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A different kind of singularity

2011 June 1

On Sunday, I posted a link to a feature on some new software for converting low-res pixel art to smoothed vector shapes, and noted that “for fans of the pixellated style, this might seem a movie-colorization-type sacrilege.” Which started connecting together a number of stray thoughts I’ve been hosting lately, and produced an entirely separate post.

Whether it comes to video games or classic movies, the thing is that I have this loose sense that the future is not so much “either/or” as “all of the above,” at least culturally.

This link about “retro” packaging approaches the phenomenon from the perspective of nostalgia, and certainly that plays a role, but I feel like in a larger sense what we’re witnessing is the replacement of a linear a-b-c evolution of culture, especially style, art and design, with a kind of collapsed singularity wherein a and b exist alongside c, in perpetuity, as simply additional options. The past is no longer past, at least when it comes to old visuals, old music, old television or films; it’s just another option.

Look at YouTube, where it seems like every obscure bit of audio or video which has ever existed is now just a hyperlink away. And consider the fact that one can now speak of a “pixellated style” and fans thereof; fifteen years ago low-res graphics were actually about as high-res as technology allowed, but now they live on as a stylistic choice.

And yes, popular “revivals” of old styles are by no means something new, but in the past several years it seems to be everywhere, all the time, from the NFL to NBC to comics to cameras to cars; and increasingly it seems like, as noted, all of these manifestations exist alongside everything else such that the concept of “revival” no longer really seems to apply.

Consider musical styles. Through most of the 20th century, American popular music generally had a recognizable dominant style and sound for any given decade. Most people can probably associate some sort of style of music with the 40s, 70s, 80s e.g. without much difficulty. As I am far from the first to note, however, this seems to have broken down at some point in the 1990s, and identifying any sort of single predominant sound for the decade just-past seems effectively impossible.

This is one of the features of the networked world which I find both wondrous and, at the same time, a little disconcerting: the increasing obliteration of both space and time. More and more, at least in terms of in information and ideas, it’s all right there, wherever you are, at all times.

The full implications of which I probably can’t even properly begin to speculate, really. Still, I think it safe to say that as we fold up the third and fourth dimensions upon themselves, a culture increasingly full of “retro” designs, “throwback” uniforms and “period-styled” fiction should not come as a surprise.

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