Digital Obsolescence Is Such a Drag, and Other News


On the Shelf

Miltos Manetas, Jesus Swimming, 2001. Image via the New York Times.

  • As a fan of early web art, I browse the Internet exclusively on a 1996 Packard Bell PC running Windows 95 and Netscape Navigator 2.0, thus guaranteeing that I see these works as their artists intended them to be seen. But evolving software and infrastructure is making it harder and harder to preserve the web art of the nineties and aughts—so much so that an ambitious archival project is in order. Frank Rose writes, “In the early days of the web, art was frequently a cause and the internet was an alternate universe in which to pursue it. Two decades later, preserving this work has become a mission. As web browsers and computer operating systems stopped supporting the software tools they were built with, many works have fallen victim to digital obsolescence. Later ones have been victims of arbitrary decisions by proprietary internet platforms—as when YouTube deleted Petra Cortright’s video ‘VVEBCAM’ on the grounds that it violated the site’s community guidelines. Even the drip paintings Jackson Pollock made with house paint have fared better than art made by manipulating electrons.” 

  • Handwriting is probably more fetishized in 2016 than it’s ever been; we treasure the supposed intimacy of cursive so much that we forget the disdain that used to come with it. Mark Oppenheimer writes, “I can’t escape the conviction that cursive—writing it and knowing how to read it—represents some universal value … This is sheer nonsense, of course. My preference is just one bit of residual snobbery in a long tradition of residual snobbery. There have been cursive scripts, created for speedier writing, at least since the Egyptian hand that the Greeks called ‘demotic’ … From the beginning, people have attached judgments to different scripts, and people’s proficiency in them. Because handwriting was labor, the work of monks or hired scribes, it used to be something that the status-conscious made sure not to do too well.”
  • Good news for academics: your writing days are over. Why bother to generate page after page of abstruse theorizing for consumption by a dwindling group of your peers? Just get your phone to do it instead. A New Zealand professor had his paper accepted by the International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics; he’d written it entirely with iOS’s autocomplete function. And it goes like this: “The atoms of a better universe will have the right for the same as you are the way we shall have to be a great place for a great time to enjoy the day you are a wonderful person to your great time to take the fun and take a great time and enjoy the great day you will be a wonderful time for your parents and kids … Power is not a great place for a good time.”