Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Like books of old, today's web is in its swaddling clothes

Excerpt from an essay I wrote in 1999 about — you guessed it — "the future of newspapers":

"While we know the impacts brought by new digital media will be profound, none among us is able to divine their precise shape. The pace of change in the networked era is such that we are denied the luxury of extended study and careful reflection. The product development strategy of the digital age, it is said, is: Ready, Fire, Aim.

"Our uncertainty should come as no surprise. We know from history that it took more than 50 years for Gutenberg's invention of moveable type to result in the creation of anything that would be recognized today as a book. After Gutenberg, somebody else had to discover the form that best took advantage of his technology -- things like legible typefaces, numbered pages arranged in chapters, hard covers to bind the work together coherently in a convenient, portable size. Indeed, books printed between the invention of Gutenberg's press in 1455 and about 1501 are known to collectors today as incunabula -- taken from the Latin for 'swaddling clothes, indicative of a technology in its infancy.

"Similarly, the invention of moving pictures  in the 1890s did not immediately result in what we know today as movies. Here, too, was a technology in search of a format. Motion pictures initially were simply films of stage plays. It took time to discover the elements of cinema we all take for granted at the movies today: close-ups, flashbacks, shifting focus and so forth.

"The parallel between incunabula  books and those early moving pictures and what is happening today on the World Wide Web is inescapable. The technology has been discovered; we are searching for the format."

Posted via email from edge & flow

1 comment:

  1. Andy Perdue1:08 PM

    Howard, I'm a third-generation newspaperman. My father's and grandfather's careers spanned from the '20s through the mid-'90s. Basically, I see more technological change in this industry every six months than they saw in their collective 70 years.