“There is ONE medium.”

Will that be the forthcoming declarative utterance to end all utterances?  If so, let me be one of the first few to coin it.

There has been a lot of buzz on web versus print with Clay Shirky  (Shoutout to Temporaryversion) discussing the business implications of old models struggling to deal with new ones.  (Here’s an example by Shirky on why newspapers cannot adopt a iTunes-like model).  I see one of the key challenges as culture, in that (North)American culture is one of what I call “quick cuts and remix.”  You see this in talk of convergence culture and Jenkins’s book, which describes instances of the modalities and materialities (Pfeiffer) of media combining.  We see in our everyday lives the Internet is taking over TV viewing time and also offering up viewing of broadcast TV/radio shows.  We can read books online or on handheld devices like Kindle hooked to databases.  Advertising and product placement are becoming more and more ubiquitous, so that this will be not so far-fetched.  [ThickCulture is brought to you by Contexts.  Cutting-edge content provided free of charge by the American Sociological Association]

We “scan” and read “at” things.  If we (or our attention spans) are pinched for time, we get information by reading the Yahoo headlines, not the article.  We are promiscuous in our media habits and don’t want to pay for things we don’t feel we should pay for.

Enter Walter Benjamin & Roger Chartier.  Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction   (full text here) in my opinion is central to understanding what’s going on.  If we look at media content as “art,” a pattern emerges:

“An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics.”

Two things.  I think that content isn’t emancipated from ritual, but rather that new rituals and culturally-driven patterns of praxis (i.e., drivers of meaning) are created, often in unpredictable ways.  Media content can now be taken and repurposed.  The mashup is a perfect example, along with user-driven meanings in Web 2.0.  The reference to politics as a basis is a nod to Benjamin’s Marxism.  I believe that media content and art now are squarely in the realm, not of politics, but of the political economy, specifically in terms of inter/actions in markets.  

Roger Chartier in The Order of Books notes that in studying print capitalism, in order to understand it within a cultural context, we need to address (1) the text (content), (2) the book (media), and (3) reading practices.  There has been a lot of attention on the first two, but less solid understanding on the reading of media.  What Jenkins teaches us through his thick description of the current media milieu is that the lines between media are blurring.  We see it in the modes and materialities, but also in the economics.  I feel we are moving towards a singularity of media.  For example, some will say print and broadcast TV are both dead, as both will soon be killed by the web.  That’s the wrong way of thinking.  This assumes a linearity akin to upshifting a manual transmission.

"Valentine: Lindsay's Adventures in Wonderland" (2007) --14
"Valentine: Lindsay's Adventures in Wonderland" (2007) --14

In terms of media praxis, success will often be about creating models of how media can be intertwined to create value.  Take any pop culture figure, such as Lindsay Lohan.  She’s in film, she’s a singer, a celebrity newsmaker and tabloid fodder, and the butt of the satirists’ joke (see left).  The Internet is moving towards collapsing all paths to Lindsay into a single LindsayÜberstraße, a vertitable autobahn of linked Web 2.0 content.

I think it is telling that the Journalism School at CUNY, which is earning a reputation for being on the leading edge, is no longer requiring students to commit to a media track.  Additionally, with integrated market communications (IMC), there will be increasing market-based pressures to view media as one.  A future post will grapple with the Deleuzean idea of singularity and how it applies to media.  I think we need to address how people are “reading” all media in this Web 2.0 age.  Why?  We finally might get a handle on figuring out how the new technologies will specifically transform culture, economics, and society.

Is print dead?  What about the demise of the Fourth estate, perhaps a linchpin of democracy?  Well, someone else said this, not me, but I’m more interested in good journalism than newspapers.  The problem is that newspapers and the  news media are often tied to economic imperatives, which is (in my opinion) a historical trajectory that is by no means set.  We need to think about content in the age of infinite replication, which makes Benjamin such an important figure.

My friend Mimi Zeiger at Loudpaper blogged about the state of print.  I think it’s important to think about the implications of the functions of journalism and publishing and how these will be manifested, as media goes singular.  I personally feel a certain fondness for actual printed work.  It may have more to do with the specific æsthetics of the medium than anything and possibly the tactile experience.

  • Do you think it’s useful to think of media as singular?
  • What is the future of print?

For those who feel they have something important to say, I’ll leave you with the following, a portrait of Miranda July.

"Portrait of Miranda July" (2008) Ed Templeton