Thursday, November 15, 2012

The politics of the database

The most unmistakable mixing of database construction and politics is without question the Gutenberg Bible. Or, rather, the flood of bibles that came after that first one. Suddenly, everyone could get their devout little hands on the Good Book, and see with their own eyes what had previously been a mystery guarded by both institutional intent and technological limitations.

What followed was one of the biggest religious divides this side of the Ural mountains. Kind of a big deal, all things considered.

The invention of databases that could store sound was also a big deal, back in the days. There was no lack of uproar among the musicians, who suddenly faced the fear that their services would no longer be required. All it would take was one band doing the Perfect Recording, and then any and all demand for live music would be wiped out forever. The right ambience for the occasion was already available in a prepackaged, ready to be used and reused until kingdom come.

Some decades later, the whole business of music was all about records, record labels and record deals. Record sales abounded.

Then, something happened. A new database arrived, and the need for physical distribution of sound became more a matter of choice than of necessity. Again, the combination of institutional intent and overcomance of technical limitations puts us at a crossroads. On the one hand, we have those who have gone on the record with having an interest in keeping these limitations firmly in place. On the other, we have all these ordinary people who finally are able to discover a world bigger than the musical preachers of the radio are willing to admit.

You may argue that this comparison between what became the Catholic Church and the music industry is somewhat unfair. From the point of view of the database, it isn't - it's the very same intersection between technology and politics at play once again. Only with different players, and with a slightly more available soundtrack.

Don't play it again, Sam. Remix it.

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