Digimodernism: Survival of the Fittest

Do you still believe in the postmodernism fairy? Is your world defined by a self-reflective, ironic culture that parodies and mimics itself in an attempt to disprove any black and white reality? If it is, you are so yesterday. Postmodernism is history. If postmodernism feels safe, almost nostalgic to you, it’s probably because it’s now an historical notion.

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But what has risen up from the big black hole to replace it? There are different theories. My favourite at the moment is Alan Kirby’s notion of digimodernism. Kirby describes the digimodern era as autistic, incompetent, poisoned, deranged and infantile. Sounds fun, huh?

But is this just another grumpy white man bemoaning change?

Kirby gets some of it right, I think. He talks about the 7 conditions of digimodernism – the 7 ways it stands out as different to postmodernism.

Here goes, this is my in-a-nutshell-way-too-conscise summary of The 7 Conditions According to Kirby:

1 Onwardness: texts are growing and incomplete. Texts are no longer presented to readers as made and finished. They have a start but no end. You just have to look at a blog to see what he’s talking about. Readers leave comments to either enhance the writer’s argument or harpoon it. And then, somewhere along the line a completely new story unfolds.

2. Haphazardness: the future of the text is unknown, undecided. There is infinite potential to take the text in different directions, to change it.For example, remixes of songs on websites such as CC Mixter which discourage traditional notions of copyright. The original text can be remixed and used for an entirely different purpose than that which it was created, all with the knowledge and approval of the original author.

3. Evanescence: the text is difficult to capture and archive. It is not intended to be a reproducible item. Kirby uses examples such as TV shows that involve audience participation to determine ‘scripts’ or outcomes – such as Dancing with the Stars or Big Brother. These shows can never be recreated because of the unpredictable nature of audience participation.

4. Reformulations and intermediation of textual roles: all textual functional roles are radically changed. Terms such as author, reader, listener, reviewer, editor etc have new hybridised meanings. The author is now often required to take on many roles outside of ‘just writing’. Authors are editors, reviewers (of their own work and others’) publishers, readers, marketers, bloggers, Tweeters. Tara Moss’ Twitter profile summary says “Author of 9 novels. The latest is Assassin. UNICEF Patron for Breastfeeding for BFHI. Journalist. Brand ambassador for Jacqui E. Opinions my own.” Clearly she doesn’t see herself as ‘just’ an author.

5. Anonymous, multiple and social authorship: authorship is scattered across social communities, which may be anonymous or pseudoanonymous.
You don’t have to be a tech-savvy genius to know that participation in online communities can be anonymous.

6. Fluid-bound text: texts become unrecognisable – they are no longer just words on a page or sounds on a disk. A video game is a text, and the act of voting on Big Brother is a textual act. Inanimate Alice is a digital novel for children incorporating video games, sound, images and text.

7. Electric-digitality: digimodernist texts rely on technology. They are not primarily optical, but rather are manually-oriented. Texts in the digimodern world require input that is often based around a screen and a keyboard, or similar technology. You don’t passively read or hear a text, you physically take part in its creation or consumption, even if it is just with your thumbs.

Sounds pretty good to me – but does all this add up to an incompetent, autistic, deranged culture? I don’t think so. I just think Kirby’s looking in the wrong places.

More on that to come…

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Technology Hypochondria

New York Times journalist Nick Bilton talks about technology hypochondria in his book ‘I Live in the Future and Here’s How It Works’. He reminds us that the steam train, travelling at speeds greater than 20 miles per hour was thought to cause people’s bones to fall apart. Others speculated that people travelling at this speed would suffocate. Of the phonograph people worried that “bookmaking and reading will fall into disuse” and that the phonograph would mean that the child of the future would “never have to learn his [or her] letters”.

This is technology hypochondria.

Author Kevin Kelly tells us, “Imagine how bereft we would be if the technology of film had not been invented in time for Hitchcock”. (And if you want some fascinating insights into Kelly’s other takes on technology, check out his website.) Here, he talks about the idea of the gifts of technology:

http://www.tedxamsterdam.com/2009/video-kevin-kelly-on-what-technology-wants/

Technology hypochondria prevents us from seeing the possibilities of technology. How it can enhance our lives, how it can stretch our experiences. What would Shakespeare have done with his time if he didn’t have a quill?

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Futurist and epiphany addict Jason Silva says “to understand is to perceive patterns”. What could be truer than this? History shows us that we fear the unknown until it becomes familiar, until we understand how it works. Technology is the greatest challenge to our fear of the unknown because it is evolution at hyper-speed. Even the creators can barely keep up with the pace of change, let alone the users at the end of the line.

At the moment there is enormous change in the book selling and story world. All the cards have been thrown up in the air and we are watching, some feel helplessly, as they fall to the ground. But if we watch for patterns as those cards fall, or better yet, if we grab them as the fall and create our own version of the future we want, there is nothing to fear.

The Internet is the New Campfire

It wasn’t that long ago that stories were told predominantly around the campfire. The oral storytelling tradition has been around much longer than the print tradition, made ubiquitious and accessable by Johannes Gutenberg in the 14th century.

But things are changing. Bricks and mortar bookshops are shutting down, print material is being replaced by e-material, and story telling is becoming more oral, but also more visual. We now tell our stories over the web using words, pictures, games, sounds, and interactivity.

Now you can tell a story using tools like Social Samba to construct a Facebook-style interactive fiction, or you can upload a YouTube video telling a story – real or fictional. Stories are limitless now. Transmedia, combining multimedia platforms to create a story, is all about immersive engagement.

But, I hear you cry, is this the end of the book? The novel form actually only dates back about as far at Gutenberg himself. There are differning accounts, but the first novel in English appers to have been published in the 14th century. Neatly tied in with the age of mass printing, the novel is perhaps doomed to die with the end of the predominance of the era of print.

If you read the popular press you will often see articles bemoaning the attention span of young people – apparently so dismembered and distorted by the hyperactivity of the computer game. But how does that explain the devotion to 3407 pages of Harry Potter and 2443 pages of the Twilight series (depending on your editions).

The death of the novel? I don’t think so.

But, certainly the emergence of the Internet as our new campfire. An oral and visual storytelling tradition that doesn’t need words on a page, but does need spoken words, images, sounds and interactivity.