Three Cheers for Physicality

May 11, 2011by hiebing2021

Three Cheers for Physicality

Recently, I took a tour of the media center at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, housed in the Pagoda at the finish line. The center was awe-inspiring. The main room is more than the length of a football field, divided neatly into cubicles to accommodate the world press.

As the tour snaked past a small glass enclosed room, I spied a—what!—is that a VHS machine? The tour guide stopped and informed us that this was the official race recording center. And yes, the official race video is recorded on VHS machines.

Why? Because you cannot tamper with a VHS tape without it being plainly obvious. With enough effort, digital HD images can be manipulated without detection; VHS images cannot.

I love a good irony, and the irony of a sport pushed to its limit by ever faster computing relying on “ancient” technology for its anti-tampering benefit was delicious.

After thinking a bit, though, I realized it’s not so uncommon. Consider:

Voting. While eVoting offers many advantages, including access for the handicapped or remotely-located citizens (e.g. members of the armed services) as well as speed, it carries the risk of voter fraud. While fraud is possible with paper ballots, too, there’s a sordid physicality to the act that eFraud lacks.

Government documents. Credentials such as passports, birth/death certificates, licenses and currency convey rights. While forgeries are possible, these documents are so crucial that governments invest significant resources to make it difficult to do so.

Music. Audiophiles swear that LP records sound better and richer than their digital counterparts. That may be true (I cannot tell the difference), but I don’t see a widespread resurgence of albums anytime soon.

Books. While eBooks are gaining favor rapidly, there is something extraordinary about the physicality of a book that rounds out the experience. A physical book lets you directly see and feel your progress (and, I suspect, for experienced readers, gauge the remaining effort needed to finish.) I’ve also heard people mention the physical nature of a book allows them to go back and hunt for a topic easier—they remember “roughly” where the content they are looking for lies. That’s harder to do with an eBook, though annotation software is improving. (Of course, annotating is only helpful if you know ahead of time that you want to remember something.)

Talking. We have a standing guideline at Hiebing to talk rather than type. While email, texting, tweeting and, yes, blogging have their place, personal conversations do wonders for building rapport, clarifying goals and working through problems and opportunities efficiently and effectively. In human relations, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to remove the human and expect relations to endure.

As the world moves ever more digital, the value of the authentic, the incorruptible, the physical and the human will always have its place. What that place is, though, is very much a work in progress.

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