We need a book about the failures of media, the collapses of media, the supercessions of media, the strangulations of media, a book detailing all the freakish and hideous media mistakes that we should know enough now not to repeat, a book about media that have died on the barbed wire of technological advance, media that didn't make it, martyred media, dead media. THE HANDBOOK OF DEAD MEDIA. A naturalist's field guide for the communications paleontologist.
-Bruce Sterling, Dead Media Manifesto
We are surrounded by media. Inundated by it. From the pale rectangle you're staring at right now, to the newspapers you kick out of the way as you walk, to the AOL CD-ROMs you started receiving monthly five years ago. All of these media are successful, having found their growing or shrinking niche in the communications ecosystem. They've become what seems an indispensable part of our reality, giving us what we need not just to survive, but to enjoy life with our music and stories and beautiful images.
Some media are not so lucky. These forms of communication, 78's, telegraph keys, mechanical typewriters, eight inch floppies, and so forth could be considered dead. Few remember them, fewer have used them, and virtually no one works with them today. If not cataloged in some way to they would disappear forever, forgotten, the ghosts and orphans of cutthroat technological advancement. This is what the Dead Media Project aims to prevent.
Created by Bruce Sterling in 1995, the members of this open mailing list and web site collect references to and descriptions of different kinds of communication that are no longer used. They keep their findings in a series of what they call "working notes," meticulously referenced consolidations of others' work, personal anecdotes, and bizarre discoveries. Each note is taken from the mailing list titled with the name of the medium discussed within it, and numbered in order of editorial review success. Then each is posted to the web site, which links to four or five hundred sets of notes. Seen as a whole, the collection has the sort of eclectic spectrum of topics that any everything2 user would love.
As stated in the quote above, the projects eventual goal is a book of dead media, probably to be coffee table sized but dense with text and pictures. Sterling claims that he is too busy to write it, so the notes are completely open for anybody else's reference and use. Whenever and by whomever it is published, the book is bound to be a good example of both interesting obscure reference and postmodern mono no aware.
The dead media web page can be found at http://www.deadmedia.org.