which takes on a life of its’ own.

I may start a religion.*

 

 

* Just joking. Possibly. 😀

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