Inevitable Media

For the NMS this semester, just read Kay and Goldberg’s (1977) “Personal Dynamic Media,” which was more or less a product review for their proposed and in-the-works “Dynabook.”  It had its interesting aspects: seeing that in 1977 the concept of functionality for these personal devices isn’t too far off where we are today, just the technology has improved to live out K & G’s vision.  There is clearly a heavy McLuhan influence on these two, with their intro focusing on how media puts thoughts into material space and the potential of this media to create new ways of thinking and representing once we get it into everybody’s hands.  They certainly don’t dream small.

I got this feeling as I was reading that the state of media that we have now, with IG and Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, etc., is more or less an inevitable outcome of the dreams of these engineers of the 60’s and 70’s?  We haven’t deviated too far from the Dynabook it seems to me.  They were right that there are remarkable new modes of expression that came out of this evolution of personal creative media (#hashtagsrock).  I was just listening to a TED talk about geosynchronous music, which was an art exhibit in DC where musical elements played relative to where you were located in the Mall, so different compositions were ultimately created depending on the path you took through the Mall, building to a great crescendo near one end of the reflecting pool.  Fun ways to play with media of space and musical elements.  Interesting artistic experience for both the artist and the listener/walker.

So, I guess what unsettles me about the notion is that it undermines my notion of a technology revolution.  We want to think that there will be these just amazing creative total breaks from the way that we do it now once we build a new machine that can do X, Y, or Z.  What I think we more accurately see is an extension of older patterns of expression — visual art, music, dance, words, etc.  Though we are looking for new ways to see these artistic elements, we ultimately seem to be searching for similar notions and concepts through this media.  The examples that K&G go through, of children’s art and animation, hospital work charts, or musical composition are ones that are still being done today.  You should see what my 6-yr old can sketch on the iPad now or what happens when my 10-year old gets ahold of Google’s 3d architecture program, Sketch-up.  Or, good golly, Minecraft has taken over my children’s heads.  And that one is interesting because it still looks like the graphics that K & G were using but the functionality under the big awkward blocks has just progressed by leaps and bounds.

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