I apologise for my absence from a lecture. I honestly slept in. How was I supposed to know a piece of technology would let me down, and not the other way around? The English Indie Rock band, Keane, have recently highlighted something to me, something maybe I was aware of before or maybe I chose to ignore in the past. A certain song in fact and it’s seemingly depressing title “Pretend you’re not alone” have given me a new and profound vision of the
way I look at publishing media, and the world that I and so many others, do as well.
Being a third year student in a course I surprisingly wasn’t completely involved in my second year has been challenged by the overflow of work and time dedicated to media, like my blog, and other various ventures throughout the year I may undertake as a result. I, myself and my computer. I as an individual and a machine that is an object that travels with me in a foam cover, waiting for me to interact and challenge it, with something new and interesting that I will probably not have at all. Do I dare disappoint a piece of technology? Do I upset the balance between me and that object, if there is even such a balance? It doesn’t deal with essays, and the metaphorical and subjective thinking of analysis, neither does it deal with girl problems or waking up from a long night out on the town, and the effort it takes to get through the following day. But it is still there. Waiting. Hopefully not watching. There really is no need for us to pretend we are alone in the sense, that we are one entity as a human species.
This is going to sound like something out of a Terminator film, but I guess now more than ever it is true, we are technology, and technology is human. It is now scary to think that we aren’t alone – this information by being read is proof of this, because iPublish.
By publishing this information I too become part and parcel of an information age and information is after all – the key to a monopoly of knowledge. Surely this information I spread is a signature of my existence. The very foundation that cyberspace and publishing on it has garnered in my esophirical being.
Let’s take a look at publishing and how technology has created broader horizons for both the producer and consumer of media. Throughout
history we have been subjected by different mediums and with them different sets of protocols to aggregate and distribute this knowledge we have come to either love or hate.
Harold Innis wrote, “[C]ivilization has been dominated at different stages by various media of communication such as clay, papyrus, parchment, and paper produced first from rags and then from wood. Each medium has its significance for the type of monopoly of knowledge which will be built and which will destroy the conditions suited to creative thought and be displaced by a new medium with its peculiar type of monopoly of knowledge.”(1)
In January 2010, Apple Inc. a computer computer company released their take on a tablet computer. Scolded by critics on early interpretations of being a giant iPhone, few saw the way Apple had envisioned this product as the one to save print publishing – after all this was a digital format.(2) The idea was for publishers to make apps which are then aggregated by an app store and distributed to the end user. What was wrong with publishing before this product, for it to be so important to media producers now?
Publishing in recent times has fallen to the wayside as profits and demand have not been in correlation or at least not the way that publishers would have preferred them to be. Another major factor that has effected publishing is the fact that most if not all major publishing houses have data on the Web. For free or subscription. Subscription models have not worked as people would much rather have content for free or take it by any other means. The Web as a medium provides this bridge of paper and digital viewing. You have choice as a consumer and at best the tendencies in the publishing market are unstable to predict. One innovation to bringing content to people is mobile devices in particular e-readers. “We are looking at this with a great deal of interest,” said John Ridding, the chief executive of the 121-year-old, salmon-colored British newspaper The Financial Times. “The severe double whammy of the recession and the structural shift to the Internet has created an urgency that has rightly focused attention on these devices.”(3) People still want their content, and print media may disappear for its word purpose but not inherently its presence. Digital print and companies supporting wish to re-instate it as the premium base of knowledge and perhaps re-establish the once prominent monopoly of knowledge they demanded before the Web.
Publishers in the last few weeks since being released for sale on May 28th have jumped on the train of developers creating content for the iPad. After 60 days of being on sale, Apple has sold 2 Million iPads which makes it a viable content distributor compared to what was originally thought.(4) So is content the key? The Archive effect tells us that people hoard knowledge to better their understandings, perceptions and place with a world of uncontrolled flows of information. The iPad then simingly creates a way in which we can control and distribute information ourselves. This however does not mean we curate the future of publishing. We simply push it forward to a new frameset in time. Digital print is important to us now, but it is important to reflect on how we got here to look where we are going.
