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I notice in myself a tendency to long for the old, divergent world of broadcast media, where distribution channels lay separately, clearly, guarded by gatekeepers. It manifests in my attitude to study, where I’m more comfortable considering the newspapers I’ve read since childhood than Twitter, which I started using consistently in February, or something like China’s Sina Weibo, which I’ve never used and am not really familiar with. I try to look on the shift in publishing with eyes that are open, and without the weight of dread that uncertainty brings in the pit of my stomach. I do wonder if this upheaval is anywhere as tumultuous as it’s painted, though.
At its core, publishing takes private information and makes it public. It takes meaning and encodes into a form designed so that intended recipients can easily decode and interpret that meaning. The story of publishing so far identifies the use of tools, through which to express meaning, and gradually destroying the limiting factors of our various technologies. In the early days of our ancestors, communication was inherently bodily. It relied on verbal and physical/non-verbal variance to convey meaning, with storytelling being the primary available method of publishing cultural, religious etc histories and stories.
Storytelling will always be at the core of communication - a well-drawn narrative commands attention - but physical transmission is inherently limited by human memory, its only form of recording. This first limit was dealt with as humanity swiftly moved to the use of tools to record publication by making art/images, early character-based scripts, and later phonetic alphabets. Tomes were printed by hand by scribes, meaning distribution then became the limiting factor (alongside a largely illiterate public). The pen is not so mighty. This is why the print press (in conjunction with the spread of formal education leading to improved literacy) was hailed as a revolution in the same way digital technologies are now.
Digital technologies are now breaking down temporal and spatial boundaries of traditional distribution, and simultaneously increasing and decreasing restrictions of access (computer and internet access cannot be assured, but if a computer and the internet can be accessed all the content of the internet can be accessed) but I don’t think this is a digital revolution, per se. It’s a digital wave in the same communication revolution that has been ongoing since sentience, alongside every other revolution human innovation and lack of desire to adapt oneself to one’s surroundings, preferring to adapt one’s surroundings to oneself, has set in motion. The first instance of tools as a communicative medium reduced the human element of encoding, and while it resolved other limits of human-as-publisher it created other limits to encoding. Every step since then has been aimed at removing the limits of the superseded technology, so that only their elements that enhance the human ability to communicate and publish information remain. We use phrases like ‘slick’, ‘intuitive’, or ‘user friendly’ to describe the usability of Apple’s iOS, particularly in comparison to Google’s clunkier but more customisable Android operating system, but what we’re trying to describe is the way Apple’s architects predict human function, the way the human mind prefers systems to work, and tailoring their designs to best suit it.
My creative side has never been my strongest, but it’s difficult to envision how much further publishing can be pushed until it’s as natural as speaking. My guess is, magic.