Category Archives: deadmedia

What’s In My Backpack

A snapshot in time of my current glass pancake stack.

One iPad 1st gen, one iPhone 4th gen for iOs demos and prototyping. One Android tablet (Nexus 7) and phone (HTC One X) for demos and prototyping. One old Samsung Infuse Android work phone I hadn’t got rid of yet. Now I’m using the HTC. One primary work PC. One personal Macbook Air. One personal LTE iPad also functions as personal hotspot. Assorted cables, chargers, dongles, NFC tags, and assorted doohickeys. Car keys. Pen and goddamn paper. Cause you know what? Brilliant as the rest of the device is, 5 years after Apple’s iPhone killed the mobile stylus dead, writing & drawing notes with your fingers on glass like digital cavemen still sucks.

This post inspired by Steve Wozniack, who I had the rather unexpected pleasure of meeting the other day at a rock show, and his incredible backpack.

And by how wonderfully quaint and archaic these now-shiny things will look if I can remember to come back to this post in 10 years or more.

Wish I had a shot of my backpack of 2002, full of palm pilots or pocket pcs, some brick of a nokia phone, and maybe an mp3 diskman.

But Woz had it figured out. When I met him he showed me his nixie watch. Made of awesome cathod tubes technology from the 1950s. Long live #deadmedia

Dead media watch: the web is dead

Somewhere on a dusty shelf or storage box, I have this old issue of Wire Volume One two containing the strident prediction: “Tired: lynx, Wired: Mosaic”. Lynx is/was a text-only terminal app used for navigating a relatively obscure hypertext protocol, fancifully called the World Wide Web. NCSA Mosaic, was the first popular graphical web browser, which very soon became a little app you old-timers may recall called “Netscape”. The rest, they are now saying, is history.

If you’ve followed this blog for years, you know I love to track dead media. I’ve followed the death of print, of video stores of bloggin and many more. Wired themselves have even quoted me on the subject. Well the good folks at wired (ironically the magazine that most embodied the birth of the web) have really done it this time. This time, they’ve declared the whole web a dead medium.

You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone.

This is not a trivial distinction. Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display. It’s driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule. And it’s the world that consumers are increasingly choosing, not because they’re rejecting the idea of the Web but because these dedicated platforms often just work better or fit better into their lives (the screen comes to them, they don’t have to go to the screen). The fact that it’s easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend. Producers and consumers agree: The Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution.

The venerable Marshall McLuhan teaches us that all media has a natural lifespan. This is because new media inevitably makes room for itself by obsolescing, replacing or just crowding out old media. While some may last much longer than others, all media eventually die. For better or worse, the indomitable human spirit is just too good at creating new things. As the pace of innovation has so quickened in recent decades and centuries, the average useful lifespan for even our most clever creations, seems to get shorter and shorter. For those of us fascinated by dead media, the graphic above provides a beautiful visualization of how new media propagate like wave functions. The grow, they crest and eventually break. Each media seem to expand and taper off to their own idiosyncratic schedule. At least until new media inevitably cascade over top. The pixels don’t lie.

Sorry kids, clearly the web is dead. Long live the web.

LINK: The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet []

UPDATE: TVO’s Jesse Brown posted a hilarious video rebuttal “Wired is Dead“. Of course, Jesse should know better. Even if only half-true, the other half of the fun of declaring anything dead, is purely for the trolling. Good job Wired.

Will Tablet Computers Save Us From Vampires?


I don’t know what to say about the state of publishing anymore except to tell you that Penguin sent me (I’m on their blogger list) a list of 10 of their hottest titles for summer 2010. 40% of which concern Vampires.

Blood Oath (Christopher Farnsworth, May 2010, HC): The ultimate secret. The ultimate agent. The President’s vampire. Zach Barrows is an ambitious young White House staffer whose career takes an unexpected turn when he’s partnered with Nathaniel Cade, a secret agent sworn to protect the President. But Cade is no ordinary civil servant. Bound by a special blood oath, he is a vampire.

I can’t make this stuff up. Though if I had, it sounds like I might have landed a sweet advance out of Penguin.

So of 40% vampires. I don’t know what’s worse. the thought that A) packing the shelves with bodice-rippers and vampire tales is what’s what’s left to keep the major publishing houses afloat. or B) while we still live in a world of mostly-print distribution, that publishers remain the last of the gatekeepers between us and the multitudes of apparently less publishable works that we know flood the industry’s slushpile every year.

