Impermanence

It occurred to me the other day that a major flaw in the new technologies that we are enjoying so much today is that very few of the incredible works they are allowing us to produce will be around for very long. This makes me very sad.

For example, if a graphic designer sits down and produces an incredible web page and loves it like a piece of art, he may not be able to enjoy it again several years down the line because the programs that allowed the piece of art to took, behave, and feel so inspiring will not exist in the state that they do today. The font rendering may change, or the browsers will not support the programming language, or we simply won’t have web pages.

Sadly, the same goes for some forms of music.

In my last job I developed software-based musical instruments that relied on a custom engine to play the thousands and thousands of meticulously recorded audio samples used in to reproduce a single instrument. These instruments were beautifully crafted by sound designers and recording engineers through months and years of work. The engine runs as a plugin inside mixing applications that rely heavily on the bleeding-edge technologies of today. Thus, it is likely that all of our years of meticulous toil won’t even make it past the next operating system version because the plugin standard may change, the host software may not be supported, etc. A small piece of this work may live on in the musical recordings they were played in, but the instrument itself will DIE. And it will likely die very, very soon.
So I want to ask: Are we considering this extremely unfortunate loss as we cruise blindly into this high wave of technological expansion? How much art will we lose to this sad fact, and how much have we already lost? With the exception of old-style, static media like photos, videos, and audio, do we even consider the interactive and functional art that we are making today worthy of being saved?
If not, then that would make me saddest of all.
The Long Now Foundation is devoted to exactly this startling fact of modern impermanence. 
By | 2011-08-28T03:50:00+00:00 August 28th, 2011|Uncategorized|2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Lennart Regebro August 28, 2011 at 6:20 am - Reply

    If you make the sampler plugin open source, people can keep it updated. It helps a bit. 🙂

  2. Patrick Stinson August 28, 2011 at 6:55 am - Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    In fact, our original intent as developers was to keep the engine open source and also to support Linux, which has vastly superior audio performance than Mac or Windows. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the owner of the studio to understand the concept of open source and he wouldn’t allow us to publish the code. I truly believe that a product of that level would have brought in a more vibrant community of users, and lead to a more stable and sellable product since QA was one of our weakest areas. I also believe that the product of our labors would have lasted longer, as lamented in this blog post.

    It’s such a shame.

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