From Pigeon Post to Magic Lanterns to the Talking View-Master, this book is a compendium of dead and forgotten media formats.
In 1995, Bruce Sterling issued a challenge; “I'll personally offer a CRISP FIFTY-DOLLAR BILL for the first guy, gal, or combination thereof to write and publish THE DEAD MEDIA HANDBOOK.”
The handbook would be “a book about media that have died on the barbed wire of technological advance, media that didn't make it, martyred media, dead media… a rich, witty, insightful, profusely illustrated, perfect bound, acid-free-paper coffee-table book... by some really with-it, cutting-edge early-21st century publisher. The kind of book that will appear in seventeen different sections of your local chain store: Political Affairs, Postmodern Theory, Computer Science, Popular Mechanics, Design Studies, the coffee table art book section, the remainder table.”
Bruce appealed for help collecting stories and notes about dead media, and over the next five years, notes and suggestions accumulated at deadmedia.org.
But the book never happened. The website has survived, gradually succumbing to link-rot as the Internet evolved and grew around it.
Twenty years later, Bruce’s idea is more relevant than ever. As Benedict Evans said “For the first time ever, the tech industry is selling not just to big corporations or middle-class families but to four fifths of all the adults on earth - it is selling to people who don’t have mains electricity or running water and substitute spending on cigarettes for mobile.”
The history of media is impossibly rich. For every cranky stillborn idea (“when the real hair wig on the crown of her hinged head was lifted up it contained a turntable for playing 3 1/2 inch records!”) there are successful lost media, around which industries were built, fortunes made and societies transformed.
This collection is not The Dead Media Handbook. It is a lightly edited collection of those nearly 500 notes and contributions. Inside, you’ll find lists of early mainframe computers, speculations about the multi-dimensional mental images created by Peruvian knotted-string books, details of Timothy Leary’s experiential typewriter and a lengthy analysis of the View-Master and it’s competitors.