So the perennial question is will tablets and ebooks save the publishing industry? or save us from the publishing industry depending on your point of view?

Ebook readers have yet to set the world on fire. I think it has something to do with static, unconnected, essentially-lifeless pdf-type electronic books read from expensive, low-contrast screens, that need charging… are not quite enough of a delta from the regular printed word to bring that much value.

But the iPad experience starts to change that, From Xeni’s review:

Remember The Periodic Table of Elements series of books we featured here at Boing Boing? There’s an iPad version ($13.99 in the app store, screenshots here), and it’s dazzling — it makes science feel like magic in your hands. I called the guy behind The Elements, Theo Gray, and asked him to put into words the UI magic that iPad makes possible for creators of books, games, news, and productivity tools.

“The Elements on iPad is not a game, not an app, not a TV show. It’s a book. But it’s Harry Potter’s book. This is the version you check out from the Hogwarts library. Everything in it is alive in some way.”

Indeed, the elements in this periodic table seem very much alive. The obvious way to examine static objects — say, a lump of gold (number 79) or an ingot of cast antimony (number 51) is to rotate them, to spin the specimen with your fingertips. And that’s exactly what you do here.

Book reading as a passtime has been under ruthless assault in recent decades by all manner of shiny distractions of the digital age. So any new mass-adopted gadgets that also has the possibility to re-invent books has got to be helpful, and a sign of hope for bibliophiles.

And I like this idea that books have the opportunity to evolve into a whole new medium. This animated, live updating, “harry potter-esque” magicification books would be great for all kinds of categories like: reference books, cookbooks, travel books…

But not so much fiction or literature. I don’t know yet if the iPad will save us from Vampires.

Fax machines, and PDFs, kicking off the deadmedia watch for 2010


The fax machine was obsolete 15 years ago. When someone says “fax it to me,” I always feel like I’m being punk’d. A fax machine is nothing more than a printer, scanner and an obsolete analog mode that work together to waste time, money, paper and electricity. Documents that are faxed usually start out in digital format. So, to send a digital document digitally, it must be converted into a paper format. You insert the document, and the fax machine scans it back into a digital format. It then uses an analog modem from 1993 to convert the digital image into sounds!

LINK: Mike Elgan: 10 obsolete technologies to kill in 2010 – Make the world a better place. Just say no to dumb tech.

When an old media that fade away, sometimes we miss it’s old flavours, it’s eccentricities. Sometimes we don’t. I’m not going to miss fax machines. Frustrating, stupid machines from day one I’d argue. And if there’s (slightly) newer media that fax machines most remind me of it’s gotta be PDF. Damn PDFs are annoying. Take a perfectly good digital document, convert it into a clumsy, uneditable, super-slow to render and a painful to read on a digital screen format just so it can look like a printed page. PDFs are a great way to take all the disadvantages of a printed page (like arbitrary page sizes and header and footer margins between every page of content), almost none of the advantages (like the adequate visible resolution for reading the damn thing) and perpetuating them forever in the digital age. Worst of all, you can’t even take a PDF out back and cathartically beat it down office-space style in the back alley if it’s really getting you down.

Damn you adobe.

photocredits: “analog_chainsaw” on flickr

Dead Media Watch #297 – Hyphens


About 16,000 words have succumbed to pressures of the Internet age and lost their hyphens in a new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

No one has time for the poor hyphen anymore. It seems to be going the way of the semi-colon semicolon into the club of beleaguered punctuations. OTOH perhaps it’s high time some of these over-prevaricating compound word-sandwiches got off the fence and decided for once and for all if they were to be one word or two. But boy, 16,000 is a lot to drive off a cliff all at once. The poor little bastards probably never even saw it coming.

It occurs to me that Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump is probably Canada’s most hyphenated place. Though it is true they no longer drive great herds off the cliffs anymore. Another dead media. The buffalo are all gone now.

Link: Thousands of hyphens perish as English marches on

Will QR Codes Save the National Post?


If you are a reader of Canada’s (other) national newspaper the National Post, you may have noticed that they are trying out something neat with 2D barcodes a.k.a QR Codes. They don’t quite look like normal QR codes but this is incidental. The idea is that the codes are a printed link between the ink-on-flattened-wood-pulp edition and the online properties of the Post. Put differently, it’s one adventurous way for a dead-tree media company to play spin the bottle with the cyber age.

