We’re proud to have Toronto-based technology journalist and content strategist Ryan Bigge hosting the NXNEi panel “Let’s Get Physidigital: How To Convert Online Memories Into Offline Artifacts”.
In this article for the NXNE Magazine, he talks about the possibilities of combining analogue and digital culture into a hybridised whole, getting the best of both worlds..
The Digital Backlash: How analog suddenly became cutting edge
“Despite being a dozen or so years younger than I am my 25-year-old friend Adam shares a surprising number of technological touchstones with me. He’s a part-time DJ who only plays vinyl 45s and owns (and actually uses) a typewriter.
Adam’s predilection for analog media might sound anachronistic, or even sadly unhip, but instead his anti-digital tendencies now put him on the cutting edge of a contemporary subculture. Everyone is familiar with the snub that fans can give their favorite band when the music becomes too mainstream. In the same way, a small but growing number of artists and culture mavens have begun expressing their frustrations with the digitization of everything.
The limitations of a world where art and culture are no longer anchored to a physical object (the term for music, books and photographs being converted into 0s and 1s is ‘dematerialization’) are clear. Spotify, for example, might be a tremendous service for music fans but likely unimpressive to someone with record shelves of cloud storage; and hard drives’ worth of photos or mp3s can easily be lost or wiped.
To escape this binary trap, during my residency at the Canadian Film Centre Media Lab in December 2010 I began researching the emerging shift toward rematerialization. I discovered a company that prints posters of your Tumblr followers and another that can publish a book of your favorite Tweets . Even Lady Gaga, the high priestess of low culture, noted in a press release last year that her new Polaroid mobile printer would ensure that precious images “will no longer die a death on your cell phone or digital camera.”
Drawing inspiration from these and other examples, my team at the CFC decided to create a physical manifestation of a digital experience. What began as drinking straws in a cardboard box eventually turned into a prototype for txt2hold, a service that debuted in May 2011 at Maker Faire Toronto. Txt2hold takes any SMS forwarded to our system and, using a sentiment analyzer called Lymbix, returns you a net shape to print and build an origami pyramid that’s colour coded according to the emotional content of the message. The idea proved so popular that for Nuit Blanche 2011 our team was asked to create a modified version of the system that converted Twitter @replies into paper birds.
Since then I’ve seen numerous rematerialization projects, including BERG’s upcoming Little Printer and a hacked telegraph called Tworsekey that can send Tweets via Morse code. Even this piece in the print magazine you’re currently holding, which promotes a festival with a strong digital component, provides further proof that paper can still do things that a streaming viral HTML5 jQuery pinterest-cushion cannot.
This does not mean, however, that the 21st century will be predominantly Amish, even if a Portlandia sketch joked that the latest hipster crazes involves a return to the 1890s (“Remember when kids grew up to be artisan bakers and everyone had homemade haircuts and guys shaved with straight razors?”). Instead, the future will be neither purely digital nor analog, but a messy hybrid of the two. To acknowledge the awkwardness of this fusing of the past and the present I’ve created a gloriously clunky neologism: “physidigital.”
Novelist William Gibson famously observed that the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed. The past, meanwhile, remains everywhere, and we shouldn’t be afraid to get physidigital by jamming an old cassette tape into a USB drive.
Even Adam, alongside his typewriter, owns an Android phone that allows him to remotely download and launch a torrent file on his home computer. He might be technologically eccentric, but that doesn’t mean he’s crazy enough to abandon all modern conveniences.”
Ryan Bigge presents Let’s Get PhysiDigital: How to Convert Online Memories into Offline Artifacts on Wednesday June 13 (schedule).
For info on NXNEi passes visit our tickets page.