Today in the UK another company went into administration, Blockbusters, the video/game/film rental company. This follows HMV, Jessops and Comet, all within a few weeks. Journalists on the radio were explaining that all these companies were doomed since they did not embrace the online retail model.

It seems to me that commentators focus on the competitive downturn, changed habits of the consumer, new online behaviour that has proliferated in terms of viewing and retail experiences.

Whilst I agree with all these economic observations, one experience that lies at the heart of these companies is the manipulation of the digital image and the speed and ease by which imagery has become available, making their exclusive quality redundant.

To illustrate my point, there is the image above, taken from the BBC website. It took no more than around 3 minutes to caputure and upload. A few years ago, it could have taken a day or so to take photos (not mentioning to have them ‘developed’) or use an illustration, scan or do the repro for the artwork etc.

Generally speaking, we all accept that these images are part of our all day /every day online and offline experiences. We live, indeed are surrounded by these images, beamed across TV monitors, computer screens, digital pads, smartphones. Purchasing these images as part of a potential exclusive experience is no longer the case. Indeed, going by online behaviour our purchasing is linked to a relatively small digital representation (JEPG) of an actual object, and we rather manipulate the electronic image in favour of the  real physical object.

The trouble with HMV and Blockbuster is that they were still banking on an element of exclusivity available from the physicality of the object.  But today, downloading a movie from the internet is no longer associated with that unique setting and watching it on a dedicated home system, in a dedicated space. Indeed, families watch multiple movies, via multiple technologies at the same time, in different rooms.

Digital images are now experienced like a Maelstrom, a whirlpool of visuality, blended and mashed. Their uniqueness lies in there temporarily,  the fleetingness of the moment which can be re-experienced and re-located at any time. Where consumers before paid for that uniqueness of the image, the premium is now associated with the mobility of the online spaces.

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the vastness of Google

The material supporting the immaterial

a few weeks ago during a surf, I noticed one of these images of a google server. Astonishing…the Hypereal estate according to Luke, as mentioned in Bell’s article


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mapping the social networking world

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I decided to make a one-off payment on a store card I have but hardly use. The hassle of setting up direct debits or going in person to the bank or post office  has been taken out of the daily grind of dealing with this. However, it assumed I am digitally networked and have the competency to deal with this type of activity. It is a simple example of how socioeconomic conditions determine how we deal with these daily tasks. Whilst it saves me time and money (no car journeys, as late a payment as possible, no postage), one could say it is less democratic as not everyone can afford such networked facilities. Ironically it would be less straightforward now to make paper payments. So in that sense, technology cannot always be helpful unless you are equipped to deal with it. It may both enable and disable our outlook.

There were a few more implications: I can save my payment details as an image, not a text-based document. And in order to display it online in this blog, I thought it was best to take out my card details, to stop fraud.

Social inclusion, participation, empowerment, as has been argued, can be achieved through networked technology but without the necessary financial means and skills to use the technologies,one can be left digitally stranded.

But one could argue this is nothing new: when Ford introduced the first Model T motorcar, regarded as the first affordable car, produced on an assembly line, mobility became a force for social change. It comes perhaps as no surprise that language to describe these new development, i.e. the information superhighways, were inspired before by real tarmac, offering people opportunities to engage more quickly with other groups. Financial means to support such activity is crucial.


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