There was a big response to last week’s
item inviting readers to nominate examples of “dead media”. The context was another trotting out
of the complacent myth that old media is never killed by new (ie radio didn’t kill
newspapers, television didn’t kill radio, etc).

In no particular order, here are some
highlights of the dead media list. Kodak film and the box Brownie killed forms
of wet plate photography and democratised the snapshot. Talkies killed silent
movies. Radio killed the player piano as home entertainer. Television
slowly killed the illustrated newspaper, most of the general interest magazines
and most of the comic book industry. Radio and television slowly killed the afternoon
newspapers. Television killed old-style
radio programming, including almost all radio drama. The video camcorder killed
the home movie camera.

Then there are the entertainment venues
that have died – drive-in cinemas and music halls.

And finally the long list of dead communications
technologies – not necessarily “media” in the normal sense, but deserving a
place when we reflect on change. Semaphore was killed by the telegraph, which
in turn was killed by the telephone. Telex machines were killed by fax machines,
and fax machines are now on the way out thanks to e-mail. PABXs are dead. The 78 rpm disc record killed the Edison
phonograph cylinder, and was in turn killed by the microgroove vinyl record. The
VHS cassette took over the market for 16mm non-theatrical films. Super 8mm
killed standard 8mm, and standard 8mm killed 16mm. And remember roneo machines
and carbon paper? Even in the computer age there have been rapid lives and
deaths. The internet’s “gopher
protocol. And
how about “active
desktop channels”
and “push technology” and Pointcast?

For those who want more, there is an almost
too comprehensive list here.
Thanks to all readers who contributed.

Now here’s an invitation to reflection to open
the week. The significance is not that so many forms of communication have
died, but that with each death, the content and significance of communication
changes. And therefore society changes.

For example, the historian Mitchell Stephens
has pointed out that notions of objective reporting can only exist in a society
used to communicating news though the written word. When we hear news orally we
know we are getting an individual’s “take”. But writing means that words have a
life independent of the author. Language, and the thought that goes with it, are
objectified.

So what about the internet, and blogs? What
changes might these bring to the content and significance of what we
communicate? What might they do to notions of objectivity? Email thoughts to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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