Archived entries for Media Archaeology

Dead Media: Dirty Media

For our third and final Dead Media Archive dossier, Jason Lariviere, Daniel Cohen, and I stepped back from specific media technologies to consider the material life cycle of the hardware that embody them. Our critical overview begins with the mineral extraction necessary to manufacture electronics components, continues with a sobering examination of the politics of e-waste, and concludes at the site of the dump while suggesting conditions for an alternate outcome.

“Precisely this maximal connectivity, on the other, physical side, defines nonprogrammable systems, be they waves or beings. That is why these systems show polynomial growth in complexity and, consequently, why only computations done on nonprogrammable machines could keep up with them.”
—Friedrich Kittler, Literature, Media, Information Systems

“Over the past two decades or more, rapid technological advances have doubled the computing capacity of semiconductor chips almost every eighteen months, bringing us faster computers, smaller cell phones, more efficient machinery and appliances, and an increasing demand for new products. Yet this rushing stream of amazing electronics leaves in its wake environmental degradation and a large volume of hazardous waste—waste created in the collection of the raw materials that go into these products, by the manufacturing process, and by the disposal of these products at the end of their remarkably short lives.”
—Elizabeth Grossman, High Tech Trash

“Very soon, the sheer volume of e-waste will compel America to adopt design strategies that include not just planned obsolescence but planned disassembly and reuse as part of the product life cycle.”
—Giles Slade, Made to Break

Continue reading . . .

Dead Media: Stained Glass Window

For my next contribution to the Dead Media Archive, I researched and wrote about medieval stained glass—a medium that modulates light and communicates theology in architectural space. The dossier’s first section is included below.

“Imagine a world in which everything was bright and shining and new, a world in which one thing reflected off another in such a way as to enhance the attractiveness and beauty of both—and further, that the visual quality of reflection and transparency was an indication of a higher, moral order, an order which was the beginning of the ultimate reality, which, in a word, reflected heaven. This is the concept of ‘claritas’ as it was understood in terms of scholastic philosophy of the thirteenth century and probably earlier. It was the most highly prized of medieval visual qualities.”
—Patrick Reyntiens, The Beauty of Stained Glass

The stained glass window of the Middle Ages represents a profound intersection of material reality and spiritual vernacular. Though by no means an invention of the time, the medium fully matured and was articulated as never before in the walls of twelfth and thirteenth century European cathedrals. Many of these networks of glass and lead no longer survive. Those that do still speak today of their attempt to instill a sense of divine presence, manifest in light and color. Glass painting never went away, as countless examples demonstrate, but its trajectory and purpose were fundamentally altered during the Renaissance. This text will focus on developments particular to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and draw primarily from French ecclesial architecture of the time.

Continue reading . . .

Dead Media: Optical Disc

For our first dossier in the dead media research studio, Media Archaeology, Jason Lariviere, Daniel Cohen, and I investigated first generation optical disc technology. Specifically looking at the LaserDisc, VCD, and MiniDisc, we sought to draw cultural and sociological insight from the emergence of these media artifacts. Our findings are published here on the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication’s Dead Media Archive. Following is the introduction of my section on the MiniDisc.

“The early history of sound recording makes visible the ways in which new media emerge as local anomalies that are also deeply embedded within the ongoing discursive formations of their day, within the what, who, how, and why of public memory, public knowledge, and public life.”
—Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New

In May of 1991, Sony Corporation announced the MiniDisc system, to be released the following year, as the company’s proposed successor to its Walkman personal cassette player. The format boasted many of the features of its older sibling, the compact disc—random access, high quality audio, and material durability—with a more portable form factor, significant shock resistance, and the ability to record sound. The MiniDisc, or MD, did all of this without compromising the amount of music that could fit on a single disc in a 68 × 72 × 5 mm cartridge.

Geographic uptake diverged greatly between Asia and the West. The MD market appears to have peaked around 2000 and then faded away as the MP3 player became ascendant.

Continue reading . . .



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