Thursday, May 05, 2005


One of the most obviously suspect claims made for new media technologies over the past decade has been the one that pretends our imminent consignment to isolated cultural niches.

Fragmentation: "The scattering of the fragments of an exploding bomb or other projectile." When your hard disk is fragmented it ceases to perform as it should.

This notion that the long technology tail is wagging the socio-cultural dog is essentially a Marxist one - though many of its proponents might be quite alarmed to know this! (They are more often than not the sort of people that understand technology a whole lot better than they do mass culture. )

Fragmentation is of course just a one-dimensional aspect of a three-dimensional process - increasing complexity. As well as increasing the number of nodes in the network, greater complexity also implies an increase in the number of connections between them.

The iPod and Playstation PSP are the sort of modern devices that best embody this potential for increased complexity. I can only recommend this article by Kelefa Sanneh, Embracing the Random, which traces a tendency towards eclecticism, the most probable cultural outcome from the increasingly complex web of interconnected tastes.

"A few years ago, some music festivals seemed to reflect a world that was increasingly organized around obsessive fan Web sites...But this year's Coachella festival suggested a different model: narrow obsession has come to seem less appealing than broad familiarity. Insular Web sites seem positively old-fashioned compared to the scrupulously eclectic world of MP3 bloggers and iPod Shuffle owners, all of them finding ways to make chaos part of their listening experience. "

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