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post-digital print

An inspiring book for those who like to do their reading on paper, Alessandro Ludovico's 'Post-Digital Print' (2012) offers much-needed nuance in the 'print is dead' debate by presenting 'The Mutation of Publishing since 1894'.

The hype surrounding electronic reading devices has been relentless over the past years, driven by the self-amplifying logic of hype about technology, where the technology itself facilitates its rapid spread through the network, which in turn is seen as proof of its own inevitability, to the point where printed magazines and newspapers feel obliged to report on their own obsolescence.

But despite all this, as Nicholas Carr has been documenting on his blog, the sales of ebooks show clear signs of stagnation. Apparently print is proving more tenacious than many techno-believers would have thought - and this tenacity, our centuries old and cherished habit of reading on paper, is exactly what Ludovico sets out to put into context.

After all, books still offer "the very best 'interface' ever designed".

Ludovico is founder and editor of Neural, which has long been an independent source for digital culture and media arts. Clearly no Luddite, Ludovico shows how the death of print has been announced many times before, in fact with the introduction of every new medium since the second half of the 19th century. Starting with the invention of the telegraph and then the telephone, Ludovico traces seven historical moments when print looked poised to disappear, supplanted by exciting new electric and electronic media.

In each case, however, print didn't disappear. Even today, what he calls "one of the most unfortunate and embarrassing prophecies of the information age" has simply not materialized (or rather, dematerialized). Instead, as in each previous instance and in the same way as has happened to other media (music, film, tv), print has evolved and been transformed by the new media, forced to rediscover its own unique qualities.

From this perspective, what is happening today can be seen as another crisis/opportunity for printed media to redefine their role in a post-digital landscape.

The traditional role of print is unmistakeably being threatened by the new digital world; but it is also, paradoxically, being revitalised. Both media share a certain number of characteristics, and yet they are fundamentally different - and they also fulfil different needs (for example, digital is built for speed, while print ensures stability).

These different characteristics are summarized in a fascinating appendix, which lists "100 differences and similarities between paper and pixel". By that point, the book has already given many examples of the continual revitalization of print through the years, first in a history of avant-garde publishing and then in a survey of contemporary projects and publications that explore the new post-digital role of print.

Looking to the future, Ludovico envisions hybrid publications that take advantage of the strengths of both paper and web - marrying paper's physicality, permanence and superior user experience with the digital realm's updateability, searchability and, most of all, its networked nature. Discussing such networked publications, which one day will likely be an uncategorizable hybrid of print and e-publication, Ludovico concludes that:

...as it currently stands, [post-digital print] still lacks one crucial aspect (besides production and sharing): it does not include mechanisms able to initiate social or media processes which could potentially bring the printed content to another level - what I would call the 'processual' level. In the past, print activism (using pamphlets, avant-garde magazines, Punk zines, etc) was deployed for spreading new ideas meant to induce new creative, technological and - by implication - social and political processes. The future of post-digital print may also involve new processes, such as remote printing, networked real-time distribution, and on-demand customisation of printed materials - all processes with (as of yet) unexplored social and political potential.

Naturally, 'Post-Digital Print' is available in print and in digital form (free pdf).

The book did leave me with one question: where is the companion website? Why does Ludovico not practice more of the networked publication he preaches? (Or would Neural be the answer?) The great wealth of publications, artworks and web projects he discusses in the book are linked (sort of) from the endnotes in the pdf version of the book, but surely this is not the ideal interface for further exploration.

So to make these somewhat more accessible, below the fold is an overview of web-based / web-present art projects discussed in the book...

art projects in post-digital print

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

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