Critical Approaches to Culture + Communications

A Weblog by Ron Burnett (Founded in 1994 and now celebrating 23 Years!!)

This site began as one of the first academic sites in Canada when the World Wide Web was in its early phase of development. I have maintained it through many iterations since 1994.

Shifting Sands (Analogue/Digital)

The concepts of paradigm and paradigm shift are overused and perhaps even abused. But, for me, they are one of the few ways in which I can come to grips with the powerful impact of digital technologies in today's society.

I use the word digital with great caution. There is a tendency to oppose digital to analogue and this becomes a convenient way of talking about change. My orientation is to see the analogue and the digital as parts of a continuum. Each plays a different role in the use of technology by human beings and each has elements of both embedded within the other.

The paradigm shift we are experiencing today, in the early 21st century, is the result of the combination of the analogue and the digital. Both enable and define the simulated worlds we are creating. It is simulation that interests me the most because the rules for simulated worlds reside in an odd convergence of chaos, linearity and non-linearity. Simulation is about image-worlds defined at this moment in history through traditional screen-based environments, even though our experiences of simulation are taking us far beyond the screens we view.

I am fond of thinking about all of these issues through metaphors of transportation. For the most part, the Internet is about the movement of images, sounds and texts from one location to another. In the nineteenth century, it was an extraordinary event to send and transmit words from city to city through the use of the telegraph. This was made possible by the discovery of electromagnetism and the recognition that sending electrical signals through wires could facilitate many different forms of communication. The arrival of the cinema, the discovery of electromagnetic waves and the simultaneous move to broadcast models enhanced the idea that distance was not an impediment to communications. All the additional elements of storage and reproduction that have been made possible through more and sophistication in the use of electrical signaling are part of this history of transportation. The computer is by no means the last phase in this developing process. The use of computers for the creation of virtual spaces is an indication that we have a long way to go if we are to understand the increasing importance of simulation in the modeling of new environments. We need to understand our role as creators and users of these technologies, beyond simply trying to navigate within them.