The history of any emerging medium -- any new extension of human communication, any new intermediary between communicators -- is a spectacle of Santayanan repetition. The progression, as I have outlined in my paper "Foetal Growth Patterns of New Media," is as follows:
These dynamics were understood by many observers of, and participants in, the digital revolution of the 1990s. Such knowledge failed, however, to prevent an almost involuntary passage through the cycle.
First came a dawning awareness that computer technology could be not only a tool but a medium -- something human beings could use to communicate information and ideas, thoughts and feelings, stories and beliefs.
Then came the rush to use this new medium -- to fill it with what came, in a bizarrely dismissive turn of phrase, to be called "content."
What is content? Something that's contained.
It was a strange development. When the much less capacious floppy disks had been the most widely used container, nobody went into business as a "floppy disk publisher"; everyone understood that the disk was merely a storage device, and what mattered was the data contained on the disk. CDs could hold much more than floppies, though, and so for reasons that remain obscure many people decided that they would become "CD-ROM publishers."
A business was born. Or was it?
What if the Hollywood studios had referred to their creations as "reels" and not movies? Or book publishers had said they were in the paper-and-binding business? That was the kind of blunder these new media pioneers made.
The music industry had recently switched the kind of container it used, from vinyl records to CDs. This helped people see that the product was the music itself, not the physical container. But the same people had a hard time transferring this understanding to the still-new world of digital media.
It took about a decade for everyone to realize that CD-ROMs weren't the medium at all. Neither were online services, or digital tapes, or disks of any sort. In fact, computer technology itself wasn't the medium.
Bits were the new form that creations of all kinds would take. Whether they came packaged in a CD, or in the many generations of storage technology that replaced CDs, or whether they were delivered online, or via satellite, came to mean less and less as time went by.
It was the creative artists who first figured out that, once they began using digital tools in digital media, they were no longer painters or musicians or writers. They had become bit designers. Bit mongers. Bitsmiths.
Part II -- The Collapse of the CD-ROM Market and the Rise of the Bitsmiths
We're grateful to Mr. Psych and his colleagues at the Foundation for the Dissemination of Criticism Through Time, whose work has made it possible for us to present Kludge's readers with this advance glimpse of Mr. Psych's research.
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