Re: grettings all, quick question

Damien Broderick (
Mon, 19 May 1997 01:00:02 +0000

At 10:09 AM 5/18/97 -0400, Brian Davis wrote:

>I'm thinking of putting together some sort of museum exhibit celebrating
>ignored and forgotten devices, schemes and plans.

Bruce Sterling has been running an adjacent project for some time. Thus:

The DEAD MEDIA Project: A Modest Proposal and a Public Appeal

by Bruce Sterling

Ever notice how many books there are about the Internet these days?
About 13,493 so far, right? And how about "multimedia?" There are
8,784 books on this topic, even though no one has ever successfully
defined the term. CD-ROM -- is there a single marketable topic left that
hasn't been shovelwared into the vast digital mire that is CD-ROM? And
how about the "Information Superhighway" and "Virtual Reality"? Every
magazine on the planet has done awestruck vaporware cover stories on
these two consensus-hallucinations.

Our culture is experiencing a profound radiation of new species of
media. The centralized, dinosaurian one-to-many media that roared and
trampled through the 20th century are poorly adapted to the postmodern
technological environment. The new media environment is aswarm with
lumbering toothy digital mammals. It's all lynxes here, and gophers there,
plus big fat venomous webcrawlers, appearing in Pleistocene profusion.

This is all well and good, and it's lovely that so many people are
paying attention to this. Nothing gives me greater pleasure as a
professional garage futurist than to ponder some weird new mutant
medium and wonder how this squawking little monster is going to wriggle
its way into the interstices between human beings. Still, there's a
difference between this pleasurable contemplation of the technological
sublime and an actual coherent understanding of the life and death of
media. We have no idea in hell what we are doing to ourselves with these
new media technologies, and no consistent way even to discuss the
subject. Something constructive ought to be done about this situation.

I can't do much about it, personally, because I'm booked up to the
eyeballs until the end of the millennium. So is my good friend Richard
Kadrey, author of the COVERT CULTURE SOURCEBOOK. Both Kadrey and
myself, however, recently came to a joint understanding that what we'd
really like to see at this cultural conjunction is an entirely new kind of
book on media. A media book of the dead.

Plenty of wild wired promises are already being made for all the
infant media. What we need is a somber, thoughtful, thorough, hype-free,
even lugubrious book that honors the dead and resuscitates the spiritual
ancestors of today's mediated frenzy. A book to give its readership a
deeper, paleontological perspective right in the dizzy midst of the digital
revolution. We need a book about the failures of media, the collapses of
media, the supercessions of media, the strangulations of media, a book
detailing all the freakish and hideous media mistakes that we should know
enough now not to repeat, a book about media that have died on the barbed
wire of technological advance, media that didn't make it, martyred media,
dead media. THE HANDBOOK OF DEAD MEDIA. A naturalist's field guide for
the communications paleontologist.

Neither Richard Kadrey nor myself are currently in any position to
write this proposed handbook. However, we both feel that our culture
truly requires this book: this rich, witty, insightful, profusely
illustrated, perfectbound, acid-free-paper coffee-table book, which is to
be brought out, theoretically, eventually, by some really with-it, cutting-
edge early-21st century publisher. The kind of book that will appear in
seventeen different sections of your local chainstore: Political Affairs,
Postmodern Theory, Computer Science, Popular Mechanics, Design Studies,
the coffeetable artbook section, the remainder table -- you know,

It's a rather rare phenomenon for an established medium to die. If
media make it past their Golden Vaporware stage, they usually expand
wildly in their early days and then shrink back to some protective niche as
they are challenged by later and more highly evolved competitors. Radio
didn't kill newspapers, TV didn't kill radio or movies, video and cable
didn't kill broadcast network TV; they just all jostled around seeking a
more perfect app.

But some media do, in fact, perish. Such as: the phenakistoscope.
The teleharmonium. The Edison wax cylinder. The stereopticon. The
Panorama. Early 20th century electric searchlight spectacles. Morton
Heilig's early virtual reality. Telefon Hirmondo. The various species of
magic lantern. The pneumatic transfer tubes that once riddled the
underground of Chicago. Was the Antikythera Device a medium? How
about the Big Character Poster Democracy Wall in Peking in the early 80s?

Never heard of any of these? Well, that's the problem. Both Kadrey
and I happen to be vague aficionados of this field of study, and yet we both
suspect that there must be hundreds of dead media, known to few if any.
It would take the combined and formidable scholarly talents of, say,
Carolyn "When Old Technologies Were New" Marvin and Ricky "Learned Pigs
and Fireproof Women" Jay to do this ambitious project genuine justice.
Though we haven't asked, we kinda suspect that these two distinguished
scholars are even busier than me and Kadrey, who, after all, are just
science fiction writers who spend most of our time watching Chinese
videos, reading fanzines and making up weird crap.

