Media and expression: theses in tweetform

1. The complexity of the medium is inversely proportional to the eloquence of the message.

2. Hypertext is a more conservative medium than text.

3. The best medium for the nonlinear narrative is the linear page.

4. Twitter is a more ruminative medium than Facebook.

5. The introduction of digital tools has never improved the quality of an art form.

6. The returns on interactivity quickly turn negative.

7. In the material world, doing is knowing; in media, the opposite is often true.

8. Facebook’s profitability is directly tied to the shallowness of its members: hence its strategy.

9. Increasing the intelligence of a network tends to decrease the intelligence of those connected to it.

10. The one new art form spawned by the computer – the videogame – is the computer’s prisoner.

11. Personal correspondence grows less interesting as the speed of its delivery quickens.

12. Programmers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

13. The album cover turned out to be indispensable to popular music.

14. The pursuit of followers on Twitter is an occupation of the bourgeoisie.

15. Abundance of information breeds delusions of knowledge among the unwary.

16. No great work of literature could have been written in hypertext.

17. The philistine appears ideally suited to the role of cultural impresario online.

18. Television became more interesting when people started paying for it.

19. Instagram shows us what a world without art looks like.

20. Online conversation is to oral conversation as a mask is to a face.

2nd series

9 Comments

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9 Responses to Media and expression: theses in tweetform

  1. “Hypertext is a more conservative medium than text”

    By nature. Hypertext is structured — it has to be for computers to parse it. Which then constrains it.

    By extension, if computers could parse natural language, it would no longer be the case.

  2. Salman

    This is a great and succinct blog post, which captures many of the discontents of our electronic media.
    There is, however, some over-generalization.
    For example, I would not say it is entirely true that the complexity of the medium is inversely proportional to the eloquence of the message. If that was the case, then a bongo would have the power to produce greater beauty than a piano or a violin, which it demonstrably does not.
    The decisive issue is whether the medium is sufficiently complicated to provide the human mind with ample creative possibility, but not so much that it leaves it overwhelmed and disorientated.
    Creativity is often the product of tension between form and content. Bongos don’t provide much scope for the communication of interesting content. But the inordinately complicated, infinitely hyper-linked, endlessly digressive nature of the internet does not provide much in the way of a structure within, through and against which our creative expressions may be consolidated into something more shapely than the original impulse that inspired them.
    But you were being pithy, and I am being priggish, and the two seldom combine.
    (I would like to quickly add: The danger of a platform like facebook is that it profits not from its users’ judiciousness but from their fluid, aimless and compulsive behaviour, which is detrimental to the cultivation of the human and, by extension, to the human aesthetic sense. This is especially true for young minds that have yet to establish intellectual and aesthetic standards. Therefore your 8th point is spot on.)

  3. Nick

    The decisive issue is whether the medium is sufficiently complicated to provide the human mind with ample creative possibility, but not so much that it leaves it overwhelmed and disorientated.

    That’s well said, but it is also a generalization. The medium that has inspired the greatest human expressiveness and creativity is the blank sheet of paper,* which is a medium almost completely devoid of complication. I can predict, with more confidence than I can predict pretty much anything else, that the blank sheet will never be surpassed as a creative medium.

    *Or vellum or canvas or etc.

  4. Great list. To the following item:

    12. Programmers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

    Years ago, probably in the wake of reading Langdon Winner “Techne and Politeia: The Technical Constitution of Society” I felt similarly:

    “In its more traditional and recognizable forms, power flows downward….But as IT grows, and the presence of code grows, power takes on a new and more insidious character. Power may continue to flow from the top down in written edicts but it also seeps in from the bottom and the side as more and more of life is framed and defined by code. “[ http://ubiquity.acm.org/article.cfm?id=1276157 ]

    But while this may sometimes be the case, in a traditional start-up is it really the coders and programmers who “legislate?” Code gets created and dot coms get made, but financiers and attorneys still ultimately seem to control who owns the code and who ultimately benefits financially from it’s creation. Yes, code seems to be reshaping many aspects of the world and in ways that aren’t always in keeping with the visions of our formally appointed rule makers. But has it fundamentally changed the way property is allocated and what professions and classes get to decide how the wealth created by code is distributed? Perhaps in some cases it has. But programmers in many cases occupy a humbler status than this thesis would imply.

  5. Thank you for these great nuggets on current digital culture. I’d like to hear the argument behind the album cover statement, please. Thanks again!

  6. wilson

    13. Absolutely. It’s a main reason I still use my turntable. And I buy vinyl used and new when available.

    Jenny, check out the Album Cover Album. While streaming is fun and convenient, the artwork and sleeves added a lot to the experience. Lyrics, photos, artwork, liner notes, lineups, engineers and production, etc. gave fans an extra dimension to the music. Plus, since you had to monitor the playback (and turn the record over…) it gave a listener something related to concentrate on while the record was playing.

  7. I can’t assess many of these statements, since I’ve never given Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any of the many other social networking tools more than a brief look, but I have to admit that reducing their characters to aphorisms — especially in high contrast to analog forms of communication / creation / memory — risks serious mischaracterization. But I will offer my approval of nos. 11, 15, 17, and 20. Many of the others could be argued, which while moderately interesting lacks motivation.

  8. George

    A very interesting post.

    Hello, I’m a Documentary film-maker from the UK and I’m currently planning a film concerning largely ideas you talk about here and in The Shallows. I’m fascinated by these issues and your view point as a key commentator.

    Would it be possible to send you some research questions, or possibly arrange a telephone interview?

    Thanks Nick,

    George

  9. Ronald Adipose

    would not say it is entirely true that the complexity of the medium is inversely proportional to the eloquence of the message. If that was the case, then a bongo would have the power to produce greater beauty than a piano or a violin

    The medium of music is air.