J. Butler: Response to Introduction: The Idea of a Deep Time of the Media

Siegfried Zielinski is appropriating “Deep Time” from its original uses in geology – the act of literally going deeper into the Earth’s layers to date and learn more about the past, and present. In his appropriation of this terminology, Zielinski aims to do much of the same when he calls for a “different perspective from that which is only able to seek the old in the new” to instead “find something new in the old” (3). As such, he, too, wants to dig deeper into the technological graveyard and explore the media that was (the deeper layers of the crust, as it were) in order to learn something new. Zielinski’s desire to complicate the very concept of time in order to explore further the lessons that technologies of the past, now long forgotten, can teach about the present, and even the future, is something that is often resisted and yet so necessary to that deeper understanding of time, media, and I argue, society itself.

            Zielinski says that “Nothing endures in the culture of technology; however, we do have the ability to influence how long ideas and concepts retain their radiance and luminescence” (2). As technologies lose that “radiance and luminescence,” the common practice is to consider them dead and gone, and the only lesson being that they have failed and have nothing further to teach us about media. However, we, the users of technology, have the ability to influence the duration of success that these technologies reach. By exploring the deep time of the media, we can ask questions like: What about our society, economics, communities, and so forth indicates whether or not a technology will be long-lasting or fast-fading? How can we, as we develop newer forms of media today understand these influences best?  According to Zielinski, we do so by “encounter[ing] past situations where things and situations were still in a state of flux, where the options for development in various directions were still wide open, where the future was conceivable as holding multifarious possibilities of technical and cultural solutions” (10). We do so by going deeper into the time of past media and asking questions from a new perspective.

             This makes me think of Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Bable” in that the texts themselves store a portion of the history from the periods in which they were written, and yet as much as the history of the human race has informed present day social practices, those qualities that composed societies of old have faded from the collective human psyche much like old technologies fade. We have the ability to maintain social nuances, having the influence to extend and/or end practices, ideologies, and more all the time (very similar to what Zielinski says we can do with technology). In the “Library” that Borges discusses is the knowledge of all these human histories, all that has led to our present day. We seek the artifacts, the texts, from periods past to do as Zielinski calls for us to do with technology, which is to “seek a reversal with respect to time, which…has arguably become the most prized commodity of all” (11). We cannot recreate any period in time, not in regard to technology or human history. We can, however, mine deeper that which holds clues to those times so that we can not only understand better the past, but the present and the potential for the future. This allow us to maximize time itself, by learning from that which was and has so deeply influenced that which is today.  

            Siegfried Zielinski says that “Technology is not human; in a specific sense, it is deeply inhuman” (6), which by most reasonable accounts is absolutely true. And yet, the parallels between the history of the media and human history are what I find most fascinating and worth exploring via this deep time of the media practice that Zielinski suggests.  

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