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Kicking Cans: Extending Material Through Time

Though inked over five-hundred years ago, the work of William Shakespeare continues to entertain audiences and draw income for those who perform the “ancient texts.” Shakespeare’s work is a masterful body of work but is this the only reason we continue to perform and observe performances of Shakespeare? Why do certain authors and works continue to hold cultural sway from generation to generation?

As all cultures do, our world is undergoing a major shift in human interaction. In our current evolution we are coming to terms with powerful tools that revolutionize the way we interact with each other. Part of this evolution is the transfer of our culture into these new forms. We find the printed work being replaced with digital formats and the complicated adjustments that come from this process. No longer will we utilize a large store to gain access to the written word; instead, great novels will come in the form of digital downloads.

In such states of transition the process of human recommendation takes on a greater power. Just as one human recommending a work to another extends the work from one to two, a culture recommends work that determines our culture’s canon of great work. Shakespeare gained access to the canon simply by the number of human beings who, after experiencing Shakespeare, sought to convince others of the work’s value. Gradually these recommendations expanded and Shakespeare’s power was born. A similar process occurs across all mediums.

How will the new medium of technology alter the way we develop our canon? The technological formats we now utilize are different from the printed form. Likewise, the readers who utilize these tools are different and can utilize the technological devices to advance their interaction with the text. A reader now is not limited to the printed copy of a form. In-device technologies can assist a reader’s understanding, provide access for social interaction with other readers and even create a situation where the reader can access updated or corrected form of a text.

I often wonder if certain forms of art will fail to transfer to the new formats. Is there a reason to worry that poetry will not have a dynamic existence in the digital revolution? Do weakened forms of art eventually die out to be replaced by new, stronger forms? Poetry is not dead of course, but the ancient form of art has a far weaker audience than in previous generations. There are multiple reasons for this and technology is only a minor part but as we move into a world where a new class of readers take control will we discard this ancient art? At what point does a form of art become too complicated or simply ill-suited to a new form.

All art depends on human recommendation to exist. From the single work to the entire form of art, it is the individual’s suggestion of a title that forms the life blood of an art. As technology continues to expand and alter the ways readers interact with text we may find that some forms of art are ill-suited for these new forms. These transitions may have profound effects on our culture but we have little control over what occurs. Fearing the disappearance of a certain work or even type of art is a frivolous activity. After all, all art is a reflection of the culture from which it stems and the death of an art form reveals that the culture does not need it and the art has in some way failed to establish itself as a tool for the generation.

All art must function as a tool for a generation. Tools vary just as generations and with each new dawning the process of tool acceptance or rejection creates a system where some tools remain and some disappear. We may find that just as our retail, social and political worlds are altered the world of art will be dramatically different as our culture evolves. Such is the nature of social evolution, though one must feel anxious that with such alterations come great loss.

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