Starting to read (again) Gramophone, Film, Typewriter

Of all the books I’ve read in the last few years Gramophone, Film, Typewriter has stayed in my mind the most. In my notes I find the date 4-12-11 as my first reading. The book’s author Friedrich Kittler was still living then. I was living on the coast of Argentina, which seemed much longer than two years ago. But my daughter was a mere baby then and I stayed up late many nights, unable to sleep, knowning she would soon wake and cry to be picked up. I stayed awake so that my wife could sleep as much possible. (Anyone who has had a baby knows the preciousness of sleep at that stage.) In those periods while my family slept at night I read Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. During the day I worked on developing an iPhone app that told the story (in the form of a walking tour) of Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. I took up Kittler’s book as part of my ongoing interest in narrative through digital media.

The book opens with carefully constructed, brief sentence: “Media determine our situation.” Seems so obvious that one wonders why that is a controversial statement to many unless they’re living in denial of contemporary life.

I’m reminded of a phrase from Roland Barthes that appears in The Preparation of the Novel: “typography determines reading.”

Our ideas and thoughts are shaped and influenced. Even with words the way we absorb and understand the text may be influenced by the layout of the writing on the page (or screen). The same with websites and e-books. With apps like Flipboard we’re influenced by the algorithms. Our patterns of behavior (what we buy, how we amuse ourselves) are determined by apps. The app determines.

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