You need a mobile phone, a smart phone, basically an iphone or a recent model blackberry, and special application to make it useful. If useful it is. I would really like to see this experiment be successful. However, a brief informal facebook poll of friends (and I have a lot of pretty nerdy friends) failed to reveal anyone who had actually tried the feature. Similarly Michele and I learned first hand how hard it is make a QR code campaign work when we tried it first hand with an (mostly failed) impromptu QR-code social experiment at SXSW09.

Unlike Japan, North Americans just don’t seem to be ready for optical codes yet. Our phones don’t have built in readers. You have to manually download an app first which takes several minutes and some technical savvy. The iPhone has a terrible camera for reading them. And unless you provide a lot of context around the code and where it points to, people are suspicious of it being spammy.

Nonetheless, you gotta give the Post points for effort and experimentation.

It’s a damn tough time to be in media. Online is killing not just reader attention spans but also advertiser spend. The barbarians are at the gate for traditional media empires. Like a declining Rome hot linking to the visigoths, newspapers find themselves in a weird position, trying to promote print and online channels for news.

But here, wait for it, is the Post real real secret plan of genius. These codes are really for advertisers. If (big if) the Post can get a significant installbase of users, using a NationalPost mobile app, AND a proprietary QR code reader, then they have a killer product to sell to the print advertisers. Suddenly print ads become actionable, print advertisers can get real-time conversion, real time metrics on the performance of their ads. And the post has killer app the globe and the Star don’t. The codes would continue to be used for both editorial as well as ad features so, in theory, there is always someting in it for the consumer too to install the app.

Genius eh? If you’ll go out there and use it

Photo: poignantly capturing a clash of young and old, of mobiles, mores and business/teenage models. FYI: To their credit, the Post did not provide any links to “additional online content” related to teenage sexting. Keep it classy Posties.

In reality, SXSW Interactive 2009 was a long drunken wake for the death of print


[Last of my notes from SXSW, these on the recurring theme of death of many media, but one we may particularly miss, the death of books and long form fiction]

The econoclipse has totally hastened the demise by digital soil erosion of the already shaky foundations of almost every old-media business model. And what’s crazy is how much the geeks lament this **even as they
are the very ones killing them*. It’s like OH WOE to old media STAB STAB STAB why are you dying? STAB STAB I’m so angry with you STAB STAB STAB for not having more foresight, and for selfishly dying and stuff.


“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

Bruce Sterling’s keynote was an absolutely spot-on Irish wake for books and fiction, complete with drinking and chips on stage.

“Look,” said Sterling, pulling out a stack of copies of his most recent novel, The Caryatids, and placing it on the lectern. “These are what we used to call books. I know that you’re sort of unused to seeing them. Let me explain to you how these devices work because I’m not sure a Web 2.0 crowd follows the structure anymore.

If there is a ray of light, the answer became more clear as to what publishers, and authors have to do to thrive. According to Bruce, and echoed by Chris Anderson and Guy Kawasaki’s conversation, it’s about being (to borrow from Hugh) a personal micro-brand not about being someone tied to just one medium “the book”.

This is generally a lot easier for authors than for publishers to get their head around. Though authors could benefit from the tools and representation to help them do that. Of course this model also works better for non-fiction, or authors who are talented at speaking or at blogging or consulting or punditry, or at being charismatic enough or having enough of a following to be paid to show up anywhere like at events, or to lend their recognition/respect/authorial-aura to other projects like Margaret Atwood might in Canada etc.

But the rub, how do you align the interests of the publisher with all of these other ways that the author will actually use to feed themselves?

It’s also clear this whole transition won’t work well for a lot of writers. “Writing+charisma” is a whole other bag of tricks than just being a “writer”. In the worst case, this would be like the transition from silent film to talkies. Talkies wiped out all but a handful of the previous stars. Movie stars still existed (if fact more of them) but for the most part they were stars at a different bag of tricks.

There’s another problem, how micro can your brand be to make a living. The very literary writers who may create works only loved or admired by much smaller peer group, or those writers who are good/great but only so long as you don’t let them be seen out of the house.

Of course we as a society could just fund some of these dead media directly. Thank goodness for charity and government grants (and the CBC).

