Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Digital art and the challenge of technological change 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on August 12, 2013

Six days ago I posted the start of a short two part series on technological change, and on how new technology emergence and old technology obsolescence impact on information content availability. I focus in this series on the impact of this flow of change on digital art, as that is a content arena that is particularly vulnerable. See Digital Art and the Challenge of Technological Change 1

Digital art represents creative content that is framed by and defined by its medium – and very often by the specific technology generation of the digital medium that it is created in. By comparison, and citing a more traditional format example, translating an oil painting into lithographic format might produce a compelling and equally significant work of art, but this transfer of media can only be considered the creation and of a new and fundamentally separate work of art – even if one developed from a rich source of inspiration and influence as provided by a different-medium work that it is based upon.

Change the medium, and the levels and types of detail supported change accordingly, and so do the frameworks of expectation that viewers bring with them. We come to see different media as conveying different types of message, and we tend to view what we see in them through these preconceived filters. In this, certainly, Marshall McLuhan was right and The Medium is the Message.

I began this series in its Part 1 by noting that the basic phenomenon that I write of here have historical roots that go back much further than just the dawn of the computer and electronic information technology age. I said in that posting that I would begin at least its discussion from that still very recent benchmark point and I did. But even as I wrote Part 1, I found myself thinking of a still relatively recent but still older historical example, of how a change in information technology can both open and close doors. So I set aside the fine arts and digital arts for the moment at least, and consider the larger creative potential and endeavor here. And I begin the discussion for this series installment in 1922 and 1923 with the formation of the modern Republic of Turkey out of the fall of the old Ottoman Empire.

My goal here is not, of course, to discuss this complex historical story in detail, as that would be the stuff of at least one full book’s length discussion. My goal here is to focus on and discuss one small aspect of that larger story, as it relates to information formatting and availability and to change in that as an information technology. (Here, I acknowledge that writing per se is a technology.)

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a leader of the movement that led to the formation of this new Republic, and he became its first duly elected president. A pivotal point to the formation of this new government and country and to his leadership of it, was that Turkey be built as a Western oriented secular state, and not simply as a continuation of a Middle Eastern oriented religious state as held sway under the Ottoman Sultanate. Atatürk turned his country from holding a Middle Eastern identity to bring it into the European sphere. As a part of this, he formally mandated as a matter of law that Turkey would be a secular nation state and not a religiously grounded one. And as a step in that process, passed laws that required that Turkish as a language would be taught and that books and other publications in Turkish be published using the Roman alphabet and not Arabic script. Arabic script was essentially outlawed as a form of communication and records keeping in modern Turkish society.

• This change began a process of making all books, magazines, journals and archived newspapers from before the founding of this secular Turkey, as unreadable as if they were written in a foreign language and for everyone educated in this new way.
• Technological innovation in information storage and access can have as great an impact and more, virtually overnight, to what Atatürk sought to achieve over the years.
• Atatürk’s initiative was designed to take time and only really develop impact as entire new generations grew up who had only seen the Roman alphabet in schools and in current publications.
• A technology format and accessibility change can start having significant impact in a matter of months and be essentially complete in a few short years, and certainly where required hardware is suddenly no longer available in new copies and as old devices break down or are replaced with newer and better.
• Change per se is the great ongoing constant. Measure that against our all too tacitly held assumptions of information and knowledge and text and recorded image immortality, and certainly when held in readily transferable media that supports same-technology to same-technology copy replication.
• Digital technology comes and goes and when it goes, that breaks all possible same-technology to same-technology copy replication links and information in all of its stored content forms that it contains goes with it.

And this brings me to consider an emerging curatorial specialty: the digital art curator, and I add practitioners of digital curation in general.

Text-only content is fairly easily moved from one format and technology platform to another and without loss or change of identity as a specific work. I have been reading books stored and offered through online resources such as Project Gutenberg for as long as books, and I add journals and newspapers have been available online. And for text and I add for images such as newspaper or magazine or book illustrations digital can be a close approximation and certainly as an avenue for accessing information and perspective. But as an extreme alternative situation, digital art does not and in a fundamental sense cannot simply be moved from one medium to another without fundamental change – and whether that is change for the good or bad, or whether it seems unimportant as both new and old carry a perceived similar level of meaning and impact.

I write here of textbooks and text novels and of digital art, and of the spectrum of impact, however small incrementally, that a change in medium that they are presented in creates. In a fundamental sense, this is a much larger story.

• We have collectively been creating a vast body of shared and sharable information and of all sorts, that collectively informs us and shapes our cultures and civilizations.
• We are increasingly coming to store this online and through digital technology means.
• And as we transport this knowledge base from technology base to technology base, as new supplants old and as old disappears, the basic nature of much of that content changes too, and as a direct and ongoing result.

I write this in the early years of the 21st century, and note that the changes we have already seen in this have just started. If we only hold onto and preserve our progressively newer technology iterations of how our information record and history are preserved and presented, we will maintain a great deal – but we will lose something of our past and of our identities too. Digital art can be seen as a presenting rapidly visible harbinger of more comprehensive and ongoing changes to come.

I will finish this posting and at least for now this series too, by noting a perhaps special example that I have seen to be significant from my own experience. Mt wife and I enjoy classical music and we listen to and attend performances of chamber music. Many of the fundamental designs of the instruments used in these works and in their performance have evolved and changed since the days of Bach and Mozart, and even more so for still earlier works. These works are often played on more modern instruments and the results can be and frequently are wonderful. But there is a reason why they are also played on instruments that are made according to the older designs of those composers’ own experience that they in fact composed them for. Once again, technology change per se has this same fundamental change effect on content and on information. We see the impact of this around us when we look for it. Now and in a digital technology age and context this is just happening that much faster and with that much more profound an impact on our overall accumulation of information and knowledge stored.

You can find this and related postings at Social Networking and the Arts, and also at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and its first directory page.

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