“Give me a copy of your phone number”

The following paragraphs from Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus jumped off the page as I read them again just now.  What would Benjamin make of them?

Or Gonzalez-Torres, for that matter?

The internet is the first public medium to have post-Gutenberg economics.  You don’t need to understand anything about its plumbing to appreciate how different it is from any form of media in the previous five hundred years.  Since all the data is digital (expressed as numbers), there is no such thing as a copy anymore.  Every piece of data, whether an e-mailed love letter or a boring corporate presentation, is identical to every other version of the same piece of data.

You can see this reflected in common parlance.  No one ever says, Give me a copy of your phone number.  Your phone number is the same number for everybody, and since data is made of numbers, the data is the same for everybody.  Because of this curious property of numbers, the old distinction between copying tools for professionals and those for amateurs – printing presses that make high-quality versions for the pros, copy machines for the rest of us – is over.  Everyone has access to a medium that makes versions so identical that the old distinction between originals and copies has given way to an unlimited number of equally perfect versions. [54-55]

To be continued, in one form or another.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Culture, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

One response to ““Give me a copy of your phone number”

  1. Here’s what I think (off the cuff, right off the bat, meaning, I’ll probably have to re-think it too): this is why Benjamin and Gonzalez-Torres (and I, and I believe, you, too, for example,) insist upon the importance of interpretive moves, framed within rather singular and aesthetic gestures…

    (That said, you can have a copy of my phone number any time.)

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