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Status in the age of digital reproduction


 

My column for the mag this week is on status and art in the age of mass digitization — it riffs off a great piece that was in the wsj a while back about a neat thing a dude in Brooklyn is doing with a Sufjan Stevens tune he “won”. The broader context for this is what becomes of status signaling when so many signs of status rest on displaying “hard copies” of things that are easily digitizable. The solution, I argue, is a form of contrived scarce materiality or, alternatively,  ephemerality.

The question arose in a different context last week, when a handful of bloggers started wondering how they’d be able to show off what a cool/smart/profound intellect they are in the age of Kindle, when their literary tastes are no longer on display. Julian Sanchez has the answer:

Your Facebook profile will dog you like one of those floating Sims icons. You won’t just know what the girl sitting across the coffee shop is blasting on her iPod, you’ll be able to listen in. All the tech is actually here already, if not in quite the fancy form it’s implemented at the link above. All it would take is for someone to integrate the location-sensitive functions of an app like Loopt into the apps for Facebook or Last.fm, and you’ve got a point-and-profile system.

The main thing to keep in mind is that this is not a “problem” in any meaningful sense. As long as people are status conscious, they will always find ways of signallng it.


 
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Status in the age of digital reproduction

  1. the lightweight, environmentally friendlier concept of the kindle is appealing. The feel of a book and physically turning pages is nice. The status aspect is something I didn't think about but it definitely makes sense.

    • I don't understand — what's so environmentally friendly about the kindle?

      • Presumably books (which last almost forever and are biodegradable anyway) are "bad" because you have to kill trees (never mind that logging these days is pretty well-controlled, and is more harvesting than clear-cutting) to make them, while the kindle, which will probably break (or get replaced by the new model) every ten years, which is produced in a carbon-intensive process, and which will produce considerable amounts of (non-biodegradable) waste when disposed of is good for the environment.

        Confused? Just remember that if urbane and affluent people like something, then it is good for the environment.

        • besides, books are carbon sinks.

        • I always thought the rule was that if urbane and affluent people like something [i]expensive[/i], then it is good for the environment. It's the same reason that it's much better to buy a new Prius, with the massive environmental damage caused by just building the thing, than buying a 20-year-old diesel for a hundred bucks with not much worse mileage and a production cost of zero.

        • I always thought the rule was that if urbane and affluent people like something expensive, then it is good for the environment. It's the same reason that it's much better to buy a new Prius, with the massive environmental damage caused by just building the thing, than buying a 20-year-old diesel for a hundred bucks with not much worse mileage and a production cost of zero.

  2. thanks for sharing information bout Status in the age of digital reproduction..

  3. The possibilities are endless. Imagine going into a singles bar (assuming you are single) and being able to broadcast your profile as you move about. Imagine little bells going off when you were close to a possible match. A little electronic arrow from Cupid perhaps! Like digs sniffing each other electronically, it would allow us to silently but confidently assess a potential partner…

    Of course, it would also allow us to build an entirely bogus profile, a profile we would like to have rather than the boring one we really have. A whole new realm of posturing and deceit!

  4. The chief advantage of the Kindle is that it will allow people to claim they've read a particular book without actually even touching it.

    I am a complete Kindle sceptic (though I've only looked at one for a few hours). The purpose of books is not to convey information — we have Google for that — but to provide a reading experience. Really reading a paperback means destroying it; as a general rule, an unbroken spine on a paperback means it's unread. How many books can a Kindle reader read in sequence? I doubt they can manage as many as are required to be a literate person. Kindle has "ephemeral" written all over it in huge block letters.

    • People have always been able to claim to have read a book without ever touching it. Have you attended any undergraduate seminars or upscale cocktail parties?

      The advantage of the Kindle is that it will make books more portable and accessible – though books already do pretty well on both those counts.

      People who like books will continue to buy them and display them as a sign of status – regardless of what degree they have been read.

    • I would encourage you to look at these devices in a different way, since they have the potential to shorten the distance between a writer and reader to zero. They can remove all of the obstacles of publication, distribution and retailing a physical book. Can you not foresee a time when we can buy the next verse of your next poem for 99 cents directly from you?

      Books will always be around for obvious reasons, but end-to-end digital publishing is inevitable and will bring many benefits, mostly to writers.

      • But this is exactly the question of Potter's print edition article that he links to.

        If everyone everywhere can download a poem for $.99 and a novel of $1.99 (or whatever the prices end up being), when the monetary cost for a work of art approaches zero, where is the status in ownning art?

        • I am not as concerned with the status of owning art as I am with the implications on the recognition of quality. As the cost of production approaches zero, the effective evaluation of its worthiness also approaches zero. This results in the situation we have with the internet. There is flood of content and insufficient mechanisms to recognize quality. The hurdles to getting published have done a very good job of being the gatekeepers of quality, with obvious exceptions. In a deluge of content, how is quality going to be measured. I am not concerned that such mechanism will evolve, just concerned at the rate of their evolution.

    • Maybe I'm too gentle, or I buy the sturdiest paperbacks, but I just tried my hand at abusing a Kant book for the past four months and you'd swear it just came out of the packaging.

      After this, I gave up and switched to hardcovers.

  5. Digital Reproduction?
    I had a whole different idea what this article was going to be about…

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