Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Ephemerality

I'm away from home on a slow connection, so short entry tonight.

Ephemerality is undervalued. I heard a beautiful chamber music concert tonight, and I think we appreciate live music, and plays, at least in part because we know that a recording will never do it justice, that we've just seen something that will never be exactly repeated. Even with a play that might have eight performances a week, that particular performance is unique, and that uniqueness is something we treasure.

In software, we grasp tightly to the idea -- already a fiction -- that results are predictable. We think of our computers as deterministic machines, but that stopped being true years ago. If we were to turn away from that, and treat software more like chamber music: each performance slightly different, in ways that make us value it both as an aesthetic and as a functional object, we might live in better harmony with our technology.

In a funny way, digital media are very much swimming against this trend. The "perfect copies forever" quality of digital music that so scares the hell out of the content industry is actually something that cheapens the value of these things; not because they become common, but because they become banal.