Sacremonia vs. Fulp
This fall, CVS will begin selling cheap-ass generic ereaders in their stores.

This moves ereaders from the realm of "like magic" to the realm of "like a calculator." This happened in three years.

Soon there will be one of these devices in the kitchen drawer of every home in America, right beside a bunch of pencils, rubber bands, thumbtacks, unpaid bills, and old flash drives.

No big deal.


Alright, so there is information to which you want permanent, roving, stable access. When you fall asleep at night, you want to believe that this information is still there somewhere, the same way that you want to believe that somewhere in the world there is a library that has a copy of every book ever published, and this library is guarded by a sacred order of furious library monks who have read every book ever written about guarding, killing, and firefighting.

You want this information to be protected and inviolable, because it is AS IMPORTANT to understand the context of this information (how people in the past consumed and assimilated it) as it is to consume it in the present.

You want to see the same copy of Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" that Benjamin Franklin saw. You don't want this copy of "Common Sense" to suddenly contain postulates that would lead people to question the idea of a free press, allowing opportunistic tyrants to monkey with the chain of ideas in order to provide themselves with justification for further acts of malice. You want "Common Sense" to stay "Common Sense," and not suddenly lose whole paragraphs or gain new chapters with names like "However, In The Event of An Internet, Everything Changes, Obviously"

Information that falls into this category includes novels, histories, math treatises, political records, and everything that was written down, published, and saved from destruction before 1994, which was the year that the band "Nine Inch Nails" released the album "The Downward Spiral," and is as good of a year as any to date the beginning of the modern information age.

This sort of information isn't just babble and vomit. It has survived purges, boredom, and political squabble because it is timeless and wise, or is at least really, really fucking entertaining. This sort of information has a personality and has proved that it will fight its own battles. It has managed, time and again, to worm its way into people's hearts and win people over, convincing them to defend and propagate it.

Let's call this type of important, formal, self-defending information "sacremonia."

We all agree that "sacremonia" is sacred and must be protected from harm or corruption as we slowly move it from ink and paper into the electronic age.

Never mind whether or not you think massive multinational corporations like Google are the best possible shepherds of our priceless "sacremonia." We may disagree on who should be responsible for its upkeep, display, and protection, but we all agree that SOMEBODY should do this job.

Our relationship to "sacremonia" is nothing at all like our relationship to "fulp."

"Sacremonia" is to "fulp" as diamonds are to people talking about diamonds in an alley. Fulp is the messy agglomeration of constantly changing ideas and opinions that form around mental pushpins in the global bulletin board. Not even "fulp" producers care very much about the "fulp" they produce.

"Fulp" is not at all interesting as a permanent source of contextual data. "Fulp" is only interesting in the moment. "Fulp" was once known as private conversation and private correspondence, before we became able to make all of our private conversation and private correspondence public.

The internet was invented to produce and collate "fulp," which is why it seems strange when people try to publish "sacremonia" on the internet. It seems like somebody is simply being pompous and long-winded when they try and put "sacremonia" where "fulp" should be.

Before the internet, "fulp" was only saved if it was "fulp" produced by someone very skilled at also producing "sacremonia." However, now that we can collect both with equal ease, we are now confronted with a huge and annoying problem that we have not effectively solved yet.

Computers cannot tell the difference between "fulp" and "sacremonia." And by storing our "fulp" alongside our "sacremonia," we run the risk of our "sacremonia" being degraded, being altered, and disappearing due to lack of interest or upkeep. We WANT "fulp" to be malleable and plastic. That is the fun of "fulp." We can do things to "fulp" that we would never dream of doing to our precious "sacremonia." But we want there to be a gulf between these two types of information, otherwise there is no fun at all.

This is what people actually mean when they say that they don't like reading books on their computers. It doesn't hurt their eyes: it's just that the cognitive dissonance is too strong and they don't enjoy the effect. Reading "sacremonia" on a device meant for "fulp" is like watching porn in a public theater. Some people find this thrilling, but most people find this type of activity to be aesthetic trouble.

Don't get me wrong: I am a punk ass motherfucker and I believe that "fulp" and "sacremonia" have a lot to learn from each other. However, I also know for a fact that there is a lot more money in "fulp" than in "sacremonia" these days which makes it much more fragile and unstable, and I also know that without "sacremonia" we would have nothing to "fulp" about.


Ereaders are the first attempt to solve the problem of how to store and read "sacremonia" electronically. The solution is pretty bad: instead of taking all the "sacremonia" and creating a single, special database policed by academics and "sacremoniacs" that can be illustrated and perfected, we have allowed corporations to rip apart all of our "sacremonia" and sell it back to us in thirty different proprietary formats, all of which have different standards and price points, all of which are basically just text files.

This does something incredibly strange to our relationship with "sacremonia." It makes us have contempt for it. It makes us feel like "sacremonia" belongs to these corporations as just another asset, and makes us feel like "fulp" is truly the more free and open medium, merely because there are (seemingly) no gatekeepers to "fulp" and because the machines with which we produce "fulp" are the same machines with which we consume it. If we want to make and illustrate some "fulp," it is as simple as learning .html or purchasing a scanner.

This is not true, of course. Most of the "sacremonia" that we know and love was produced under duress by serious and angry people who would never in a million years consider producing "fulp." The freedom of "fulp" is an illusion. It is the freedom to say nothing of consequence. Real, earth-shattering "sacremonia" would never survive the cruelty, fire, and lawyers of the internet.

Here is the problem, stipulated in more clear terms: how do we maintain the necessary divide between "fulp" and "sacremonia," even though this divide is aesthetic and computers can't tell aesthetics from a big jar of rubber dicks in the ground?

I don't have any answers to this problem, beyond the possible solutions posed in these three articles: "Wunderkammer Seeds," "The Best Part About the Print-On-Demand Future Will Be the Arbitrary Book Covers," and "Sexy, Wired, Loud, International and Undefeated."

I do know, however, that in a street fight, "fulp" will always win unless those defenders of "sacremonia" who also have power and community respect (not us) start getting more creative and start wresting control of "sacremonia" away from the three computer companies who want to bury it behind a mountain of "fulp," and the six publishing houses who are more than willing to let this happen for a very small amount of money.

If the world is not an evil place that is mechanistically designed to be rotten, then the biggest consumers of "sacremonia" (and those with the most stake in protecting it) should also be the most fearless and creative among us. Understanding what is at stake and how QUICKLY things are changing ought to be enough to get these good people motivated to take action and defend perhaps the one thing in the world worth defending.

Posted by miracle on Wed, 25 Aug 2010 16:40:52 -0500 -- permanent link

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