In the course of a career producing media works, I frequently encounter the horizon of obsolescence in media.
This happens, most frequently, in the digital realm. In spite of the claim to infinite and serial reproducibility, the digital artifact is determined not so much by its serial self sameness, but by its relations to the logic of capital under which it is promoted.
Its loss is inevitable. From nothingness to nothingness – the digital is the perfect anti-atifact that is has no existence as form – it cannot be discerned, communicated or used without specific invocation. In this sense, it has similarities to film, without film’s claim to materiality.
Our media have always been inherently unstable. The slow decay of cave images made with Ochre, the oxidization of paint, marble, metal. Every act of creative representation has, in its particular physical chemistry, the predestination of its decay.
Film, elusive and transitory as experience, fixed in time and enacted as pure light – has a special place in the arts. At once material and ephemeral – the film frame can be seen – out of context – as substantive proof of the filmic artifact.
As experience, in the context of the cinema, film is in perpetual flux – the object is at once serial but unique. Each print its own particular chemical record – without stasis. It suffers the slow decay of its photochemical material – a tide against which archives embalm and artificially “fix” the object in simulation of it’s lost presence. Each viewing that accesses the print also decays it – physical deterioration is inherent to our experience of it.
Film is a medium that within a lifetime will naturally forget, become vague and indistinct. It both uses and mimics our memory. A momentary imprint – images glimpsed as a dream – commensurable only after the fact, and then imperfectly.
Each screening unique in its own way. Each print a temporary and singular passport to another state.
So what of the digital? That perfect transmissible package of code that affords no ambiguity in interpretation?
Digital occupies a vast and amorphous territory that describes not just the numeric encoding of media, but implies modes of practice that both encompass and diverge from its antecedent arts – photography, sound recording, image making. Digital invokes all of the haptic, reconfigurable, networked and slippery experiences whose continued appearance is matched, more subtly, by their steady and often complete disappearance.
Recently I looked for media from old works 0n CD ROM and digital images on lost storage formats – and in each case – the enabling software was gone – lost to a new version, system, a new environment of operation. Digital works are precisely encoded but utterly transitory – they disappear into a genealogy of versioning and operating system upgrades.
In its rush to create an expanding panoply of technology, information capital does more than create obsolescence – it demands that exponential increases in calculation and storage are opportunities for the launch of new products and systems.
Television, by comparison, was based on collective engineering standards that created a robust and agreed basis for the development, storage and display of images. Because of this, television from the 1950s can play on a current HDTV. There is a historical consistency, and like film, an agreed set of standards for interoperability.
The digital program is by contrast pure schitzo. Produced not under the reign of collective agreement, but as a tactical play for market advantage by digital capital, it is inherently born of flux, in a sea of impermanence.
Where is hypercard now? Does Microsoft’s appalling Encarta, that informational compendium of interlinked 75 word summaries that filled a CD ROM still exist in a museum somewhere?
Digital production is the perfect child of post-Fordian capitalism – without permanence. Optimized for just in time access. Assembled under the logic of hyperbolic opportunity.
Our zeitgeist is growth without product – financialized platforms that replicate in the immaterial space of the digital with automated access and as little human intervention as possible.
Uber. Air BnB. Ebay. Transaction platforms. Enablers.
The slow movers like Amazon who still pack books into boxes look to cloud storage, media access points and virtual publishing as new opportunities to become the high frequency traders of the consumer universe.
Apple’s list of “no longer supported” products is a cynical graveyard for once perfect objects of digital desire. Candy colored iMacs that intimated a perfect domestic futurism are the unwanted toys of holidays past.
If only we could all be google. Massively computed, stored, served on request and assumptively omniscient. Accessed and gone within seconds.
The digital work is both infinitely replicable, and utterly transient. For its readiness to simply appear at call, the digital artifact slowly resists the archive. It is sui generis to its particular mode of appearance – its operating system, hardware platform and display technology. As these decay – the work is – nowhere.
As such the digital artifact mirrors the financialized models of contemporary capital – infinite expansion and transience – the trade – the IPO – the margin. Credit. Securitization. Derivatives. Money is no longer linked to commodities, or even the possibility of future labor, but simply the possibility of its own appearance. Credit swaps. We buy contingency against risk, or the possibility of risk.
In an infinitely expanded present – what is the value of memory? Time is an axis that anchors us to our subjective experiences, to our uneasy and layered histories.
As the end products of information capital, we have value only as data points in purchase histories, credit scores, social media aggregation and the opaque and infinite gaze of the surveillance-industrial complex. What use is our memory?
It has no place in the database.