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« Ad Update -- "The Glow" | Main | Visual Perception and Biology »

October 23, 2003

"Glow" Update Redux

Dear Friedrich --

The Wife tells me (supportively and sweetly, but firmly) that I blew it bigtime with my previous posting -- that I didn't make myself clear. Oh, well: sometimes happens. In fact, I notice that it's more likely to happen with the postings I've given the most thought to. I wonder why.

Anyway: a quick attempt to clarify, condense, and make punchier what I was fumblingly trying to say earlier.

  • The nature of the media world has been changing ever since computers started being widely incorporated into the media-making process.
  • The media world reflects our consciousness. Our consciousness finds expression in the media world. Two-way street.
  • If the media world has been undergoing in-its-nature-and-being change, that means that the nature of the general consciousness (ie., the mental world we all kinda-sort share) has been changing too.
  • When we were growing up, what seemed most striking about the art and media worlds were the uses to which the creators were putting their media.
  • Hence critics and reviewers were important, and often were able to say interesting and insightful things about Life As It Was Being Lived.
  • But since circa 1980, what has seemed most striking to me about the art and media worlds has been something different. It's been the glacial/tectonic/whatever changes that have been going on as we've all been adjusting to a new set of basic production conditions.
  • Out with the old grids and the old hierarchies; out with the Dewey Decimal system. In with ever-updated, ever-revised, ever-shifting interlinked databases.
  • In this new world, which hasn't attained anything like a steady state (if it ever will), new elements and approaches are forever being introduced and tried out. Some of them seem to take; some of them seem to resonate. Many don't. In other words, we're all adapting.
  • Following this process of trial-and-error adaptation has struck me (a pretty arty guy) as, in general, far more interesting than following whether the current hot novel, or dance piece, or the current big release is worth attending to.
  • As a consequence, the cultural commentary that has struck me as most enlightening over the last couple of decades hasn't often come from critics and reviewers. (I feel for them; they often got into their fields because they grew up at a time when it seemed exciting and glamorous to be a critic and a reviewer. And these days they're often in the position of being service providers.) It has often come instead from people thinking about econ, tech, cities, and business.

The pix I included? They were just me having fun trying to track what people in the ad game are doing in their attempts to adapt to new conditions. A new vocabulary, a new set of conventions, a new pallette of attacks, and none of it yet settled out.

Not that I expect anyone to pay attention to these musings, of course ...



posted by Michael at October 23, 2003


"When we were growing up, what seemed most striking about the art and media worlds were the uses to which the creators were putting their media."

I guess I'm honestly just not sure what that sentence means. I mean, as opposed to what anybody's doing today. Maybe an example?

Posted by: annette on October 23, 2003 7:07 PM

Hmm, I'm winning today's "lack of clarity" award ...

The general thought (and I'm beginning to despair of ever managing to make it, but I guess we all have days like this) is that once upon a time, what was really interesting was what the artists were up to. They were using a certain kind of language to express themselves. In recent years, despite the occasional good book or the occasional bad book, what I've found far more interesting than how the artists are using the language is how the language itself is being disrupted and revised by the technology. To my mind anyway, and speaking ultra-generally, that's been the much bigger story. Seems to me that much of what the artists have been up to has been less about making wonderful art and more about scrambling to adapt.

FWIW, and IMHO, of course.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 23, 2003 7:24 PM

I got it. But, if that is really what is more interesting (and it may well be, I'm not disagreeing) it may be as much due to a fallow period artistically as due to the technology changes themselves. I guess what I am saying is that I'm not sure that the changes in technology are in and of themselves responsible for the fact that artists aren't saying anything interesting.

Which may be what you are saying,too.

Posted by: annette on October 24, 2003 9:37 AM

Ah, you've inspired me! Another, better example: when silent movies started becoming sound movies. There was (notoriously) a four or five year period of adjustment. No one really knew how to make a sound movie because no one had ever really done so. New conventions had to be established, new production routines had to be developed, new understandings had to be arrived at between audiences and producers, new performers had to be found, etc etc. What should a gunshot sound like? How should lines be read? And of course the hyper-practical questions: which sound system should a theater or theater chain commit to, etc. If you look at the movies from that stretch, they're kinda fascinating, but seldom because they're any good. They're fascinating because they're like unwitting experimental movies -- you can sense talented people trying new things out and hoping a few of them will stick.

I'd argue (don't mind disagreement, but can also cite some impressive people who'd make the same argument) that, what with nearly everything going digital, we're going through something similar but much more pervasive and long-lasting. Partly because digi-tech is affecting nearly all the arts and media, not just (say) movies or publishing. It's a cross-media upheaval. And also because it affects systems on so many levels -- not just production but also distribution: how we discover, acquire and enjoy what we do. And because once things are turned into pixels they become malleable in ways they never were before, or that they were but only at enormous expense. A movie image, for instance: in the past, once you made it (acted, lit, photographed, timed it) -- that was it, there wasn't much further you could do with it. (A few trick-photography exceptions allowed for.) It wasn't revisable. These days, though, you can go in and brighten up the sky, erase someone, stamp and multiply people and turn them into crowds ... Something that used to be set in steel has been turned into pliable putty. It affects even traditional stuff like painting and poetry, although more on the level of community (you can find poets, classes, publications online, for instance) and distribution. Though I've heard of hotshot new painters whose setups include computers and scanners, too. They work out the image on screen, then "realize it" in paint on canvas. Weird, no? But there it is. And of course the media start to melt and blend and merge -- they're all pixels, so why not? A website's a fascinating thing that might include video, text, images, multiple pages, interactivity ... How to manage this?

So there's upheaval at the level of very basic things like conventions, as well as at such levels as (say) copyright, money, training (the teaching of graphic design is a much different thing than it used to be), hierarchies (designers are much more important today, for better or worse, than they used to be)...

I'd argue that this all got set off circa 1980 and that we're still in the midst of it. The scary/exhilarating thing is that it may never settle down -- the mutability of digital artifacts may mean that the old, anchored-down kind of stability of the pre-digital world may just be a thing of the past. What if it's all flow and change from now on?

Fun to try to keep track of, anyway. Thanks for pushing me on this, by the way. Whether I'm making sense or not, you've got my brain a little more active than it usually is. Eager to hear your impressions too, of course.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 24, 2003 11:16 AM

As a consequence, the cultural commentary that has struck me as most enlightening over the last couple of decades hasn't often come from critics and reviewers...It has often come instead from people thinking about econ, tech, cities, and business.

I agree with you, but I'm not entirely sure that the most enlightening cultural commentary ever came from critics or reviewers...think of Jacob Burkhardt's "The Civilization of the Renaissance."

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 24, 2003 2:19 PM

What's the deal, you and Friedrich both taking mulligans now? Can I have a do-over on my whole blog?

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on October 24, 2003 3:27 PM

Hey, isn't it part of the fun of the digital world that you can always modify and revise? God of the Machine, v.2.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 24, 2003 3:56 PM

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