Alessandro Ludovico (by way of Diana McCarty) on Tue, 6 Oct 1998 08:47:51 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> More on Dead Media - Interview with Bruce Sterling

More on Dead Media
Bruce Sterling Interviwed by Alessandro Ludovico

Tell me all the essentials about the current status of the project and how
to contribute.

So far we have established a ten-page Master List of Dead Media, a
compilation of 385 working notes, and we have 600 readers around the world.
People join by sending me email at  It is free.

Why is so important to take a census of the dead media? Is it related to
the necessity of understanding the new one's?

Absolutely.  You can never understand media evolution without studying the
fossil record.  It's especially important to study dead media because there
are no industries supporting them and no commercial reason to keep this
technical knowledge alive.

Do you think that any dead media could be useful for a revitalized use in,
for example, not so developed countries?

I wouldn't recommend this, except, perhaps, for some kinds of handicraft
media that might become museum  trinkets for the tourist trade.  Tribal
drums, wampum, and so on....   There are many backwaters of the world where
old media still barely hang on as "fossil media,"  such as the carrier
pigeon service in the Indian state of Orissa.  But most dead media are
created and die in the advanced states before they become widely spread.

Are you in contact with anybody who's able to start a little museum or
event committed to the project?

There are a great many museums around the world which have some particular
dead media aspect:  telephone museums, computer museums, old office
equipment collections, industrial history and so forth.  But there is no
institution existing which would take "all forms of media" as its purview --
that's just too wide a topic for a good museum collection.

Talking about living media, instead, do you think they are fighting each
other in a Darwinian (or evolutive) way? And who's going to win?

There is certainly some competition among media:  Sony Betamax versus VHS
and so forth.  But most media tend to evolve toward some special protected
niche within the greater media ecosystem.  Media have different design
qualities which suit them for certain uses:  mass media, personal media;
cheap, expensive; ephemeral, long-lasting; portable, site-specific, and so
on.  Expecting one medium to become the ultimate medium is like expecting a
jungle to have only one kind of tree.

What about the cemetery of data in forgotten diskettes, or piles of punch

I expect this issue of digital decay to become the next big scandal after
the Y2K affair.  People will be shocked when they realize how much is being
lost and how little has been done to guard against this.

 And if 'the medium is the message' what about the tons of e-mail
bounced back and never sent again?

Yes, that's a proble, but the idea of tons of your email being kept without
your knowledge is even more scary.

Do you think there's any media that could change and sustain the
verbal-based communication of the Greek agora' system, still in use in most
southern Italy small town?

Actually the ancient Greek Agora system had some  very remarkable media
technology associated with it, such as the kleroteria, allotment tokens,
bronze and  wooden juror tickets, tagging ropes, water clocks, ostraka,
steles, monumental bulletin  boards, and so on.  It took a lot of
information management to run ancient Athenian democracy.

I've lived in America most of my life and you don't see many people here who
would sit around and talk politics in a public square.  I do see large
numbers of people walking around and using portable telephones in public
these days.

The biggest drawback of the inter-European communication, as widely noted
in Holy Fire, is the large number of idioms, one too much different from
the other, and the lack of a uniquely adopted second language. In this
case, all the dozens of yearly lost languages and dialects (due to loss of
documentation and living speakers) seem to be the dead media of our ancient
roots. Travelling in Europe, which were your impressions of the
inter/national lack of understanding?

The loss of human languages is a very large and pressing issue, but it's one
that we don't study in Dead Media Project because we decided that languages
are not "media."  Language is innate to humanity, it does not involve a
device or a machine.

The world is well on its way to a uniquely adopted second language, English.
 But I don't know if that will be good for other languages or, for that
matter, good for English.  It may help us communicate more quickly but it
certainly means a huge impoverishment of mankind's intellectual heritage.
Every language is a fantastically complex and expressive intellectual
construction -- except for artificially invented languages like Esperanto
and Volapuk, there is no such thing as a simple and primitive language.

Taliking about the States, what's, in your opinion, the Internet
incarnation (web sites, e-mail, digest lists, chat rooms) that's
strategically used for the veicolation of the ideas?

They work, but they don't work well enough.  Chat rooms are a bad joke, they
are almost useless.  Digests are very worthwhile, but they make huge demands
on the digest editor.  Email lists are only as good as the contributors, and
they tend to attract fanatics, flamers, and  other time-wasters.  As a
social phenomenon I am surprised at how bad these things are.  It seems to
me that most computer-based forms of media are badly designed and getting
worse -- they may have more features and cost more, but in terms of creating
and sustaining a human community, they are surprisingly bad and may even be

 After twenty years, no one has invented a really good word processor.  It's
a scandal.

Make a census of dead media could relate with making a census of dead ideas
concerning communication. What about a census of failed communication

Are there any communication theories which *haven't* failed?

Is there any documentation about 'dead media' on the web?

We have a couple of websites run by Dead Media fans: (Canada)
(Australia) (USA) (USA)

Alessandro Ludovico
Neural Online -
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