Notes from the Field

  • From the Editors
  • June 8, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

"There will be no records or CDs on the shelves of the future, few if any books," writes Sven Birkerts. "Everything will live in bits, in files — and how can this not modify the general atmosphere? We are removing the physical markers of culture from our collective midst. For a record store was not just a place to get records, as a bookstore was not only for finding the needed read. These were sites where the love of music and literature announced themselves across a spectrum of tastes. And though they were commercial entities, these emporia also symbolized the presence, the value, of their product to the community." Read more.

Does the dematerialization of the arts—of books, music, movies and the stores and spaces they once occupied—signify something darker? The end of a deeper and more primal tie to material things in general? Did these everyday objects (soon-to-be artifacts) of our existence tie us into nature and does our newfound existence in the cloud presage an even greater age of alienation?

1 Comment
June 14, 2011

Not the medium but the content is dematerialized; I think better than dematerialization we should think of the shift to digital as a reorganization; in many ways the "primal tie to material things" is made more profound by the reduction of the public library to the personal device (however far along that process we are). I love to hold my iPad. The dependence on material things is not lost but transformed, for better or worse, in such a way that the textual criticism of contemporary cultural objects can now be conducted in the evaluative terms of International Design or Political Economy; and yet the imaginative world accessed through "books, music, movies" remains more or less the same imaginative world. The sinister, the dark, the foreboding, that mostly comes (for me) in the transition from used book store to Apple Store, or from the sense that by participating in culture through my devices I am also participating in/sustaining corporate structures that I disapprove of and do not -- maybe cannot -- understand. I'm not sure how my relation to any given object could be strictly seen as more or less "natural." I suspect that the sense of alienation could be closely linked to that distasteful but steadily increasing (seemingly necessary) participation in vast/faceless/rent-seeking corporatism.

Posted By Trevor

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