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Re: <nettime> books and cdroms
Dan Wang on 28 Sep 2000 00:40:50 -0000


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Re: <nettime> books and cdroms



> On making copies: Here, I acknowledge the cdrom's clear edge. Once on
> an electronic medium, the full power of digital technology shows
> itself, so that electronic copies may be made many orders of magnitude
> faster and cheaper than hard copies. The social solution to the
> copying issue has been the public library, which hasn't been explored
> well enough I believe. It is also a solution that is most compatible
> with the reader's continuing preference for the book over the video
> screen. Furthermore, as a writer, one thing I'd wish for my works (as
> most writer would, I suspect) is permanence; that future generations
> may also see it. I would therefore suspect that most writers would
> still want to see their best works in hard-copy, in book form.

The question of permanence does not to me have a clear answer. Some books
and a lot of periodicals and practically all newspapers are not any more
permanent than cdroms. There is a good argument to be made that digital
media, because of their replicability, offer greater permanence that do
books. But books have presence, because of their physical interactivity, in
a way that cdroms don't. This presence, including the signs of accumulated
but non-interfering wear, varying mass depending on how much information is
contained, more physical surfaces capable of hosting visual designs than a
cdrom, etc. . . these are good reasons to put one's work into a book form
if that's what one wants.

>  >To me, this is an especially interesting thread because I use a lot of that
>  >old book making stuff--wood and metal type, cylinder and platen
>  >presses--and happen to be right now in the middle of printing one of Alan
>
> Today's computer-printer pair is also a hard-copy medium (minus the
> cutting and binding). You must allow for technological advancements in
> book-printing too. Why base your arguments on letterpress, the oldest
> printing technology?

Because, except for an extremely narrow niche consisting of mostly a
patrician collector's market, letterpress printing is over, according to
the efficiency standards of contemporary capital. The most essential piece
of hardware--the press--is really not manufactured anymore. There are only
a handful of suppliers dealing in wood and metal types. Letterpress remains
commercially viable only in those places still on the periphery of capital.
Like in Mexico, the Philipines, and India. And, interestingly, in parts of
the U.S. like the still highly localized economies of some small towns and
marginalized urban neighborhoods (but who knows for how long).

Because of letterpress's distance in technological evolution from digital
media, the peculiarities of the process become that much clearer, which in
turn render the peculiarities of the digital apparent once again. I could
be doing a similar kind of project using dot matrix printers, and I know
some people who have done just that, but letterpress is even further
removed formally, and so creates a higher contrast when combined with
digital elements (like Alan Sondheim's texts).

But it is the definition of obsolescence that most concerns me. Once freed
of its profit-making yoke, what can a machine be made to do, especially
when that machine was invented to play an important role in the information
dissemination industry? I use the old stuff precisely to explore this
question.

dan w.

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