Like many writers, I’m occasionally concerned with the reach of my work. Since this column also lives online at the newspaper’s website (and is often sliced and diced by my own hand into other online enclaves as well), it naturally has a potential reach that transcends Sonoma. Though I’ve invested much of myself in the “Sonoma Wide Web,” I have to admit that the World Wide Web has a tad more allure. It also sounds so direly ’90s when written out – or even about – that I can’t wait to get to the next paragraph.
In real life, I’m more akin to a blogger. The online version of these columns is a strange genetic offshoot that co-exists with its leaner, meaner cousins in the blogosphere (who’ve been around nearly as long) but its identity is hinged upon the dead tree media that precipitates it. In essence, it’s the Neanderthal to the blogs’ homo sapiens. They co-exist, even interbreed a bit, but eventually will kill off the other (that was the plot to “Quest for Fire,” right?).
Blogs themselves have long been experiencing evolutionary disruption at the hands (and limited character counts) of other means of messaging the masses. If, as the Kodak cliche goes, a photo is worth a thousand words, consider that Instagram – the social photo-sharing network – boasts, as of October 2013, 16 billion images. Now, multiply that by a 1,000. I can’t do math that quickly, but I’m counting on the product to be something close to a googolplex. This surely has the number crunchers at the other Googleplex down in Mountain View a wee bit concerned (“plus one” this if you care – I don’t. In fact, no one does, which is the crux of the search giant’s social media problem).
Sure, it’s the content, not its point of distribution, that should be most important. But if you’re an acolyte of media philosopher Marshall McLuhan (and anyone who stumbled through a college communications course is by default), you’d know that content often takes a backseat to the vessel through which it’s delivered. To clarify for Sonomans: Consider how your pinot tastes in your Riedel stemware versus a repurposed mustard jar.
Like my colleagues at the New York Times, I’ll defer to the wisdom of the crowd and let Wikipedia sum it up: “…The form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.”
Fair enough – so how might this change the meaning of these very words, should you be reading them in their native printed form or online. And by online, do we mean at sonomanews.com, DHowell.com, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and if then, by which device? A smartphone, tablet, laptop, cranial implant, etc.?
So far as I can tell, the only way the medium influences the message if you’re reading a newspaper is that you’re probably wearing bifocals.
According to the Newspaper Association of America, if you’re holding this in a form that was formerly a vegetable, you’re probably 55 or older. If you’re reading this on a device that didn’t exist until seven years ago, you could be anybody, but you’ve also very likely turned your back on the 17th century technology that has defined much of my career.
I’m squarely in the latter camp. I haven’t touched a newspaper, other than to kill a fly, for nearly a decade. I’ve also “cut the cable” and plan to neuro-map my brain so I can upload my consciousness into the cloud-based environs of the digital afterlife – you know, when it’s time to put this borrowed meat back into the ecosystem.
And yet, no matter how I write and how far it goes – today Sonoma, tomorrow off-world – in the end, I’m only ever reaching one person at a time. That’s you. I suppose no matter how much time and distance lies between the moment of this writing and the moment of your reading – it’s really never that far is it? And that’s the whole point.
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Daedalus Howell shrinks time and space with words at DHowell.com.