However. We do have one, possibly crucial, advantage. We have
Internet access. If we can somehow convince the current digital media
community-at-large that DEAD MEDIA is a worthwhile project, we believe
that we may be able to compile a useful public-access net archive on this
subject. We plan to begin with the DEAD MEDIA World Wide Web Page, on a
site to-be-announced. Move on, perhaps, to Compile the
Dead Media FAQ. We hope to exploit the considerable strengths of today's
cutting-edge media to create a general public-domain homage to the media
pioneers of the past.

Here's the deal. Kadrey and I are going to start pooling our notes.
We're gonna make those notes freely available to anybody on the Net. If
we can get enough net.parties to express interest and pitch in reports,
stories, and documentation about dead media, we're willing to take on the
hideous burdens of editing and system administration -- no small deal
when it comes to this supposedly "free" information.

We both know that authors are supposed to jealously guard really
swell ideas like this, but we strongly feel that that just ain't the way to
do a project of this sort. A project of this sort is a spiritual quest and
act in the general community interest. Our net heritage belongs to all
netkind. If you yourself want to exploit these notes to write the DEAD
MEDIA HANDBOOK -- sure, it's our "idea," our "intellectual property," but
hey, we're cyberpunks, we write for magazines like BOING BOING, we can't
be bothered with that crap in this situation. Write the book. Use our
notes and everybody's else's. We won't sue you, we promise. Do it. Knock
yourself out.

I'll go farther, ladies and gentlemen. To prove the profound
commercial potential of this tilt at the windmill, I'll personally offer a
CRISP FIFTY-DOLLAR BILL for the first guy, gal, or combination thereof to
write and publish THE DEAD MEDIA HANDBOOK. You can even have the title
if you want it. Just keep in mind that me and Kadrey (or any combination
thereof) reserve the right to do a book of our own on the same topic if you
fail to sufficiently scratch our itch. The prospect of "competition"
frightens us not at all. It never has, frankly. If there's room for 19,785
"Guide to the Internet" books, there has got to be room for a few useful
tomes on dead media.

Think of it this way. How long will it be before the much-touted
World Wide Web interface is itself a dead medium? And what will become
of all those billions of thoughts, words, images and expressions poured
onto the Internet? Won't they vanish just like the vile lacquered smoke
from a burning pile of junked Victrolas? As a net.person, doesn't this
stark realization fill you with a certain deep misgiving, a peculiarly
postmodern remorse, an almost Heian Japanese sense of the pathos of lost
things? If it doesn't, why doesn't it? It ought to.

Speaking of dead media and mono no aware -- what about those
little poems that Lady Murasaki used to write and stick inside cleft
sticks? To be carried by foot-messager to the bamboo-shrouded estate of
some lucky admirer after a night's erotic tryst? That was a medium. That
medium was very alive once, a mainstay of one of the most artistically
advanced cultures on earth. And isn't it dead? What are we doing today
that is the functional equivalent of the cleft sticks of Murasaki Shikibu,
the world's first novelist? If we ignore her historical experience, how
will we learn from our own?

Listen to the following, all you digital hipsters. This is Jaqueline
Goddard speaking in January 1995. Jacqueline was born in 1911, and she
was one of the 20th century's great icons of bohemian femininity. Man Ray
photographed her in Paris in 1930, and if we can manage it without being
sued by the Juliet Man Ray Trust, we're gonna put brother Man Ray's knock-
you-down-and-stomp-you-gorgeous image of Jacqueline up on our
vaporware Website someday. She may be the patron saint of this effort.

Jacqueline testifies: "After a day of work, the artists wanted to get
away from their studios, and get away from what they were creating.
They all met in the cafes to argue about this and that, to discuss their
work, politics and philosophy.... We went to the bar of La Coupole. Bob,
the barman, was a terrible nice chap... As there was no telephone in those
days everybody used him to leave messages. At the Dome we also had a
little place behind the door for messages. The telephone was the death of

"*The telephone was the death of Montparnasse.*" Mull that
Surrealist testimony over a little while, all you cafe-society modemites.
Jacqueline may not grok TCP/IP, but she has been there and done that. I
haven't stopped thinking about that remark since I first read it. For whom
does the telephone bell toll? It tolls for me and thee -- sooner or later.

Can you help us? We wish you would, and think you ought to.

Bruce Sterling --
Richard Kadrey --


Damien Broderick