The internet and technology are either extremely permanent or uniquely fleeting. Your Facebook post from that cute diner a week ago is still there, but the odds of anyone ever needing or wanting to find it again are practically zero. However, efforts like Project Gutenberg strive to preserve literature in a digital format so that generations will have access to it without having to worry about the physical decay of printed books.
Nonetheless, technologies are always fighting each other for dominance. If someone said the greatest movie in the entire world was only available on HD DVD, and I would probably never make any effort to see it. Blu-ray won the race and proved to be the dominant format. It would be inconvenient to find, buy, and set up an entire piece of technology just for the sake of one movie. Any HD DVD specific art films are lost to the annals of obsolescence and the impermanence of digital content. The world of digital publishing has been and certainly will be affected by the obsolescence of technology: for every preservation project, there’s an art form lost.
Adobe Flash Player has been a staple of internet playback since its release in 1996. It helped revolutionize the way we view content online. It opened up a whole world of games, animation, and multimedia content that has become a staple of the internet. In its early days, YouTube used Flash Player to display videos. As such, it was a safe bet to use Flash Player to create content. Things like “Faith” require Flash to display the E-Poetry, which is fine in a world where Flash player is everywhere. However, time marches on, and technology changes at a rapid pace. CNN Business states the following:
But the software has been plagued with bugs and security vulnerabilities in recent years. Modern browsers support open web standards like HTML5, allowing developers to embed content directly onto webpages. This has made add-on extensions like Flash mostly useless.
Flash player is being phased out. Its whole deal, as an add-on extension, is becoming obsolete. YouTube moved off of Flash in 2015. HTML5 is simply better than Flash for the purpose that it serves. However, things get lost in the transition. What happens to “Faith” when Flash disappears in 2020? Unless the author/artist or someone else takes the opportunity to recreate, port, or record it, it’s just gone. E-Poetry commonly uses Flash. Some interesting poems are going to simply disappear as a result. It’s not worth it to resurrect a buggy, and vulnerable software just to read/watch avant-garde poetry.
E-poetry like “Girl’s Day Out” and “Pentametron” bring other interesting questions into play. They are files that can be downloaded. However, they only have versions tailored to Mac or Windows operating systems. That’s completely fine, for the most part, but what about other operating systems? For example, 30 million students and educators use Chromebooks as of January 2019. These files will not run on Chrome OS.
Most e-poetry does not have the cultural impact of William Shakespeare or Shel Silverstein, but they will be lost to the annals of obsolescence if Mac and Windows go the way of the MS-DOS. Many books are available as PDFs, as well, but we are not guaranteed that PDF will be the primary file type forever. What happens if PDFs disappear? Digital publishing inevitably loses some interesting comics, articles, books, etc. when new technology takes over. Your favorite e-book may be unreadable on your computer ten years from now.
Planned obsolescence is another tactic that has companies like Apple dodging lawsuits: “Italy’s antitrust organisation is also investigating both Apple and Samsung for the same issue.” The biggest tech companies that make most of the market share’s worth of smartphones no doubt operate like businesses with a bottom line rather than preservation efforts. Tech marches on organically like in the case of the swap from Flash to HTML5, but it also happens when companies need to meet deadlines.
Entire marketplaces may become obsolete in the future. It has already happened as Rachel Ward points out:
Microsoft’s discontinuation of their e-bookstore means that consumers will no longer be able to access and view Microsoft’s e-books. Customers who purchased the right to view the e-books within the past two years from the company are now unable to read them.
Microsoft created the store and limited it to the Edge browser to try and boost its use in the market. It didn’t garner enough traction, and now the store disappeared. With no physical trace, the entire store simply disappears. If you don’t get to your library in time for whatever reason, those books are gone.
The only thing that Microsoft offered was a full refund and an extra $25 if you added annotations according to Brian Barrett. He goes on to point out the cold reality: “And because of digital rights management—the mechanism by which platforms retain control over the digital goods they sell—you have no recourse.” The books are gone.
While things like Project Gutenberg release books freely to download forever, the big companies like Amazon are tied to digital rights management. You simply license books from Amazon’s digital marketplace in the same way that you did from Microsoft. If those stores become obsolete, you’ll likely lose access to any purchases that you’ve made past a certain point.
Amazon has quietly removed books from libraries before. They were missing the proper rights to a version of George Orwell’s 1984, so therefore, readers were missing the proper rights, as well. It was removed from the store without fanfare. The interesting thing is that it wasn’t only removed from the store—it was deleted from readers’ devices.
Consumers are inextricable from the services they use. This connectedness is useful and handy so long as the services continue to operate. In the case of e-readers, we have instant access to thousands upon thousands of books. However, this necessitates that consumers are left crippled if the service is discontinued. We’ve seen it in the case of Microsoft discontinuing their store, and one day, Amazon’s library may be removed, as well. It will have been obsolete for a long time, by then, but many books are published only through Amazon—they will be gone.
Technology is a business, primarily. Consumers, readers in particular, depend on this technology to consume art old and new. Due to the evolution of technology, companies pushing new products, and the fact that digital rights do not physically exist, obsolescence has been and will be a permanent problem in the world of digital publishing.