Publication Details

Wilson, J. Anthony. & Jacobs, J. (2009). Obsolete. M/C Journal, 12 (3), 1-4.


Obsolescence is most frequently talked about in relation to the history of technology. A still-common way of understanding modernity is as a linear succession of emerging technologies which supersede existing ones, and which are themselves, in time, made redundant. The cycle of novelty and obsolescence underpins a narrative including episodes of human invention, mastery and eventual technological failure. Nevertheless, it makes technologies themselves the subjects of history, rather than the human beings whose choices frame their contingent births, shapings, adoptions and uses. Many have pointed out the extent to which this simplifies history, but this has made precious little impact, if the way in which many writers treat digital communications technologies is any guide. Professional new media evangelists, including media and cultural theorists who subscribe to what Turner describes as an entrenched "digital orthodoxy", are nowadays wont to describing mass media - including all broadcast and print media - as "heritage" media. This neat rhetorical trick confirms all remaining manifestations and uses of such media as remnants of the past in the present, as curiosities, even perhaps as impediments to the "imaginary futures" (Barbrook) regularly projected onto new technologies. On the other hand, similar assumptions underlie narratives of decline and decay which attach themselves to new media technologies. Thus we can understand laments for the lost qualities (and quality) of old media from writers such as Andrew Keen, which themselves shape self-interested pronouncements about the decadence of the new communications environment from the highest echelons of established media (Hartigan).