Saturday, September 19, 2009

An Introduction to Digital Media

Book by Tony Feldman; Routledge, 1997
Writing about digital media is worse than painting the Forth Bridge. British readers will know the old story of the trials and tribulations of keeping the great bridge properly painted to protect it from the depredations of the Scottish weather. There is so much ironwork that no sooner has the paint dried on the last spar and buttress than the whole process has to begin again at the other end. Writing about the so-called digital revolution is like this but more so. No sooner has the ink dried than the words already written need revision. But not for the same reason that dooms those poor bridge painters to repeat the same exercise over and over again. Words lose their currency in this subject not because it takes so long to say them but because the technological and commercial landscape that they describe changes so swiftly.

This is probably a very bad way to start a book of any kind. It hardly instils confidence to say it is going to be out of date even before the printer has printed it. There is, however, a genuine way round the problem of delivering a static snapshot of a fast-changing subject. The current work, and earlier ones on which it is based, aim to deliver a foundation of material-ideas, insights and demystifications-which remain current far longer than the superstructure of detail which makes up the day-to-day helter-skelter of change. While sudden technological breakthroughs can, of course, upset the apple cart completely, it is broadly possible to sketch the logical geography of digital media so the result delivers (hopefully) some lasting value. Even Multimedia, the book published in 1994 which the current work effectively supplants, retains some of its original value because it presents underlying concepts which-while not quite eternal-are at least a fairly firm, long-term foundation for making sense of the bigger picture with all its plethora of fast-changing detail.

There is, however, a more subtle problem which is personal to any author writing in this field. Not only do the realities of technologies and their commercialisation change from day to day, but also our understandings of the implications of these processes change. Not only is the real world a moving target. So is our perception of it. The reason is simple.

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