The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'dead media'
Poptimist Tom Ewing has written a future history of the 2020s CD revival:
But for the fans, the music is still at the core. Unlike today's collaborative, crowdsourced, and automatically generated playlists, a CD's tracklisting is fixed, and the CD-burning scene is an opportunity for music lovers to show their deep individual loves of music, its sequencing and presentation. The 74 Sessions is one of many CD-burning clubs and groups-- some ban members from remixing or mashing up material, others ask people to theme their CD-Rs. Chantal Fielding, who runs the Prismatic Spray trading club out of Rochester, NY, loves the way CD-Rs make her focus her fandom. "You've got all this information, literally everything you look at you can find out everything about it right there, and for music that means there's no mystery anywhere. So saying no, you can't explore endlessly, you have to reduce it down-- it's powerful."The romance of CDs in Ewing's 2020s world isn't just about working within finite physical constraints, like a sort of music-curatorial Lomography; while there is that, and undoubtedly an element of nostalgia as the hipsters and scenesters of the day relive hazy early childhood memories of the CD age (you've probably seen these kids, being wheeled through Stokey or Fitzroy in three-wheeled prams, dressed up in their Ramones onesies), a lot of the physical media revival would be driven by a backlash against the network-centric age of social software, recommendations, playlists and crowdsourcing, and the ever-hungry target-marketing apparatus beneath the surface. (Or, as one of the interviewed CD fetishists says, "when you can't see what the product is and someone's still making money, the product is you.")
While earlier physical-music movements fought to preserve analog formats in the face of digitization, CD revivalists see music's physical existence as a rebuke to a world where people's digital presence has overtaken their physical one. "It's not just about the music," explains Wolfe. "Words like 'social' and 'sharing' became absolutely twisted. It used to mean things people did together, now it's about how well you fit into algorithms. We leave snail trails of data everywhere, and all 'social' means now is that two trails have crossed and somebody's making money off it. Forcing people to collaborate for a fuller experience helps restore some of the real idea of 'social.'"
Wolfe sees CD-R revivalists as part of a 'post-social' wave of digital mischief-makers and situation-builders, in the tradition not of industrial or noise culture but of Fluxus and Neoism. He's sympathetic to "troll artists" like bot-creators and recommendation-scramblers. A friend of his was involved with the 'artificial hipster' Karen Eliot, a digital taste bundle whose infiltration of music friendship networks in 2020 caused scores of trusted playlist generators to start throwing in 00s tracks like "Starstrukk" and "My Humps".Another dimension of CD revivalism would, of course, be the sonic characteristics of the medium; the brittleness of 44kHz 16-bit audio compared to what everybody's listening to in the future. Of course, the revival would take this even further; much as 2000s "electro" ramped up the electronicness of 1980s synthpop by throwing in anachronistically vocoded/robotised vocals, some participants in the CD revival will go beyond the limitations of the CD and start playing around with low-bitrate audio compression, with subsubcultures of hipsters settling upon a right form of crappiness as a cultural touchstone.
The sound on most CDs Wolfe releases is deliberately low-bitrate, with a glossy, uneasy, skinny sheen that's a stark contrast to the lossless warmth of most streamed music. Some fans call lo-bit music "ghostwave", because, as Hall Of Mirrors act Cursor Daly puts it, "you start listening to stuff that isn't there, phantom sound-- your ears are filling in the gaps. Below 128 kbps you're essentially hallucinating sound, no two people hear the same thing. Loads of CD nerds were neuroscience majors."
A year or so ago, Sony's egregiously misnamed Universal Media Disc format (a prooprietary optical disc which only plays in one device—the Sony PlayStation Portable)—essentially died as a viable medium for selling anything other than PSP games. For some reason, people didn't want to spend good money on a low-resolution copy of a movie, bound to a plastic cartridge, for viewing on their PSP; perhaps the number of PSP owners who would use their units for repeatedly watching Spiderman 2 on the train, as opposed to, say, playing videogames, wasn't that great to begin with, and the percentage willing to incur the cost of buying a movie in this inflexible format was even lower. Not even Sony giving away UMDs of their films with DVDs, for only slightly more money, could revive the flagging format.