We do it already, in all sectors of society. If there’s no easy way to charge people for incremental usage of some “public good” like streetlights or paved sidewalks but everyone somewhat agrees that it would nonetheless be nice to have these things in society, then you fund it with tax dollars.

The implication here, for literature, maybe for journalism, is that it we rethink it as “high art” as in those forms of media that no one actually expects to be an economical sort of industry or otherwise supported by the market. like ballet. Maybe we are in this world already?

What does that make General Motors then? are we now considering the making of GM cars a nationally protected art form?

link: Future May Be Brighter, but It’s Apocalypse Now

link: Bruce Sterling’s SXSW keynote partial transcript (It seems, sadly, there is no audio version or full transcript on any of the internet)

The long slow death of Media

Internet usage isn’t killing TV; in fact, TV watching has hit record levels in the US. So why aren’t broadcasters rolling in fat autumn piles of cash?

“An audience member was confused about how viewership could be up but ad revenue could be significantly reduced; top network execs patiently explained that just having eyeballs wasn’t much good in a major economic downturn.”

And by “TV” you could substitute… newspapers, magazines, print media, radio, social network page views, fiction, stock photography, analyst reports, movies, music, journalism in general. Did I miss any?

Boy it’s a tough millennium for anyone to be in the content creation business.

Like all new media shifts the beginning of time, digial media, you has a flavor. And by flavor I mean side effects both good, bad and unintended.

It’s not new news that we are moving to an attention scarcity economy. These days we are all consuming more media than ever. Nonetheless, attention is a fixed commodity and fundamentally puts a limit on how much content we can meaningfully demand in a given day. But supply of new media has exploded and there is just isn’t enough attention – which is linked to revenue potential – to go around. Sadly, the falling cost of media production and distribution has not been enough to offset. If anything falling costs, and web2.0 make things worse by flooding the media market with a lot of “cheap” content. Not in all cases is this “cheap” content a perfect substitute for what came before.

It’s time for us all to start thinking of new models in a post digital world.

In the meantime, there is some good news dear content creators and media titans.

At least you are not in the car making business.

link: Americans hugely addicted to TV, but money doesn’t follow

photo credit: Jose_armas

And then somebody remembered that the oceans are full of free wind

On the theme of ‘Old media don’t die. They just pine for the Fjords.’

sailing ship

French vineyard owners are returning to a slower pace of life by starting to export their wine by sailing boat – a method last used in the 1800s – to reduce their carbon footprint.

This month 60,000 bottles from Languedoc will be shipped to Ireland in a 19th-century barque, saving 22,680kg of carbon.

Further voyages to Bristol and Manchester in England and even to Canada are planned soon afterwards.

The French, always fond of doing things the difficult way, have a wonderful idea here. Sure one ship doesn’t mean Al Gore can take a holiday, but it’s a great gesture. And a perfect fit for the cargo. In marketing parlance, wine is a high value and highly subjective experience good. In regular terms, how much you will pay for a bottle, and your perception of how good it tastes, is strongly correlated to how much of it’s story you are ready to believe in.

Pictured: The Barque, manufactured at the pinnacle of Victorian Era sailing technology.

LINK: French send wine by sailboat

UPDATE: grammar edits and Baker also point this out, another (high tech) startup based on this same low tech idea, kyte surfing containers ships Link

Dead Media Watch: Polaroid film

So you may have seen the news that Polaroid is discontinuing Polaroid film. For all it’s greatness, that little 2.5 inch screen on the back of your digicam, has killed that old analog analogue. It’s a known law of media that all new new media must replace an old. But every new media is never a perfect replacement, some particular character or ‘flavour’ of the old medium is always lost. This is why we have nostalgia, and how we use old flavours to trigger old memories and emotions.

This is also why dead media are a rich vein for the exploration of new media, for there is another rule that says: Any new media must retrieve an archetype (or flavour) of a dead (or more than one) dead media.

Just the other day, someone took a great polaroid of Michele and I, dancing (ok slightly goofy/maniacally) at a friend’s party. A perfect frozen moment now gracing the fridge. I’ll post the picture here when I get a chance. Just as soon as I can snap a photo of if with my digicam.

In the meantime, remember the polaroid kids, remember to stock up, and Shake it, Shake it like a polaroid picture.

“…it’s critical to remember that these changes were happening for the first time ever, accelerating human life into the modern age at a pace that barely allowed time to gain vantage on the present before hurtling into the future, all the while changing the expectations of what that future might hold.”

