storage

All media is stored, but not in the same manner. The Oxford English Dictionary defines storage as the “capacity or space for storing,” “the condition or fact of being stored,” or in computers as “the placing or keeping of data and instruction in a device from which they can be retrieved as needed.” [1] Among its many other meanings and uses, this broad understanding of storage applies to physical places of storing media (such as an archive or a libraries), types of media that tangibly store information (audio recordings, newspapers, books, film, video, computer hard drives, the internet, etc.), and to our memory by retrieval of stored thoughts. The unifying action among these examples is their preservation of the content—in whatever form it may be—for future retrieval or use.

There are many easily identifiable types of storage, but a simple definition as a place or thing that hold content overlooks the particulars of how something is stored. The question of how media is stored affects how it is received, and therefore is very important. For instance, in a library a bookshelf that physically holds books is a means of storage in itself, but the books also store the written thoughts of their authors. In this case, the thoughts are stored in books that are on a storage device in an institution of storage. The thoughts are re-rendered in the refined medium of writing in order to preserve and distribute those ideas, and as a byproduct of this action create an entire library culture that could not have existed without the physical medium of storage.

Each remediation of content can be traced back through a series of other mediums to its root. As Marshall McLuhan put it, “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph. If it is asked, ‘What is the content of speech?’ it is necessary to say, ‘It is an actual process of thought, which is nonverbal.’” [2] McLuhan’s argument of “the medium is the message” [3] centers around the concept of the medium being an extension of the body. Each media has its own limits and the message it holds is the manner in which it changes human affairs.

Other perspectives disregard the importance of the medium and place greater importance on the act of reification. In describing “the medium” Raymond Williams briefly describes the progression of the word’s understanding. “The properties of ‘the medium’ were abstracted as if they defined the practice, rather than being its means. This interpretation then suppressed the full sense of practice, which has always to be defined as work on a material for specific purpose within necessary social conditions. Yet this real practice is easily displaced (often by only a small extension from the necessary emphasis on knowing how to handle the material) to an activity defined, not by the material, which would be altogether too crude, but by that particular projection and reification of work on the material which is called ‘the medium’.” [4]

While McLuhan claims no media can escape its own message, there is also the more intuitive argument that no media can escape its own materiality. W.J.T. Mitchell described images as being “matter, in the sense that they are always embodied in material objects, in things, whether stone, or metal, or canvas, or celluloid, or in he labyrinth of the lived body and its memories, fantasies, and experiences.” [5] By this understanding there can never be an image that is not stored. He continues, “It should be clear that if there are no images without objects (as material support or referential target), there are no objects without images.” [6] The objecthood of the image, recording, or other stored content defines and limits the way in which that thing is perceived. A photograph can be nothing more or less than a photograph, just as all other medias are defined by their physical manifestation.

The concept of storage is further complicated when the degradation of the means of storage affects the content. A film reel naturally deteriorates every time it is viewed—the celluloid gradually looses some of its color, becomes scratched, and accumulates dust. This means that each time a film is viewed it is slightly different, even though it is viewed from the same physical item.

Our memory has very strange storage properties. A person’s face is stored as a memory and indexed in the mind with a name and perhaps other associations, but the memory of that face may become distorted over time or misinterpreted for another person if it is not periodically remembered and thus rewritten. Short-term memories, which may only temporarily hold a few thoughts, will only progress to long-term memory after being recollected and reaffirmed. These short-term memories are periodically erased and rewritten as needed without affecting the long-term memories.

A very similar process is present in the personal computer. Files are kept on a hard drive for long-term access, the computer is connected to other computers through a network connection or the internet, and short-term actions and temporary files are held in a temporary folder, the computer’s RAM memory, CPU, or internet browser cache. Because of the flexibility of its applications, the personal computer can read and store nearly any type of media (if it has been created in binary code or remediated in a digital form).

The digital revolution opens a whole array of possibilities and problems when it comes to media. We have seen unprecedented advances in computer technology over the past few decades that have revolutionized human interaction and consciousness. In the past few years with the rise of broadband high speed internet it has also dramatically affected the way we view media and the role of mediums. As more and more content makes its way on to the internet as videos, photographs, texts, newspapers, mail, and music, the computer experience becomes more unified in its ability to create a single access point for all media.

The storage is hidden, so it is more portable, accessible, and inviting for the individual. In an essay on remedation written in 2000 (noticeably outdated after just seven years), Jay David Bolter describes how “digital technologies are proliferating faster than our cultural, legal, or educational institutions can keep up with them. In addressing our culture’s contradictory imperatives for immediacy and hypermediacy, this demonstrates what we call a double logic of remediation. Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them.” [7]

The very idea of cyberspace dramatically alters how we perceive storage. Much of the content is stored on servers that may be half way across the world. Our only physical interaction with the content is the computer screen, a morphing surface that can be stylized and modified. Because of its low cost and expediency the computer replaces the dictionary, and soon enough spell check has replaced spelling bees. Instead of getting a newspaper delivered to the door a reader can scan through multiple dailies or countless blogs from bed. Instead of going to the record store, teenagers (and now everyone) are downloading from iTunes. Personal computer users become so dependent on their computers that if they were without internet they might not be able to function through a business day.

The possibilities for further technological advancement that continues to incorporate more of our daily lives is steadily speeding up. Mitchell foresees the currently developing age of biocybernetic reproduction with reserved awe. “The digital age, in short, far from being technically determined in any straightforward way by computers and the internet, spawns new forms of fleshy, analogue, nondigital experience; and the age of cybernetics engenders new breeds of biomorphic entities, among which we must number intelligent machines such as “smart bombs” and those even more intelligent machines known as “suicide bombers.” The final result and whole tendency of the smart bomb and the suicide bomber are the same, namely, the creation of a biocybernetic life-form, the reduction of a living being to a tool or machine, and the elevation of a mere tool or machine to the level of an intelligent, adaptable creature.” [8]

The continued social evolution of man seems to be intimately linked to storage innovations. Each new medium is explored and embraced or skipped over for the next new thing. New media are in perpetual development and will likely become more integrated with our own sense perceptions as biocybernetics take life. However, it seems unlikely that the tried and true “old” methods of content storage with simply disappear. Each has its own personality, an aspect that cannot be overcome by convenience.

Jesse Falk-Finley
Winter 2007

NOTES

1. The Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “storage,”

2. McLuhan, Understanding Media, 24

3. ibid. 23

4. Williams, “From Medium to Social Practice” 3 (160)

5. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Images, 108

6. ibid.

7. Bolter, “The Double Logic of Remediation”

8. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Images, 313

WORKS CITED

Bolter, Jay David. “The Double Logic of Remediation.” In Remediation: Understanding New Media, ed. Jay David Bolter and Tichard Grusin, 13-17. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2000.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. New York: Signet Classic/Mentor Press, 1964.

Mitchell, W.T.J. What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.

The Oxford English Dictionary Online. s.v. “Storage.” Oxford. 2006.

Williams, Raymond. “From Medium to Social Practice.” In Raymond Williams Reader. 158-164. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1977.