A couple of recent media developments have me wondering if the Luddites were right to be concerned about new technology replacing the old.
In November Amazon came out with what is reputedly the best electronic book reader ever to hit the market. The Kindle has been backordered for months, surprising Amazon — and bibliophiles worldwide — with its popularity, and forcing the company to scramble to catch up with demand. And in December, Blueprint magazine shuttered its doors after only eight issues. How could a magazine published by the Martha Stewart empire fail? It didn’t exactly. The competitive magazine market couldn’t support the number of similar publications, and the title’s corresponding blog, Bluelines, became so popular that readers headed online for both content and community.
Technological and “social media” advances create options, and we all make choices regarding which we will integrate into our lives and how. Printed course schedules and bulletin board notices have been replaced with online class registration and Facebook networking to find roommates. Consumers can no longer buy a phone that is just a phone as the flavor-of-the-day cell phone industry creates options for those who want one device to talk, take pictures, listen to music, check email and find directions to the restaurant where they’re meeting friends for dinner.
But as new media gain popularity for their convenience and sustainability, there is a growing appreciation for the keepsake nature of older formats. We love to share photos online, but we will always treasure the wedding photo over the fireplace. Email, blogs and text messages make communication easier than ever, but finding a handwritten envelope in your mailbox is a rare and precious treat. At the same time Technorati.com tracks more than 112 million blogs, there is a resurgence of interest in scrapbooking, quilting and letterpress papers and cards.
All media — old and new, print and online, tangible and social — are used to tell stories. This issue of The Scene offers stories on a wide range of media. Journalist Heather Dahl ’95 discusses the impact of technology on today’s media industry, while New York Times political commentator Frank Rich, who delivered the spring Atkinson Lecture, tells how mass media has been manipulated to shape American politics. You’ll learn how Willamette students choose from banks of digital recordings and digital animation techniques to create short films with soundtracks, and you’ll read how the University’s new multi-media artist, Andries Fourie, uses paint, metal and found objects to express his ideas on identity and apartheid. And if you want to up your web-savvy, read the primer on web 2.0 — what it is, what it does, and what it means for the future of education.
While the Luddites left the world of technology behind, I’m not alone in trying to blend the best of both. When traditional media announced the demise of Blueprint, I joined the race to purchase back issues on eBay. And when it comes to electronic bookreaders, I find it ironic that advertising touts their many book-like qualities — “digital ink” screens and buttons to turn “pages.” As I wrote on my blog just the other day, the simplicity, portability and beauty of a book is a technology that cannot be improved.