Tuesday, May 25, 2010

All the music you will never listen to

"Narrative arts have been always limited by the capacities of the receiver (a human being) and of storage media. Throughout history, the first capacity has remained more or less the same: today the time we will devote to the reception of a single narrative may range from 15 seconds (a television commercial) to two hours (a feature film) to a number of short segments distributed over a large period of time (following a television series or reading a novel). However, the capacity of storage media recently changed dramatically. Instead of the ten minutes that can fit on a standard roll of film or the two hours that can fit on a digital video tape, a digital server can hold a practically unlimited amount of audiovisual recordings. The same applies for audio only, or for text."

Lev Manovich

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that the above-articulated idea is one of my regular themes. I often borrow Alvin Toffler's term for it ("overchoice"). It is, I think, a distinguishing feature of twenty-first century culture.

What it means for our relationship with art over the long-term is anyone's guess.

Does it mean the end of critical consensus? (How can you legitimately claim to be able to point to the best that has been thought or created if you are physically unable to consume a healthy sample of what's out there?)

Does it mean that we will soon lose the ability to experience art in depth, and with patience -- instead feeling compelled to experience a little bit of everything, simply because there is so much to be experienced?

Does it mean that commerce will finally be victorious in its quest to be the ultimate arbiter of taste and value, because the stuff that will "rise to the top" will in fact be the stuff that is most aggressively promoted, regardless of its actual quality? (How could anything rise to the top otherwise, given the number of things being produced?)

Beats me!

[photo credit: Andrew Choy]

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