January 16th, 2010 | knock john
A friend of mine who works in the post-industrial design space told me once of a meeting he was called to with a terrestrial network television broadcaster. He does lots of interesting work with lots of interesting people, in a range of digital and postdigital fields. But he was really kind of antsy about this meeting. He said to me: "Television? Broadcasting? That’s, like aerials and shit. Pylons and towers. Huge fucking chunks of rusting metal." The strong implication was that he felt he was being drafted into a meeting about manual farming machinery. Having an iPhone meant that he really shouldn’t have to know about things like oxen and ploughshares.
All this was in pursuit of a conversation about television, specifically British terrestrial tv and "common culture" (which is ten million people watching DOCTOR WHO and talking about it the next day, put reductively), and why I want to write some. Why, in essence, I want to traffic with the likes of great rusting broadcast towers.
And I said to him, "I want to do some television before it, as we know it now, goes away. If only just to try it and feel what it’s like."
(Which is, I’ll allow, like taking a writing holiday in Portmeiron because Noel Coward wrote there, or working on a Smith-Corona because it has mythic resonance. But, you know, it might be instructive to sit in Dennis Potter’s chair for a while. Just as I once sat at a desk Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote at.)
But here’s a thing about the rust of broadcasting. Something Russell Davies, who works in what he calls the post-digital space, said a while back:
What Russell and his crew at Really Interesting Group have done is wrangle deals with newspaper printers. Whose business, in an emergent post-industrial age, is certainly a bit broken. Huge fucking machines designed only to print newspapers, in a time when newspaper publishers are printing fewer newspapers. RIG set up Newspaper Club, that allows people to print their own short-run newspapers using these big lonely machines that are not running the volume they used to but still need to pay for themselves.
Sometimes, I look up at these rusting aerials and towers, in a time when TV comes to an increasing number of people through a ground cable or a phone line, and wonder how long it’ll be until that business breaks completely — and, more importantly, how long until someone comes for the machines and makes them a deal.