Digitizing Permanence

Reading through Craig Mod’s Post-Artifact Books and Publishing, and seeing his many points about the artifact itself (the book), in particular, got me thinking about how the author interprets his medium and how it shapes his thinking about the act of writing. In the article, Mod says, speaking of traditional printed books, “…submitting that file to be printed is to place ultimate faith in the book. To believe — because you must for the sake of sanity! — that this is the best you can do given the constraints. And you will have to live with the results forever.” For one I thought this was quite a statement! But we live in an age where massive book stores chains (R.I.P. Borders) and newspaper companies go out of business for not keeping up with the digital demand of the 21st century, where seemingly every kid on the block has a new iPod Touch, and where new technologies are constantly being explored and melded into each other, the role of the traditional author can very well be changing as we know it. Thus the issue of immutability is one that can’t be avoided. In one sense I thought this seems to give a clear advantage to the printed book; e.g. given the fact that authors do have to think about the potential permanence of their work, and what that means when actually printing and distributing to the masses, would that not cause them to think more deeply and carefully about their ideas and refine them down to a crisp permanent fixture? On the other end of the spectrum we see the digital, in which it’s as easy as a simple hit of the delete key (I’ve personally done it with this very blogpost already many times over!) to completely eradicate the author’s work. It changes the very landscape of the writing world: instead of always having to be sure of your concrete ideas and being required to repeat these ideas over and over, one can simply throw out ideas into the digital landscape. Not that it is impossible to have a permanent digital reality, but when has a website truly lasted the test of time? Instead it becomes more about adapting to the environment and technology we’ve been surrounded with. What Mod argues is that this new “experience” is expanded beyond the individual and towards a community oriented, connected, and fast-paced society. What I am wondering now is not only on how the modern author thinks about his own ideas but whether these ideas are negatively impacted by becoming less developed and more raw, and how that will affect the future of literature.

The Digital Physical, Craig Mod

Reading Craig Mod’s article The Digital↔Physical, I found myself increasingly struck by his inability to see a digital creation as something with weight, both physically and figuratively. It seems that Mod required a physical object in order to bring meaning the the work that he and his teammates had accomplished, that without this object with edges and mass there would have been nothing to immortalize and signify their time and effort. Maybe it’s partially because I have the sneaking suspicion that Flipboard for iPhone was simply a vehicle for Mod to write an article about the app he created (rather than this idea of a required affirmation of one’s own work), but I find the idea that the time and effort behind digital creations is lost because of their digital (rather than physical) nature to be kind of ridiculous. While Mod may think it is the book that is magical, I would say far more people intuit that technological creations can be incredibly time-consuming to produce and require a vast knowledge, if not years of studying (programming, etc.). While many people do not know how to code, there seems to be a cultural understanding that programming is time-consuming and difficult, not to mention that the creation of apps is a living process, with update after update after update. In this way, not only is the weight of the creation understood by the public, the journey as Mod calls it, is also visible through updates.

I know that Mod said the book was a creation of the producer, not the public, but why would he have such a hard time putting value on his own creation when most of modern society wouldn’t?

To disagree with an extremely specific point, when Mod states that “a folder with one item looks just like a folder with a billion items,” I find myself incredibly confused. A folder with many items and a folder with one item do not look or feel the same at all. And in fact, one of the main reasons they don’t feel the same can be provided by Mod himself: “with most of our current interfaces, we see at best only a screenful of information” It is this inability to see all the information that creates an entirely different feeling in the viewer. One folder is manageable and encouraging, and the other seems infinite and daunting. And if Mod were to tell someone that he had 9,695 documents in a folder I’m pretty sure they would see the weight of this work.