So now, we learn that Sony are trying to revive the UMD format as a medium for movies by selling TV shows on it, in conjunction with MTV (formerly a music-video channel, now a purveyor of entertainment to the lucrative young-and-dumb demographic). That's right; presumably some executive decided that, while people may not be willing to pay money for a disc containing a version of a movie that only plays on their PSP, they'd be willing to do so for some episodes of Beavis & Butthead. Unless they're planning to bundle them with boxes of breakfast cereal or something.
It's not just the cost of purchasing the disc that counts; it's also the cost of having another bit of plastic taking up space in your house and your mental filing system. As the value of the bits of plastic decreases, the awkwardness of their material nature increases. (A video game you may spend many hours playing is worth a plastic disc and case to store it in—not to mention £25 or however much it costs— a movie you watch once or twice, less so, especially since looking at a small handheld screen is not the best way to enjoy movies if there are alternatives. A few episodes of a TV show sounds like an even more marginal proposition, and the sort of problem that downloads were invented to solve.) Especially in a format whose flexibility is deliberately limited.
Apparently Microsoft have promised to release the full specifications of their legacy binary Office document formats, making them available for direct downloading from their web site without the need to sign any agreements. Not only that, but to develop a reference application for translating them into a neutral format and release it under the BSD license. Cue a million Slashdot penguinheads trying to outdo themselves at saying "Hell has frozen over" in the wittiest way possible.
NLnet, a Dutch foundation supporting open standards and open source, has called on Microsoft to release their old, no longer supported, document file formats into the public domain, allowing users to make their own tool for accessing data locked in these formats (which is becoming increasingly important as Microsoft's own software drops support for them).
Were there a law requiring accuracy in format naming, Sony would undoubtedly be hauled over the coals for its "Universal Media Disc" format. Technically, the format itself is not all that bad (it's essentially a small optical disk in a shell, not unlike Sony's previous innovative format, the MiniDisc), and contains something not unlike DVD data. However, because Sony's decision-making process seems to have been terminally beholden to the dogs in the intellectual-property manger since they got into the movie-and-music business, the key feature of the format was not what you could do with it, but what you, the thieving user, cannot: there are not, and most probably never will be, devices capable of reading UMDs and being hooked up to a computer. And that goes doubly for recordable UMDs: you can imagine the blood pressure of Sony executives soaring at the very thought. No, UMD is an impregnable fortress; so impregnable, in fact, that there is only one device capable of doing anything with the nifty-looking plastic discs: the PlayStation Portable. Which is not particularly universal, is it?
As a proprietary carrier for PSP games, that's all very well; after all, cartridges (from the Atari days onwards) were no more designed for interoperability. Sony, though, had bigger plans. Hence it became a Universal Media Disc, capable of holding various types of content, and playing them on... well, one type of machine. Someone at Sony noticed that personal media players were the next big thing and that the PSP would make a dandy one of those. Of course, letting people rip their DVDs to a PSP would be Wrong and Sending The Wrong Message (and, more importantly, illegal; even if Sony locked the path down with all the DRM they could muster, the very fact that the process involved breaking DRM at the ripping stage would guarantee litigation), so, instead, PSP owners would be able to get their fix of legitimate movies and videos on UMD.
In an alternate future somewhere, fashionably connected e-consumers go down to shops, plonk down two-digit sums and buy UMD copies of their favourite movies. Perhaps they cost a bit less, because, after all, the resolution is considerably lower than a DVD; or perhaps not, because the convenience of re-watching your favourite Friends episode on the bus outweighs the fact that the picture is not as detailed as a DVD. Of course, you can't watch your UMDs on anything other than your PSP's pocket-sized screen, but that's OK, because in this reality, everybody buys two copies of everything: one for the plasma-screen and one for their PSP. Much as every household in this reality has two copies of the latest Coldplay album: one for the living-room hi-fi and one for the SUV stereo; making a copy would, after all, be wrong.
However, this reality, with its radically different laws of economics and human psychology, is not our reality; and consequently, the UMD movie format looks to be on its last legs. Stores are removing acres of shelf space devoted to UMD movies and studios are cutting their losses and cancelling UMD releases. Even Sony's practice of bundling UMDs with DVDs (at a slightly lower markup than buying both separately) failed to breathe life into the format, and it now looks set to become dead media. As expected, a Sony executive tries to blame those thieving users with their Memory Sticks and piracy-encouraging video iPods, though without much conviction.
A future version of the PSP may have a TV output (provided that Sony can convince the Hollywood studios that such an analogue hole won't threaten their precious intellectual property too much), though that may not be enough to get people buying UMD videos in droves and breathe new life into the format. If UMD video dies, that will further cement the Universal Media Disc's claim to being the world's most ironically-named media format.
