Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Curatorial Positions Available in the Nostalgia Industries

I recently subscribed to Medium. I don't often read it, but one thing I find a little distressing is they have a read time posted for the article.

"This article will take two minutes to read.".

"This article will take thirty-six minutes to read".

I don't know who determines that. I've never seen an article that took longer than forty minutes to read.

I understand in the internet age that deep reading skills are atrophied and disappearing. Even though I object to the phrase "deep reading", I understand how the need for the term happened. After all, very small attention spans go back to the Golden Age of Television, and the near-epilepsy-inducing split-second editing harkens back at least to the Banana Splits Hour. All those Saturday morning children hopped up on sugary cereals and drinks...

So, perhaps they should have come up with the term Deep Watching. You know, sitting still in front of a TV and absorbing one entire show without flipping channels. If it happened, it never occurred after the invention of the TV remote, or cable...

Which leads me to the title. Eventually, TV will be part of the nostalgia industries. TV will be for hobbyists and enthusiasts of what Bruce Sterling called Dead Media. Now, though Chairman Bruce came up with the term long before anyone thought it necessary, his category is now subsumed within mine.

As I've stated in another essay, my definition of Nostalgia Industries are any human activity or artifice, that is supplanted by something more modern. Example: LPs, film cameras, manually operated looms...

Take the LP boom, vinyl records are being made again, and styluses, and people like analog sound. You also can find buggy whip manufacturers, and even, yes, stone knapping kit manufactures (in case you want to make a stone hand axe). The fact of the matter is, no matter how sophisticated and digital we become, we can't live entirely in our heads. We like, and need, things that can be handled, and that are part of the word, part of the natural world, that are simple, homely, and... real. It is likely that we shall remain as embodied minds inhabiting a physical substrate (rather than, say, being uploaded into a supercomputer to live an unencumbered virtual life), and as such, we would prefer things that can be handled, that are... real.

If you accept an optimist's view of history, that humankind and knowledge and progress continue forward, then the Nostalgia Industries are a guaranteed growth regime. There will always be jobs in the Nostalgia Industries. Moreover, curatorial jobs will be the types of jobs that there are. Rewarding jobs, filled with dignity. This is a good thing. Skills will be retained, threatened materials will be required, conservation and restoration techniques conserved and refined. This requires that we bring a sense of stewardship to what would otherwise be little better than a life of mindless bacterial replication and consumption. (And we know how that's going, with a thousand times the extinction rate prior to our preeminent rise upon the planet).

But it gets better! Consider, for example, that as each formerly new artifice or industry becomes obsolete, it can in turn be combined and permuted with other obsolete forms of artifice! So, like wood cuts? How about sampled woodcuts, edited upon a clunky old computer, printed off using a clunky old 3D printer or similar gadget. Like those funky old wearable computational devices? Spruce them up with intaglio techniques, embed them in a really nice piece of textile cranked out on a power loom.

The thing is, though, and rather like avant-garde art, you can't do the new unless you understand the old, and you can't understand the old if it disappears. All the more reason to preserve not just human things, but the very substrate that allows humanity to exist at all: the natural world. As such, hobbyist fetishism just might help play a role in trying to conserve as much of our world as we can, which would be good for everything.

The possibilities, the longer we hang around as a species, could be endless...

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