Another Perishing Protocol

Blogger turned off support for FTP publishing last night. Another vanishing technology – serve me right for getting nostalgic about mailboxes.

Here’s Shep Knacker, the hero of Lionel Shriver’s So Much For That, contemplating the prospect of using a manual toothbrush — “He would have to grow accustomed to technological regression, which in a manner he couldn’t quite put his finger on was surely good for the soul. Something about backtracking to a stage of development that you could understand.”

Shriver subsequently develops this technological regression theme — “When Shep was fifteen, he did his homework on a typewriter. It was electric. He may not have completely understood the circuitry through which a tap on a key raised the arm of a letter. Still, he could watch the arm rise, inspect the three-dimensional backward a affixed to the metal. He could grasp the elementary process by which it struck an inky ribbon and stained a black a-shaped mark on a physical piece of paper. But when Zach typed an a, it was magic. His iPod was magic. His digital TV was magic. The Internet was magic. Even his father’s car, the machine through which boys once achieved their first dominion over the physical world, was now controlled by a computer.” No wonder Knacker wants to move to Africa.

I’m reminded of Bruce Sterling’s Dead Media manifesto, written back around the turn of the millenium. Sterling wrote that “some media do, in fact, perish. Such as: the phenakistoscope. The teleharmonium. The Edison wax cylinder. The stereopticon. The Panorama. Early 20th century electric searchlight spectacles. Morton Heilig’s early virtual reality. Telefon Hirmondo. The various species of magic lantern. The pneumatic transfer tubes that once riddled the underground of Chicago. Was the Antikythera Device a medium? How about the Big Character Poster Democracy Wall in Peking in the early 80s?”

Sterling and Richard Kadrey began compiling an encyclopedia of obsolete communications technology — I don’t know what happened to that. In the manifesto, Sterling provides this line from Surrealist Jacqueline Goddard that’s ultra-evocative about how technology impacts culture:

“The telephone was the death of Montparnasse.”

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