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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Analog Send-Off

By Gary Singh

JUST ABOUT everyone who watches television knows that Feb. 17 was supposed to be the historic day of the digital TV (DTV) transition—that is, the last day for full-power TV stations in the United States to broadcast in analog. After that date, they were to broadcast in digital only, meaning if you wanted to continue receiving over-the-air broadcasts on your analog TV, you needed to purchase a digital-to-analog converter box. Well, as of last week, the federal government put the final touches on delaying the date until June, because despite the transition being hyped for God knows how long, 6.5 million people apparently still weren't ready yet. As a result, pirate analog TV enthusiasts will now have an extra four months to plan their takeover of the old airwaves. I say go for it. "The analog wasteland awaits!"

In any case, a "Funeral for Analog TV" will take place as originally planned at 7pm next Tuesday at the Berkeley Art Museum. Somber attire is encouraged, and all are invited to bring their analog televisions to be recycled courtesy of the Alameda County Computer Resource Center. The first 40 TVs will be accepted and used as an integral part of the service. Several luminaries will take part in the ritual. Stanford professor and high-tech pundit-essayist extraordinaire Paul Saffo will give a lecture on the history and future of broadcast media. If you arrive late and/or the theater fills up, the overflow will be served by a TV broadcast to the lobby of the place. Legendary science fiction author Bruce Sterling will deliver the eulogy via exclusive live television telecast.

Now, it must be mentioned that Sterling was the character who originally founded the Dead Media Project back in the mid-1990s. At that time, "multimedia," "information superhighway" and "virtual reality" spewed out from behind every corner. All of a sudden, your whole life could fit into a "CD-ROM"—another newly hyped technology that flew off the shelves at Fry's before you could even drive over there.

The academics ratcheted up the discourse on "new media theory" and updated their course syllabuses accordingly. The wired world was again ready to embrace "new media," whatever that was, so Sterling, being a garage aficionado of forgotten technology, penned the Dead Media Manifesto and subsequently launched the Dead Media Project, a cantankerous taxonomy of long-gone media technologies, like, you know, C.X. Thomas de Colmar's Arithmometer or Eadweard Muybridge's Zoopraxiscope. You remember those, don't you? Of course.

In the manifesto, Sterling called for someone to write a book about it all. "What we need is a somber, thoughtful, thorough, hype-free, even lugubrious book that honors the dead and resuscitates the spiritual ancestors of today's mediated frenzy," he wrote, "a book to give its readership a deeper, paleontological perspective right in the dizzy midst of the digital revolution. We need a book about the failures of media, the collapses of media, the supercessions of media, the strangulations of media, a book detailing all the freakish and hideous media mistakes that we should know enough now not to repeat, a book about media that have died on the barbed wire of technological advance, media that didn't make it, martyred media, dead media."

People from all over the world contributed to the original project, the remains of which continue to rot away at: Analog TV will soon join that list, as one of the media that didn't make it. The program notes for the Berkeley wake include the following lugubrious comments: "Analog Television is survived by its wife, Digital Television , and its second cousin Internet Television. In a soap-operatic melodrama fit for TV itself, Congress has debated changing the official date for the switch to digital television; however this event will proceed on Feb. 17 because we prefer to bury a fresh corpse rather than wait for the walking dead to fall over."

To paraphrase Mark Twain, I will not attend the funeral, but consider this my letter of approval.

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