Where do media go to die?
The bodily metaphor of death cannot account for the curious trajectory of media decline. Most dossiers are premised on the belief that media don't necessarily die when they just happen to break, and, conversely, that most 'dead' media may still work perfectly fine. Are we to understand the persistent availability of dead media for purchase on eBay, or for rediscovery in our basements and attics, as an opportunity for grave-robbing? Or, to push the metaphor to its limit, are our closets full of fully functional, intact bodies? There is no clear boundary between the living and dead with media: the failure of component parts (the brain, heart, etc…) does not a media death make. Instead, media either slowly recede into disuse—rendered obsolete, inoperable, or outmoded by subsequent media or shifting social, political, or cultural imaginaries—or finally go extinct. Is the problem once again one of metaphor? Does archaeology, to adopt an alternative language, always entail a recovery of the dead, or might it be a return of the irrepressibly alive?
Media never say die. And yet history is littered with media that no longer figure in contemporary practice. Perhaps this is where we should look for a new definition: practice. Rather than a binary ontological distinction between the living and dead, based on a concept of bodily or systemic integrity (a pulse), might we instead develop a process-oriented definition? An archaeology of media is an account of slow decline, a history without a clear change-of-state. Obsolescence is our watchword.
Obsolescence can take many forms,
Go the way of the dodo Lapsed patent? Cease manufacturing? The last floppy disk
Not only must all such media no longer be in use, but there must be no remaining physical or working artifact
Can it be brought back to life? Are media technologies simply ideas or technical plans?