Wherever new media arise, so too do monopolies of knowledge concerning how to use the technologies to reinforce the power and control of elite groups. Looking back one can classify the Egyptians as one of these elite groups, after all it was that civilisation that brought about such modern technologies and possibly one of the very first forms of publication assemblage through its hieroglyphics on the walls of Egypt’s papyrus and clay. As Marshal McLuhan stated the “Medium is the Message”(5), so too did the Egyptians empire generation after generation. Although they didn’t have the establish technologies and tools to distribute information in different ways of publishing formats, they did have the ideas and foundation upon which what we would base our own monopolies of knowledge. The pyramids act as a chief a pillar of information, hundreds of hierogylhics plastered on its outer and inner walls deciding the way it should be read. From left to right, which in itself is a subset of English now, important characters were placed in bigger portions to stress its importance, much like we do with the front of a newspaper. The major difference of its modes of publishing is that Ancient Egyptians placed the up most important information on those walls. It became an archive of information for the future with very limited spread over time. We however have come to spread the information from then to now over time easily through different mediums and from multiple sources – which gave birth to the freedom of the press.
Freedom you say? Napoleon Bonaparte once said “I fear the newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets”. (6) The freedom of the press has created and broad sanction and bodies of international parties that conduct their press so that all people far and wide can have access to information. Publishing is one this but spreading the information can and has destroyed cultures and societies in the past. One example of this is the Great Schism of the Catholic Church in the 1500s. Martin Luther a German Priest and professor of Theology translated the only majorly published work of The Bible into German which caused a tremendous rift between what was known and what was to learn about information – especially such information of importance and of delicate fashion.(7)
What we can take from this is the monopoly of the Catholic Church and the Bible as its source of information was threatened by a simple translation. That’s all. Words manipulated as the press have released can move people and crush civilisations. The Bible being the single most read book at the time meant two things – firstly the people creating them had a responsibility to aggregate it and the secondly the people reading it had the responsibility (Martin Luther and other priests) to distribute it. Content control is essential to way we consume media and the way we distribute it. So then how does the iPad play its part?
iPad represents a peculiar device that exists to break and create monopoly of knowledge through various means. Firstly the iPad is content manager, its not an ereader its a book library, its not the internet, it’s the web in your hands, its not your photos, its your photo library – do you get what I’m trying to say? The iPad is a new device as in its based on the principles of good design and good management of content. As people travel further to work, have ongoing miscillanious tasks to perform and so forth, information becomes less important – it becomes the the content that draws them back. Their content. Their media. This doesn’t mean the world will descend into a world of bloggers with each of us writing our own thoughts to ourselves. After today, tomorrow’s news and information will be more fresh more relevant than the past. The press has the power to stop people and let them experience the moment of publishing as their own and through their own devices like the iPad it may be possible.
It’s early days for the iPad, but technology never stops moving, so too is applicable to the press and all modes of publishing. As I sit here on my couch writing this, I can’t help but think how far we have come from being a civilisation of priests aggregating and distributing information through a single book to now blogs, print press, books, digital press and film to name a few modes of publishing that we now have access and liberties to use. Content will win out in the end, but only if we the users and consumers have a say in it. Monopolies of Knowledge do truly exist on the basis of new mediums and information, today it’s possibly the iPad and tomorrow will be a different set of mediums and we too will change with it.
Sent from my iPhone
1. Innis, Harold, The Press: A neglected factor in the economic history of the twentieth century. London: Oxford University Press1949, p. 5).
2. Kirn, Peter (2010) ‘How a great product can be bad news: Apple iPad and the closed Mac’, Create Digital Music, January 26, <http://createdigitalmusic.com/2010/01/27/how-a-great-product-can-be-bad-news- apple-ipad-and-the-closed-mac/>
5. McLuhan, M Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1st Ed. McGraw Hill, NY, 1964; reissued MIT Press, 1994)
6. The Newspaper and Society: A Book of Reading, by George Lloyd Bird, Frederic Maton Mervin, Prentice-Hall, 1949, pg 254