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Monday, March 21, 2011

A Sticky Medium

The web is a sticky thing, which means you stick with it from hyperlink to hyperlink as you start out looking for a chicken recipe and end up looking at pictures of polar bears.  But webs after all are meant to keep you stuck in place. At least, that’s the spider’s plan. If anything, the web is a very sticky place that sends you careening to and fro in cyberspace like a hyper-kinetic pinball, while you all the while remain stuck in the medium. The web cries out for borders, constraints, or at the very least a five ball limit. Of course they don’t call hyper-links ‘hyper’ for nothing, and there is no software fix that can shut

Your brain on the internet

down your fix before you go off exploring for polar bears. There is of course a solution, just change your search medium to one that’s truly un-sticky, a simple medium that focuses on the subject mater of interest to you, and has a finite supply of ‘links’ to other similar  and dissimilar subject matter. It’s old fashioned stuff that is portable, insightful, keeps on message, and is sadly on the way to extinction.

It is the magazine, newspaper, and good old fashioned hardbound book. Unlike the web it doesn’t provide you variations on a theme, just the theme. So you have to make do with one article on a topic, not four hundred, one movie review, not fifty, and if you want to share your opinion, your spouse or co-worker would just have to do.

This is nothing more than the economic law of diminishing marginal returns in action, where the first choice is the best because it gives you most of what you need the first time. Thus, the first movie review is enlightening, but succeeding ones are progressively less so, until you read them merely for the odd turn of phrase.

The question is, do you want a redundant message or a succinct one, or do you care more about how a message is fashioned than what it says? The issue again is utility versus novelty. Media such as magazines and newspapers maximize utility and constrain novelty, and when they have their say, there is no space left for a variant on the theme which adds nothing but variations in grammar. Utility trumps novelty, and all because of the unintended consequences of the price of newsprint. And why should we value this when internet diversion awaits? Ultimately, it is because our time is valuable, and to use time well we must cordon off our pleasures as well as our pains. A measured life, a life of proportion and balance is mediated by the very boundaries inherent in the things we do from an afternoon football game to an eight hour day to even the simplest pleasures of reading a book or magazine. When it is done it is done, and we become unstuck until another day.

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