Push me and then just touch me,
Till I can get my satisfaction.
You may read this article sitting in a comfy chair, standing on a crowded train or sat at your desk, attempting to distract yourself from some serious task. It may infuriate you to a point whereby the scrunching fist then dooms the page, or the two tearing hands then shred it to bits. Conversely, you may be moved to the point of passing it on to a friend or relative, recommending that they stop fishing through the sea of opinions and information, saying “here’s a worthy little yarn, give it a read.” I can only wish of drawing strong sentiment from any reader, be it positive or negative. However, the problem arises when you realise swiftly this is not on a physical page, but trapped within a precious machine that projects it into your face. You cannot chuck this around the room for it contains a myriad of endless items of information, all stored and packed neatly into this one device. What once would take up a whole room, now lies upon your desk, or even in your hand.
It is a fantastic thing, this endless space. Boundless and forever expanding, with infinite memory and great alacrity. There are no bounds or checks as to what is kept and what is not. The democratic space of cloud storage has now come to all, with file sharing and accessing at the click of the finger. What was once tangible is now ethereal, dissolving rapidly into smaller and smaller space, inconceivable in size.
Scientists have now embedded some Shakesperean sonnets, photos and essay papers on fragments of DNA. Such an achievement is rather mind numbing in the effect of trying to understand the implications this has for information storage. One gram of DNA has the capacity, theoretically, to hold three million CDs. Safe to say the world would fit in a tablespoon of the stuff. Digital storage is now replicating the natural processes of gravity and space, with the best comparison being that of neutron stars; whereby one teaspoon (in size) would contain the weight of one hundred million tons. Soon it will be the pinhead that holds all. The camel really will pass through the eye of the needle.
Such are the benefits of the digital age, one would be hard pressed to find someone who renounced it completely, denied it or declared it redundant. Our information is accessible all day, every day, in a synthetic total recall. As long as there is an electrical current, we can obtain music, stories, articles and films. Much of this is now free, or at least a bastard form of lesser quality can be downloaded fairly simply. News is free, this is free (not that you should pay to read it by any means); we now take offence to paying for digitalised information and arts.
Part of this seems to stem from the fact that no exchange has taken place. The usual process of accumulation or transference, once embodied by the act of going to the specific shop and exchanging money for goods, is becoming obsolete. With the meteoric rise of internet shopping and the process of consuming ethereal media through electronic devices, we have begun to allow a tangible world to start dissolving into vapour. Things are disappearing.
To hold a magazine, book or essay, is to fully engage with the thing in front of you. It sits there, passively reflecting light rather than emitting the strange white light of the screen. In these moments we sense a calm that doesn’t attach itself to the electric text, now usually maligned with movies, moving images and people selling some life enhancing experience. The simplicity of papered text has allowed it to do one thing very well for centuries. Indeed, in his paper ‘Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal,’ William Power’s proposes a slogan for paper – ‘Just this one thing’ – highlighting the idealistic utilitarianism that paper embodies. Nothing muddies our experience with pure text on paper. As soon as we read something on a computer, we lose the ability to hold it, move it and therefore place it in our lives. (Yes, computers are portable, yet they still lack true maleability and drawing on paper is far more satisfactory.)
The same principle can be applied to money. Increased attempts from the financial world to digitalise our assets in the name of increased utility and ease, have resulted in a distancing of ourselves from money. Because so much of our dollars, pounds, yen and yuan is not held in the hand, we have no relation to how much we actually have. The numbers go up and down but the space it occupies never actally changes. Standing
orders, credit cards and eBay, all allow us to obtain items, levels of lifestyle and maintain our situations, all without seeing a single piece of metal or paper to actually measure up against our time and effort. Of course, no one wants to carry their savings around like some medieval surf with a drawstring purse. But money’s increasing invisibility is yet another example of our loss of engagement with substance.
As we collect things around us, building ourselves with our choices of art and design, music and film, we place these things about us, and fill our houses with where we have been and what we have achieved. These things we commit to. The fact that we allow them space in our cramped world means that they have importance because we share the valuable commodity of space with these items. To have a huge vinyl collection is a true commitment. Indeed, to speak to people with collections of music or film, one realises their joy and satisfaction comes, not just from the amazing content but the total sensual experience of holding records, feeling the grooves and sliding from the sleeve, the sleek discs so cherished.
So why are vinyl sales up 16% each year? Over three million were sold last year and the predictions for the near future are even higher. Surely it is the synaesthaesia the whole experience provides us, combined with the serious commitment to possessing and containing them, that allows us to fully appreciate the processes in production. Developing film, and watching the process from shutter snap to drying print is a similarly magical process that provides an understanding of the medium that a two dimensional digital photo never can. Our songs and photos become lost in the plethora of images and sounds contained on our devices and on networks across the internet. To break them up from their surroundings therefore is to expend energy solely to that thing, just that one thing that gives us a true connection and sensual whole. These solid documents are anchors in the everchanging ethereal electronic world.
For this reason it can be said that romance and technology never truly go hand in hand. The ease and speed which are the bastions of the digital age, are the antithesis of the slow and mulled over gestures of romance. A few texts and emails will never stand against a letter or mixtape given from hand to hand.
In many ways it makes sense that these new meta-spaces are being created for us. Capitalism cannot run purely on our accumulation of physical items because real space is such an issue. The lack of commitment that comes from possessing thousands of songs, images, books and other media works perfectly within the capitalist structure. If we are promised a seemingly endless area of storage space, then we can fill it with purchased media, knowing that it will never be cumbersome, never get in the way. The library in a teaspoon.
This occurrence is definitely an urban one, it must be said. To store digitally is an act of pragmatism rather than choice. Obviously, many would desire personal libraries that are full of tangible items, but due to lack of space in urban areas, are deprived of such a great possession. What arises from this is a need for diligent selection. In order to not clutter our lives we thin out our bulk, cutting wheat from chaff on a daily basis. Bills, forms, postcards and revision notes all clog up at some point. The reason these modes of communication are printed however, is because their effect at transmission is greater than if they were on a screen. Bills are more demanding and revision notes sink in better, when the word is one the page, just as vinyls seem to give up the essence of a recording better than its transmission through an iPod. Power provides an optimistic statement about such modes of communication, surmising, ‘Paper itself is the inescapable metaphor, the paradigm, the tantalizing goal. The new medium will be deemed a success if and when it is no longer just an imitation of paper, but the real thing—when it becomes paper.’