In case you missed it, this is from a great post last week by Michele on the reaction of artists, crafts people and designers to the disoriented changes in, wait for it, Victorian england as spurred by the industrial revolution.

Textile factory

She is pointing out the strong parallels between historical change drivers like the industrial revolution, and our current digital age. In each case, major societal changes being driven by a sudden major change in an underlying enabling media.

server racks

“Arts & crafts was neither anti-industrial nor anti-modern, though it embodied a strong reaction against many industrial practices and encouraged individual handwork over mass production.” It’s a repeating theme, the idea of struggling to bring back some the human meaning and flavour lost from the shift from individual craftsmanship to the commoditization of the the industrial process – as well as to use these new tools in the best ways consistent with a designed idealism.

In the great post war expansion of the 1950s, the Americans invented spray-on cheese. Is this an innovation?

New media create whole new areas of possibility. But not all of these areas are awesome. As designers we feel the urge to try and “steer” these outcomes away from some perceived negative outcomes to other perceived “higher value” outcomes but is it like trying to steer a tidal wave?

Michele asks “i wonder though if our insights into the past can aid us in creating the future?”. I hope Michele will take a swing at that in her future posts, but for now, here’s my swing at it:

I have this “dead media” idea as a framework for understanding what happens next based on what is, has or will be about to obsolesced. You can understand some of what happens next by thinking about, if we adopt this new thing en mass, what will it displace? All new media displaces an old. (That is the definition of adoption.)

NYC streetsFrom a recent William Gibson interview:

…footage is of the last night that streets in New York were the way they were before everyone started staying home to watch television. All the footage that he’s been able to find afterward is dramatically different. It changed. It changed the night they turned it on. The night they started to broadcast television in New York, New York ceased to be what it had been before. Because everyone stayed home to watch television.

“It’s not that we prefer it, it’s not even that conscious. It becomes the nature of our experience. If it’s going to happen at all, it becomes the nature of our experience. If it doesn’t happen it just becomes one of those iconic retro-future images.

But if we do stop to conscious of it (this is roll of designers), we can foresee how new media will displace what we do now. Dead media is creative destruction. With every shift in media there is no perfect replacements for old archetypes, the new always has some new flavour (you may or may not like it), and some old flavours are always lost (the ritual of flipping the record, the character of cobblestones, front-porch social interactions before there was tv). Lost flavours are also an opportunity. According to McLuhan, every new media retrieves an older archetype or an older media, (just with a different flavour). To look to where new technology (or art or design) could be going (or to be at the forefront of creating it ourselves as designers), we just have to look at what has happened before. Lost flavours are the opportunity gaps of the status quo.

The new social platform of the internet is retrieving some of that experience of the streets of New York before everyone stayed home to watch television. Same archetypes just different mediums, different flavours. I feel like TV is almost a dead media now itself. What will bring it back?

But back to architecture and the design of things. The long trend of industrialization has been the increasing blandification of things. Ikea selling a billion of the exact same, minimalist kitchen widget. Spray-on cheese.

Just as the social internet has exploded the long tail of content like indie music and increasingly online video. I’d look forward to seeing how these models eventually spill over into the sacrosanct fields of architecture industrial design. Leading one might imagine to an A&C-like resurgence of individual craftsmanship, and a profound shift in flavour. Traditionally the constraints here have been around manufacturibality and economies of scale, resulting in : few designers, many copies made.

Sites like are a weak signal of this already, as is they enable peer-to-peer design production of physical goods. As manufacturing and distribution technologies change, I think we’ll more and more of this creep into other fields. Think how 3d printers could change the economics of distributing unique vs mass-produced goods. These days, you can 3d print a house you know.

What’s your take on Michele’s question?

I was joking that if Coehn Brothers took a swing at this question here is what they’d say. Forgive me if you haven’t yet seen the truly awesome (and surprisingly thoughtful) No Country for Old Men:

  1. In these late times we live in, it may feel that this is no country for old men or for their old ways.
  2. This impression is false, in fact the only constant is that it has always felt this way.
  3. You can’t stop what’s coming.


Link: arts & crafts revisited –

Previously on A Provocative List of Dead Media, Dead media workshop at Lift07, Deadmedia and the flavour of cities

photo credit: shorpy jamax