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In “Imagining the New Media Encounter,” Alan Liu suggests that “The déjá vu haunting of new by old media is clear enough.” New technologies and new modes of communication draw, both technically and metaphorically, from older modes—including “dead media” that have, to all surface appearances, entirely disappeared.

To better understand this haunting, you will work in pairs to research a historical new medium and/or technology that flourished and then faded from popular view: some might call this “media archaeology”. These new media might be very old or relatively new: new textual technologies have emerged since the invention of writing, while some popular technologies introduced as recently as a decade ago are already obsolete.

How ‘Dead’ is Dead?

I would ask that you employ a relatively strict, but not pedantic, definition of “dead media”: it should mean less than “completely and totally banished from human culture” and more than “no longer hip.” To put this idea another way: a small community of dedicated enthusiasts should not rescue a technology from being called “dead media,” but neither should we prematurely kill off a medium that is still in wide use, even if cutting edge users have moved on (think CDs, perhaps).

Resources for Finding a Medium

You might consider this list from the original Dead Media Project or from the Dead Media Archive as you plan your topic. When choosing your medium, opt for the unfamiliar and the strange if at all possible—try to find a medium you suspect your colleagues have never heard of, or perhaps one they will think they know until its reality surprises them.

The Poster

You will prepare a conference-style poster to present your “dead medium” to your classmates and instructor. If you’ve never created a research poster, consult the references on the “poster session” Wikipedia page for writing and design tips. Your poster should address on the following questions:

  1. How did this medium innovate, diverge, or respond to even earlier media? What precisely was new about it when it was the “new media?” Remember that for contemporanous people, these media were every bit as strange, exciting, or terrifying as the most cutting edge advances are to us today.
  2. What were the cultural effects of this medium during its heyday? Did it produce substantive changes in domestic life, politics, art, or other spheres? Were there cultural changes its creators sought, either successfully or unsuccessfully, to institute through the medium?
  3. Were there competing media that attempted to meet the same needs or fill the same niche as your chosen medium? How did this competition play out?
  4. How and why did your medium decline in importance?
  5. What were the lasting effects or products of your medium? Was it a media “dead end” or did new media evolve from it? How does your medium linger in descendants, images, memory, or language?

You should not attempt on your poster to tell us everything that you might say about your chosen medium in a written paper nor explain its every nuance. When designing think CONCISE, INFORMATIVE, and CREATIVE. Students often choose to create a model or interactive aspect to their poster to help their colleagues understand their medium. The idea here is that the form’s restriction (paradoxically) promotes your creativity, as some might argue the formal restrictions of certain poetic forms force the poet toward ever-more-deft feats of language. You will have ample opportunity during the poster session to share more details and anecdotes from your research than you can fit onto your poster itself.

We will hold our “dead media” poster session in the lab section of class on October 30.