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November 2005

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Tom Hume

Sure, but isn't that like saying the longboat is still a valid form of transport because archaeologists like to spend years delicately brushing them our of the ground?

Mark

OK - perhaps I didn't say it well enough. My point is that paper carries a lot of contextual information with it, that can enrich our understanding.

Generally I don't think digital communication does. You'll probably now say yes, but what about meta data - surely that gives context. Yes - but in a very limited way.

Tom Hume

I'm with you on the usefulness of metadata btw - the big problem seems to be getting it in there in as painless a manner as possible, rather than making use of it.

But can you think of any examples of more common-place contextual information which paper has and digital lacks?

I can think of a few that I'd associate with paper which all can be replicated digitally: fonts, provenance (the Guardian legend at the top of the page vs guardian.co.uk in your address bar), and layout (e.g. 3-column "newspaper" feel).

But the only one I can think of which seems unique to paper is stock. I guess my point is, yes, paper can perhaps have more context by virtue of being physical; but 99.99% of the time today this context isn't used to any degree.

James

Do you think the context-removing quality of digital media is responsible for the way

People are used to customising their mobile interface, inboxes, websites, blogs and so on.

There's also this parallel intertextualisation thing going on in other areas - the language might be a bit trite in places, but Trendwatching.com is stuffed with examples of how physical products and services increasingly allow the customer to play a part in producing or authoring them. If you look at fashion on the high street for example, the importance of accessorising or altering your clothes to make them unique is really prevalent. You get more Zaras, H&Ms and Topshops doing really time-limited lines (although the irony is that you get the same looks done in a million different ways). In publishing, Marmalade magazine and other style magazines are extensively art directed, but start from the concept of DIY cut-and-paste. Someone who uses a similar idea in intriguing ways is the children's book author Lauren Child.

Anyway, I digress. The question was, do you think there is a relationship between digital and the way the idea of context is changing in these other areas? If so, is it a corollary, or a causal relationship?

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