Thursday, January 10, 2013

What is real?

I hate predictions about the future.  But one thing is clear:  real things are slowly being replaced by facsimiles.  And we are told there will be little difference.  Don't fall for it.  Digital is not film.  Supplements are not real food.  And online education cannot substitute for a real university experience.  Working from home is not the same as going to an office.  These are just some examples, but the trend is obvious. 

It's about cost cutting, sure.  The result of which will be that the "real" things will be less accessible to the average person though the average person will have more access to ideas and horizons never before imagined, albeit at a lesser quality.  Classic, foreign cinema is just one thing that comes to mind.  Never before could someone from a small town in Kansas be able to see Fellini, Bergman, without going to a major city and making a Herculean effort.  Now, instantaneously, with streaming, a person has access to the Greats on their computer.  Sure, it is not on 35 mm, but the wonder of the original, the aesthetic and ideas, still come through to move and touch a nubile.  Yes, it is a shame they will probably never see it in all its analog delight, but the access and exposure, it has to be celebrated as nothing short of revolutionary.      

And print won't disappear either; it will just have to get really good to justify its expense, as will everything.  The real things will be expensive, but will be ever more worth it, or will have to be so excellent as to justify your (limited) attention and money. 

I have already seen this.  Books stores are closing, but the ones that survive and thrive have re-invented themselves as community hubs and curators of culture.  They have upped their game in a way that makes the experience of going to a bookstore like going to a museum. 

I am thinking about McNally Jackson, of course, in Nolita, as an example par excellence.  I find myself wanting to attend a talk there, to peruse through their recommended readings, to be seen, and take in the beauty of the displays. 

Print journals too, are now ever more so works of art.  N +1, the Paris Review.  I feel as if I am buying an object and experience, not just a literary magazine. 

I can give more examples.  The stakes will be higher and the quality better as a result.

The worry, I imagine, is the unease of making real things ever more elite, exclusive and expensive.  But weren't they always?  Did polyester suits make real english wool suits disappear?  Mass consumption will be more synthetic, and ephemeral.  Real things will be of greater quality and thus more expensive - but they will still be available for those who make an effort or who care enough to want them. 

The hope is that giving more people access - even through facsimiles - will spur within them a desire to touch and feel the real thing.  The doomsday worry is that facsimiles will be enough and people will revel in the shadows, never stepping outside of the cave and ever looking directly at the sun

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