East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Obsolete media


You can’t do a post saying the war is over, that another (local) war starts.

Italian economist and politician Carlo Calenda revealed in an interview that he is not allowing his kids to play videogames, “so they won’t grow up illiterate.”
This was expressed as a personal opinion, and followed by the admission that he is not an expert, and indeed is looking for books to get into the issue and learn more about it.
Which is a rather healthy attitude from a parent, all things considered – I’m not sure, I want to know more, I’m looking for resources on the issue, meanwhile I apply a moratorium.
But the reaction was a blast.
Poor Carlo Calenda would have had it easier had he announced he was favourable to slavery, or that he believes the earth is flat. Or had he simply said he is not allowing his kids to be vaccinated right now, because he’s no expert and he’s looking for books to learn more on the subject before he takes a definitive decision.

And I agree that a politician should be more careful when expressing personal opinions, but it’s not this I want to talk about. Let’s keep politics and economy out of this thing. What I want to talk about is the objection, that some nerdz presented, that of course a gamer would shy away from books – because games are fast and furious and fun, while books are a slow medium.
The implication being, the written word is surpassed and obsolete, its slowness of fruition being a negative factor.

But really, who says that fast is always better than slow?
I’m not so sure.

This of the slowness of reading compared to games is an issue I have met before.

Books are slow! They are obsolete for the new generations!

It’s a little like we have a one-speed brain.
Like old bicycles, we can’t accelerate or slow down but with great difficulty, and we want to go faster because… well, because.

I am certain a videogame can be a new form of narrative – indeed, I have followed courses about interactive and multimedia narratives, and I find the subject fascinating. There are videogames that are a solid alternative to a novel or a movie – but they are essentially something else.

It’s a bit like we were to say that the rise of theatre caused the death of literature.
Or silent movies.
Or the talkies.
Or radio.
Or TV.

And mind you, I love the Buggles, they are a fond memory of my youth, but really, today, with the popularity of podcasts and internet radio (have you checked out BBC Sounds?), only a cretin would say that video killed the radio star.

8tracksBooks are not obsolete, because they are something else.
The written word has a set of features that games cannot emulate (yet?).
People can be uninterested in these features – their loss.
Supports might change, but apparently the linear narrative composed of words aligned in some way seems healthy despite it all.

And I will not expand on the opinion, caught online ten minutes ago, that

Videogames have an easier, more intuitive interface than books


Or rather – the problem you see, is that to defend their positions, all parties are losing sight of reality.
It’s turning into a religious war.

I work – and play – in another field, that of tabletop roleplaying games, that was also supposed to die out with the coming of MMORPG and the like.
I am happy to point out that tabletop gaming is still going strong. A lot of players frequent both fields, playing with their friends at the table and with their friends (or alone) online in big colorful, noisy electronic games.
You are not asked to choose one over the other.
You can prefer one over the other, but that’s you, not the ecosystem changing.

I enjoy a good movie.
I like radio dramas, and listen to a lot of recorded music.
I also like live music.
I read books, and comics.
I play at the table and online.
I’m a little tired of being told that any item in this list (and many more I did not list) is obsolete, or that the younger generations have no time for it.
I appreciate the enthusiasm for the new, but why should it always imply contempt for the past? Isn’t such contempt the first step towards ignorance?

If that economist basically put his foot in his mouth with his words, the ranting nerdz that are announcing the welcome death of the written word and the coming of ultravivid, fast furious and fun gaming as the only truth seem to want to confirm his prejudice about videogames and illiteracy.

And when all is said and done, I think I’ll do a post on Bruce Sterling’s Dead Media Project, one of these nights, just because.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Obsolete media

  1. I’m more annoyed with the fact that, thanks to texting, it appears nobody knows how to spell anymore.
    Even more baffling to me is that in spite of most electronic devices having Spellcheck on them, nobody bothers to use it (but they have every Emoji ever invented committed to memory).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a conflicting relationship with spellcheckers: writing in two languages, I’ve always the wrong spellchecker loaded.
      And I make a lot of typing mistakes.
      And I mix English and American spelling, that ends up pissing off both sides of the Atlantic.
      So I understand and accept a modicum of weirdness in modern texts.
      Oh, and I write “nerdz” and not “nerds” to differentiate the new breed (post Big Bang Theory) from the old. I like playing with words and stuff.


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