And the truth (or at least, an attempt at redressing the balance)

The medium is not the message

Note: this blog entry is taken from the third issue of my print zine, “I’m a Pretender”. If you’d like to see the original article in print, along with dozens of other pieces of my writing, you can order the zine for free online here, or download the PDF!

I used to be a pub bore. In fact, I probably still am. Ask any of my friends. But I certainly used to be the sort of person who’d ponce on about the ‘warmth’ of vinyl; the ‘purity’ of analogue photography; the ‘tangibility’ of print. All of this unasked-for nerdgasming was undoubtedly at the expense of such vagaries as, well, friends, fun, and having a life. There are plenty of arguments for using ‘old’ formats like vinyl, analogue and print. Some of them are even good. But this is besides the point, because the point is that the medium is not the message.

The medium: not the message
A medium, last century.

Take music. You’ve heard all the clichés about vinyl sounding ‘warmer’ and seen every music buff proudly show off their dog-eared line of sleeves. But why do they do this? Is it because they genuinely love music more than you, with your tinny-sounding iPod and laughably-lossy MP3s? Or is it because they’ve somehow fallen into a black hole where the packaging and plastic that contains your favourite album is somehow more significant than the songs and lyrics themselves?

It’s the same with film. Comment threads abound online with 35mm purists decrying the world of digital cinema, all the while ignoring the inconvenient facts that funding just doesn’t exist for indie filmmakers to pay for 35mm camera film anymore. Do people really want others to sacrifice their creativity just because the format isn’t ‘right’?

And print. Don’t get me started on print. Mainly because it raises uncomfortable questions about why this very zine is on paper and not online. [Editor’s note: okay, so this particular article is online…] But I digress. Newspaper readers and journalists online treat digital news with a suspicion bordering on outright fear. People cling to the image of their breakfast cornflakes bunched up alongside a folded morning newspaper, even if that scene doesn’t reflect anybody’s actual life any more. And even if it does, it continues to miss the point: nobody’s advocating change merely for the sake of change.

As with other industries, the cost of entry is so high for what I’m creatively terming “physical products” that independent and first-time creators are effectively priced out of the market. Even established newspapers and publishers are switching to digital production methods in order to keep their content being published. As a consumer of that content, why would you set so much store in one single form of its presentation? Why is it so hard to imagine reading the news in a different format? A broadsheet newspaper is one of the most unwieldy items to comfortably digest and yet there are people today who defend them to the hilt, steadfastly refusing to consider anything other than that which they’re used to.

It keeps me up at night (because I’m a mildly pathetic pseudointellectual) that there are people who would rather expend energy on debating the merits of decades-old formats than actually producing those things. While film nerds are arguing over whether 35mm produces better movies than digital “tape”, other people are busy actually making films.

The medium is not the message. Why are we so tied to one format of anything? This isn’t to say that we should immediately jump on every new piece of technology that appears, disregarding all our old tech in the process. It’s simply that socially, a certain subset of people seem keen on debating endless turf wars, as though we learned nothing from BetaMax vs VHS. People moan about backwards compatibility but they forget that there are nerds up and down the country whose sole passion in life is making Amiga games from 1983 run on their Macbook Pro. These people accuse others of cynicism, suggesting cinemas are moving to digital to skimp on costs, once again missing the point that a saving on camera film benefits its producers as well. They’re the same people who buy gold-plated hifi cables to improve their sound quality, then use it to listen to Dire Straits LPs. The medium is not the message. The content is.

Note: this blog entry is taken from the third issue of my print zine, “I’m a Pretender”. If you’d like to see the original article in print, along with dozens of other pieces of my writing, you can order the zine for free online here, or download the PDF!