Cody Pallo

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Preserving Cultural Heritage: Embracing Physical Forms in a Digital World

August 28, 2021
By: Cody Pallo

If there is one pressing concern that we must address in the coming years, it is the increasing dependency on renting digital media. Our cultural identity and sense of ownership have been eroded as we relinquish control of images, music, videos, art, and interactive media in their physical forms. Companies have cleverly taken media out of our hands and imposed premium pay-per-view fees for accessing our own memories and creative works. It is time for us to reclaim our cultural heritage and secure it for future generations.

The precarious nature of our digital nostalgia is alarming. Much of what we hold dear today is stored in a transient, fragile format, susceptible to alterations without our consent or knowledge. Personal photos stored solely in digital galleries can disappear forever if not backed up or printed. The whims of computer companies and the availability of electricity dictate whether our precious memories will be preserved or lost, potentially erasing cherished moments from the annals of history. So, what is the solution?

Let us begin with images. We must revive the practice of printing photographs, ensuring they stand the test of time. Traditional inkjet printers that use dyes are not the answer, as they lead to rapid fading. Instead, we should opt for pigments that offer greater longevity. Additionally, we can create inexpensive photo books using services that offer single-run printing, securing our visual memories for years to come.

When it comes to music, the decline of physical formats like CDs and DVDs has left us vulnerable to data degradation over time. We need to consider the revival of vinyl records for music distribution. While vinyl is not without flaws, it remains a superior long-term storage medium. Innovators should ponder over ways to improve its size and eliminate the need to flip records, making it a more convenient and viable option for music enthusiasts.

Video, unfortunately, lacks a suitable physical equivalent to vinyl records. However, we should not ignore past technologies that offered video on vinyl records in the 1980s. Though the current iteration is monochrome and lo-fi, it presents a potential solution with the aid of modern innovation. With investment and effort, we might create a modern version that preserves video content in a tangible format.

The world of art has its unique challenges. Two-dimensional digital art can be printed on various materials like aluminum or paper. For more experimental approaches, creative individuals can try printing color separations on metal plates using 3D printers or laser cutters and then hand-press them for an artistic outcome. Furthermore, 3D files can be brought to life through 3D printing and cast in metal by skilled professionals.

Interactive media and games pose a distinct set of obstacles. We should look back to the IDSA student award-winning concept called SEED from the early 2000s. SEED advocated for standardized, interchangeable, and modular technology components. This approach would reduce waste while providing flexibility and longevity to interactive media devices. Imagine having physical cartridges for games or holographic art experiences that are not reliant on a constant internet connection, ensuring perpetual access to these creations.

As we ponder the future of physical breakthrough technologies, we must ask ourselves: which other mediums can benefit from a similar transformation? It is a question that requires collective contemplation and action. The path forward lies in redefining our relationship with digital media and embracing physical forms to safeguard our cultural heritage and creative expression for generations to come. Let us take steps today, not tomorrow, to break free from the confines of the digital rental culture and empower ourselves with tangible, lasting memories and creations.