Friday, February 12, 2010

In defense of quiet

[Apologies in advance. Feeling the doom and gloom angle today for some reason. It'll pass.]

Are you actively marketing and advertising to get more jazz buyers to know your name/brand to generate sales of your CDs, products, services and to get bookings? Or are you waiting around hoping that consumers will come to you just because you think you've got a great product? 

Are you seizing the golden opportunity to get the leadership advantage in this economy or like competitors are you busy justifying fears and cutting back on marketing? It is easier now for you to get higher visibility than ever.

Are you getting the lowest “cost per contact” to reach each jazz buyer? 

Are you implementing ideas, strategies and solutions from marketing professionals to succeed?

(Excerpted from an ad mailer for a prominent jazz magazine that I happen to admire.)

For most of the history of communication, human beings have recorded for perusal or study but a mere fragment (usually a highly contrived fragment) of what they have done, said, thought. Perhaps memory was a different (sturdier) phenomenon at first, and (for instance) words spoken but not written could be recalled, challenged, quoted verbatim when the need arose. But for a long time the recording and representation of human activity (deeds, words, ideas) was a relatively exceptional phenomenon, as compared with the entirety of discourse.

Today, for most people, the recorded and represented self rivals the physical self. Some of these recordings and representations are voluntarily submitted to the world. (Surf through your Facebook friends’ pages sometime. Step into the Twitter stream. Hell, read this blog.) Some of them are captured, the object of surveillance. (Go out to any public space in any American city and let me know how far you get before you run into a security camera.) Some of them are stumbled upon by accident. (Do you know how many other people’s candid iPhone photos the back of your head has ended up in?)

Eventually, our recordings and representations will overtake us.

I suspect that as everyone’s pile of life “tapes” grows bigger, the chance that anyone else is going to review them in any meaningful way grows smaller (making the privacy argument moot from two directions at once: inevitability and apathy). In the dystopian scenario, we will eventually meet the magic, tragic ratio of one-to-one, in which each person only has time to peruse or study the recordings and representations of him or herself. And after that: production only. Like the items that take up vast sections of the Library of Congress, it’ll be stuff that is primarily just there.

So I'm going to take the dog for a good long walk in the woods now.

[photo credit: madmolecule]


Anonymous said...

I happened upon youtube video with the back on my head front and center the other day. Traumatizing as hell. I mean, I was aware that the bald spot existed, but it had been sort of an abstract concept.

The Overthinker said...

I was thinking about this same idea a few years back, when I heard that some company was making grave markers with embedded video monitors, so if you wanted to see what that person was sorta about, you could watch it.

I envisioned those giant graveyards near where I grew up with thousands and thousands of gravestones, and feeling this overwhelming sadness that there's just not enough time in this life to hear all the stories.

Graveyards are depressing enough: your whole life's accomplishments are reduced to this piece of granite that people will stop thinking about in 40ish years once your descendants kick off. Now imagine all of those with videos begging to be heard.

Ugh. No wonder why I'm anxious.

A said...

Good post; you should check out the Borges short story "The Library of Babel" for a reductio ad absurdum of the notion.

I'd argue that the real motivation behind the change is not so much that *more* stuff is being recorded, but *why* it's being recorded.

Before recording technology got so cheap and widespread, people recorded things (with cameras, audio tapes, camcorders, etc.) because they wanted to *remember* them years later. Now, with digital cameras and such, people record things because they want to *share* them with others in the present.

It's a completely different mindset; things recorded are throwaway shadow-puppets of what's happenening now, instead of long-term records of what happened in the past. I'm not totally convinced it's a worse situation, but it's certainly a fundamentally different one.

Thought-provoking stuff; I'm interested to see where the trend goes in fifty years. Assuming I'm around that long, of course.

(Found your blog because that's my photo above; thanks for the credit, and I'm glad you liked it!)

cinderkeys said...

Not everybody's recorded messages are meant to be kept for posterity. Anthropologists might be interested a hundred years from now, but nobody is eagerly awaiting the collected Facebook updates of Babs Bloggerton. The point is conversation, just in a medium other than speech.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks for the comments! (And A., thanks for making your photo available! It was perfect for the post, I think. I would love to hear more about "Quiet," the film it came from.)

I agree that the motivation for recording and representing one's self has shifted somewhat (in tandem with big shifts in technology, of course). I just wonder from time to time about the extent to which we all engage in these "conversations" because we can, and because it's easy -- rather than because we have anything interesting to say.

Social media is just part of it. The music industry is another (one reason I cited the marketing bit up top). Politics is another. And so on. What ties them all together is this feeling that once expression becomes habitual or compulsive, we're starting down a road in which eventually all anyone does is "speak," without ever "listening."

Of course, that's the pessimist in me. It's interesting to think about, but I don't know if I believe that the worst case scenario is really going to happen. But last Friday, I apparently did!