As technology permeates every aspect of our life, it is to no surprise that it plays a large role in the way our industries function as well as they way we perceive them. Humans have a tendency to pursue new technological frontiers to make their lives easier, more effective and more impactful. Publishing and photography has both been deeply affected by the technological advances that have been made over the years. Though the traditional notions of books and photographs are still prevalent, new devices and digitization has led to a drastic reorientation of our understanding of what books and photographs are, the means of access and acquiring of their content as well as how we relate to the text and images that saturate our world today.
The publishing industry is no stranger to the effects of changing technologies. The book, the original cornerstone of the publishing industry, is no longer solely known as a bound paper publication, rather, it can also be associated with its digitized form (e-book), audio form (audio book) and even online posts (blogs, websites) that are published, shared and stored on the World Wide Web. Definitions are evolving, as new forms and technologies continue to challenge the notion of a traditional print book. In the same way, the photographic industry has also been greatly affected by changing technologies, as traditional film formats have been largely replaced with digital ones (Archambault, 2015). Photographs are no longer mainly associated with film and darkrooms, as many (or most) of them today are captured through digital sensors and are not physically produced as they are stored in hard drives (Cornwell, 2015) and viewed through a screen. As Michael Benedikt says, technology (or digitization) is undergoing a “process of moving information attached to things” (Nunberg, 1996), both the publishing and photographic industries are no longer putting emphasis on the container of content, but rather technology has enabled our focus to fall solely on the content itself. However, it would be worthwhile to point out that though there are new forms as a result of changing technologies, many of them still embody the functions of the old. We still call digitized content ‘e-books’ and store them in digitized ‘libraries’ and are purchased from online ’bookstores’. This definitely shows the influence of “printed books, brick-and-mortar libraries and bookstores” (Nunberg,1996) of the pre-digital age. In the same way, our photos taken from our smartphones are still stored in a ‘gallery’ that displays your photos in a neat aesthetic fashion.
There is a slight divergence between the publishing and photographic industry when it comes to abundance of form, the definition of a book seems to be more ambiguous as it crosses over the realm of the visual into audio (e.g. audiobooks). Photographs on the other hand seem to be restricted to a still image, though it can be duplicated in different forms, as anything beyond that may be entering the motion picture industry.
With the advent of the Internet, distributing content has never been easier. The World Wide Web has been effective in breaking down the limitations of time and space, allowing for information to flow freely from one end of the planet to the other. Within the publishing industry, online retailers like Amazon have transformed the playing field through digitizing the traditional retail bookstore. Through a click of the mouse, one can pay and receive a physically copy of a book at their front door without having to step inside a bookstore. They also helped “e-books [reach]…parity with print” (Abbruzzese & Nelson, 2014) with their investment and innovation with e-readers like the Kindle as well as their reading applications that made reading on tablets and smartphones possible. With new technologies like Whispernet, one can “browse the Amazon store, purchase and download books directly via 1-click, and access Web content” (Kazmeyer, n.d.) on their related devices within seconds.
In the photographic industry, portable or smartphone cameras that are connected to the Internet and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allow users to capture, edit and share images publicly all in a matter of minutes. This is a huge contrast from the past, as sharing photographs was only possible after being developed from film, physically printed in shops (or personal darkrooms) and shared or passed on either in person, through the mail, displayed at exhibitions etc. The audience of your photographs was most likely comprised and limited to family and close acquaintances, unless your photographs were sold for commercial use or traditionally published in a circulated publication. Technological advances have enabled a much larger reach and greatly decreased the time and processes of photographic production to publication today.
New technologies have also enabled authors and photographers to self publish their works. This removes the traditional middleman (like publishing houses) and allows content creators, whether they are photographers or authors to disseminate their content directly to an audience. Though self publishing is easier and less costly when done digitally, it is interesting to see self publishing photographers intentionally choose to publish their work in a traditional print form (Butet-Roch, 2014). This shows that though there has been a digital revolution, new technologies have not eliminated the prestige and social capital of print books and that the two forms are able to coexist to meet the different needs and wants of both producers and end consumers.
Technology has greatly impacted our relationship to both text and images. According to John Locke, “[print] books were containers of knowledge…[that] tends to reify the information inscribed in it” (Hesse, 1996). Following his observation, there is often a sense of authority and standardization bound within the covers of a printed text. This may or may not reflect the condition of the actual content, but it can be assumed that the time and effort that was required for a text to be published can vouch for or is reflective of the quality of the text. This of course, is not always true, which is why Locke saw this tendency as a danger and illusion (Hesse, 1996). However, through digitization, a new mode of temporality is introduced into the modern literary system (Hesse, 1996). The ease and quickness that the Internet has enabled for digitized publication has decreased the sense of timelessness that print had. Digitized texts are more fluid (Hesse, 1996) as “electronic texts…allow for communication in “real time”” (Hesse, 1996) and a plethora of other active content (e.g. hyperlinks) that can be updated and changed. Thus, digitized texts may have less recognized authority than their printed counterparts.
In the same way, new technologies may have brought more temporality to the photograph. Compared to digital photography, film photography took much more time and effort to develop (Archambault, 2015). As a result, many photos were carefully deliberated over, and the scene that was produced may have greater significance and timelessness. In modern day digital photography, producing photos and storing them are lower in cost and effort, which may translate in less deliberation and filtering of what is to be photographed, and this may result in photos of lesser quality and meaning. Also, as photographs can be edited and altered during post-production (this could also be done with film photography, but digital photography brought allows for a much greater level of editing), the viewer of a photograph may not give the modern day photo much credit as a truthful representation of reality.
In conclusion, both the publishing and photography have been greatly affected by the technological innovations that have permeated the industries over time. In terms of form, digitization has challenged both the traditional notion of the book and photograph, and the focus of these industries has shifted from its container to their content. With the aid of the Internet, the distribution process of books and photographs to a global audience has been made possible; by moving purchasing processes to an online platform and transitioning to online publications, books and photographs can now be accessed and possessed anytime and anywhere. And finally, the relationship that information consumers have with texts or images are greatly impacted as digitization has brought about a sense of temporality that contrasts with the timelessness of the printing age. The future of both the publishing and photographic industries will continue to be shaped as new forms and channels of distribution are innovated and as users learn to engage and adapt to the ever changing technological landscape.
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