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29 March 2010

MCT: Alexander Stille

The extract in MCT is the last chapter of Stille's 2002 book The Future of the Past: how the information age threatens to destroy our cultural heritage, a title that may owe more to its publisher's marketing department that to its actual thesis, at least on the evidence here. Being a final chapter, it offers a round up of the previous chapters, in which Stille seems to have spent a lot of time of the history of history, and in particular the role that writing, and later printing, had on our relationship to the past. He moves on to television, and all's going well, with discussion of findings of how tv watching correlates with social activities (negatively), until this paragraph:
Television has created a flat, two-dimensional world of an eternal present - in which everything, whether it is depicted in the present or the past, appears to be happening now.
The change of tone is really apparent when you read it. The tautology doesn't help - I really don't know what he means by "flat, two-dimensional" - but the sudden switch into a declarative mode is weird.

Which is a pity, because there's more interesting stuff about the efffects of the internet: fragmentation, disintermediation and homogenisation. These are things that worry me, too, but I don't think he goes beyond setting out the questions. Maybe inevitably: the internet is so new and changing so fast, no-one can know where it will take us.

One thought from this chapter is that the change to the internet may be less fundamental than the introduction of printing (and of mechanical reproduction). Before that, Stille says, even books were rare objects. One way of looking at the internet is that it makes even more objects available, so it's an extension of the power of printing.

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