Liquid modernity

Theories of a `liquid modernity’ (Bauman, 2000) usefully redirect research away from static structures of the modern world to see how social entities comprise people, machines, and information/images in systems of movement. There is a shift from modernity seen as heavy and solid to one that is light and liquid and in whichspeed of movement of people, money, images, and information is paramount (Bauman, 2000).

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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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what is digitising actually do???

Martin Hand argues that ‘digitization enables and intensifies processes of circulation, flattening, de -territorialization, and de-differentiation, and for new kinds of objects, subjects and practices to become emergent and convergent in a transition from analogue to digital cultures.’

Whilst I do agree with this statement, photography already supported this. Taking photos and getting these ‘developed’ in a lab and having to wait for the lab to return the prints would obviously not give that instantaneous feedback.

What makes digitisation attractive is the instant gratification, the immediacy both in time and space. Smartphones and other devices streamline our actions and our thoughts into cyberspace. We have a presence that extends beyond our physical boundary.

And Hand continues: ‘The question of speed is thought to be central in altering the objects and conditions of contemporary capitalism producing scenarios of immediacy,24/7 communications and the transformation of culture into indifferent information.’

I am not sure if information can be ‘indifferent’ though…

and further on in the chapter: (p 19) ‘any delay or distance between doing something and thinking about it is lost in the global information culture.’ …’ The end of culture as a representational, super-structural or epiphenonemon’.

not quite sure if I get this at the moment. Seems a contradiction when considering visual complexity modelling.


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