Always Already New: Media, History and the Data of Culture by Lisa Gitelman, looks back so that she can look forward.
I felt that this was a timely book as my son who is in his mid-20s came for a visit from Chicago two weeks ago. He had taken the train and as we met him at the Amtrak station, the new beard didn’t make me smile as much as the “Beats” audio headphones he had on his head. Large, bright red headphones hooked to his iPhone.
Gitleman addresses the changes and trends in new media by looking through a lens of past media trends and developments. What was “formerly new can teach us something about what’s currently new.” I smiled at my son because when I was a younger man, I loved music and quality sound. I was an audiophile. When music moved from records to cassettes, I insisted on the very best TDK or BASF tapes for my “illegal” copying. Later, I was one of the first on the CD bandwagon because of the excellent quality of sound (I skipped much of the 8-track movement because more often than not, you would hear two songs at the same time!).
But more important than the player, were the speakers. I used most of my money to buy huge speakers to spread out around my listening room. And when it came to headphones, I acquired the best, largest I could find – the Optimus Pro 60. As audio times changed, and as people moved to iPods and earbuds, I stood as a lonely bastion, holding on to my large headphones, though moving up to the Bose Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones. Finally a few years ago, I realized how far earbuds had developed. The quality was now very nice – so I bought some and use them more often than my Bose headphones. Again, I was cool! Only to find out that all the younger generation now is moving back to large, obvious, contraptions on their ears that I finally had left!
I’m sure Gitelman could tell us something about this trend and change but unfortunately her work doesn’t include this modern audio adjustment.
The most fascinating thoughts come around how “the internet both structures and performs its own history.” Media, even before their purpose is publically defined and accepted is influencing its own operations and future, dictating what the use will actually use it for – whether a need exists or not.
Another key concept was her examination of how media follows a path from public to private. We all have heard the quote (whether true or not) that Ken Olson of Digital Corp. was reported as saying in 1977, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Oh, how she proved him wrong!
As media continues to write its own history, only time will tell of what we don’t anticipate as becoming private and only public – think of drones, 3D printers, home theaters, pretty much anything that we saw on Star Trek is becoming available for private home use.