Reports are coming in about a new Sony Vaio computer with, wait for it, a SACD burner. Which sounds good, except for the facts that the SACD format uses an unusual extremely-high-frequency 1-bit audio encoding system requiring considerable processing to convert to/from the PCM formats used everywhere else, that SACD recordable media seems to be rather rare, and that once you burn a SACD of music (presumably from your Sony Trusted Client ATRAC jukebox application, which does the PCM-to-bizarro-world conversion in the background for you), that disc will be useless for anything other than playback in a few SACD players, and the DRM inherent in the format at every level will prevent such discs from having the positively criminal levels of flexibility and tinkerability that have made recordable CDs (and DVDs) such a hit with users everywhere. Which makes it all seem rather pointless.
It looks like Sony are finally releasing a MiniDisc-based data drive; only a decade too late, too. The Hi-MD drive (with the catchy name "PIT-IN") will apparently be a USB Mass Storage device, and will go head-to-head with smaller and more robust USB keyrings. Chances are it'll still not be able to rip data off audio MiniDiscs for copyright-enforcement reasons, so all your bootleg gig minidiscs are still locked up in the translucent plastic prison of Sony DRM.
Meanwhile, the next Palm handheld will be the Tungsten X; it's basically going to be like a T5 with a built-in iPod Mini-sized hard drive, and MP3 player software to take advantage of that. If they put some audio inputs on that (other than the voice-grade microphone they come with), it'd make a pretty nifty portable audio workstation.
And someone has created OSX developer trading cards. Which make you wonder whether they buy their shirts in bulk from the same retailer.
Sony announce new, improved MiniDisc. Remember those? Well, the new ones will be able to hold 30 hours of sound, and to store video. Of course, since Sony is beholden to the copyright industry, the format will be crippled from birth; you won't be able to mount one as a disk (as you can do with, say, an iPod) and copy files to or from it, as that would allow the user (who, by definition, cannot be trusted) to steal music. The best you will be able to hope for is something like "NetMD", a deliberately proprietary, crippled and nonfunctional protocol running over a USB cable and allowing you to laboriously check in/out some media, and only if you run Windows too. And don't even think of a USB/FireWire/IDE MiniDisc drive, as there's no way such a threat to global economic stability would ever be allowed to see the light of day. In any case, it doesn't sound like the New, Improved MiniDisc is going to do much to threaten the supremacy of MP3 players/recorders (including the upcoming mini-iPod).
(MiniDiscs? Yes, I remember those. I've even got a MD recorder gathering dust somewhere. I haven't used it at all since getting my Archos Jukebox Recorder.)
Meanwhile, the same section of The Age has a
press release article about Personal Paint coming out for AmigaOS 4.0, just in time for the Amiga to reconquer the computer world. Personal Paint is supposed to be "a mainstay of the application base for the Amiga platform", though it's the first I've heard of it; wasn't Deluxe Paint the most popular Amiga application throughout that platform's working life?
Web browser innovator, message-threading guru and nightclub proprietor Jamie Zawinski on the difficulties of reading data from obsolete computers; more specifically, the near-impossibility of transferring data from an original 128k Macintosh to anything made today (the 128k Mac's 400K floppies are not readable by any reasonably recent machines, the machine has no Ethernet or SCSI, and AppleTalk is only an option of the machine has a driver for it). (via Before I Forget)
It's alarming to think how much data from less than 20 years ago exists perfectly well, in a well-understood digital format, and yet is marooned on obsolete hardware (or system software) with little way of getting off it. Thus, so much data faces extinction due to the shifting of technologies. It's not just reading old programs off 400K Macintosh disks either; try reading an old Microsoft Word 1.0 document you wrote ~20 years ago, for example.
Read: Dan "VisiCalc" Bricklin on why copy protection robs the future:
Copy protection, like poor environment and chemical instability before it for books and works of art, looks to be a major impediment to preserving our cultural heritage. Works that are copy protected are less likely to survive into the future. The formal and informal world of archivists and preservers will be unable to do their job of moving what they keep from one media to another newer one, nor will they be able to ensure survival and appreciation through wide dissemination, even when it is legal to do so.
The spread of the Internet has cost 400 jobs, namely those of carrier pigeons in India made redundant by the rise of email. (via Techdirt)