As a child, my weekends consisted of sitting pretzel-style below the invasive presence of the wall sized-television set. Below our CRT television were rows of VHS tapes ranging from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Wizard of Oz to A Bug’s Life and Home Alone. As the years went by, those clunky boxes of nostalgia began to fade, along with the VCR player that enabled the tapes’ animation. We witnessed the arrival of a new neighbor on the shelf: the sleek and compact DVD. These optical storage discs, with their ability to refract color when spun in the light, held an aura of opulence in the eyes of a child who was entranced by technology, and with their new technological facades and abilities came new intellectual furnishings and systems that stored and activated their memory.
As Mattern states in her piece “Before BILLY: A Brief History of the Bookcase” “I grew up in a domestic world that seemed to hospitably reconfigure itself around our family’s evolving interests and enterprises.” (2) In the case of my childhood, I relate. I think this is a symptom of the modern world in which we all relate, where our past is caught in an ephemeral sandstorm where memory and time are buried with change and technology.
Our world’s yearning desire to replace the old with the new, the slow with the fast, impacts more than just our storage furnishings and discs, but manipulates the very natural core of our universe, where we have ejected for increased speed and capability. In the case of light, its radiation has been harnessed through the electromagnetic spectrum’s encompassing presence, from the atomical to the astronomical, as a catalyst to the ever-increasing speed in which information is being stored and disseminated. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, in “The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory,” examines this increase of speed as being a double-edged sword, one that allows for increased information to be disseminated but with decreased assimilation. (1) It is like the inverse relationship of the wavelength and frequency of light, as the frequency increases, wavelength decreases, with the wavelength representing the assimilated material.
The laws of light don’t just metaphorically relate to the speed of information, but its very properties have been harnessed to disseminate information. Going back to my discussion of the rapid change of media storage formats at the new millennium, the introduction of the optical storage disc, Blu Ray, used a precise beam of light in order to harness and capture the information engrained in its surface, ultimately increasing information storage capability.
Following the creation of the DVD in 1995 by Phillips and Sony, Blu Ray was officially released in 2006. While both DVD and Blu Ray used optic lasers to read and write digitally encoded information onto the disc, the Blu Ray advanced information storage capabilities through dual-layer precision. Blu Ray’s ability to store an increased amount of data stems from the short wavelength of the blue laser that is used to read and write the disc. The wavelength of 405 nm gives the laser more precision compared to a DVD, which uses a red laser with a wavelength of 650 nm. In the early days of Blu Ray technology, each disc layer could only hold about 25 GB of information; the technology has since advanced to 100 GB per layer and can transfer data at a rate of 48 Mbps, as compared to the DVD’s 10 Mbps capability. (3)
According to Kintronics, Blu Ray is designed with the capabilities for (BD-ROM) pre-recorded content, (BD-R) recordable PC data storage, (BD-RW) rewritable PC data storage, and (BD-RW) rewritable HDTV recording. (3) Not only does Blu Ray allow for more storage capacity, but it allows for an increase in user interactivity, including internet accessibility, instant skipping and playlist creation. These features, while allowing for a more user friendly mobility, further Chun’s theory that increased information leads to decreased assimilation. (1)
The information on a Blu Ray is encoded in pits that run from the disc’s center to the edge of the optic surface. The blue-violet laser reads the bumps in-between the pits where the information is stored. When the light hits a bump of information, it is reflected back towards a photo electric cell that detects the information, interpreting it as binary data. (4) The amount of information capable of being stored is dependent upon the size of the pits. Smaller pits allow for larger amounts of information. As compared to a DVD surface that is formed with a larger wavelength of light, a Blu Ray surface has a much larger amount of smaller pits, allowing for more information to be disseminated across the surface.
When it comes to the physical design of the Blu Ray, it has advanced the problematics of the DVD by placing the encoded data on top of a plate of polycarbonate, as compared to the DVD which compacts the data between two plates of polycarbonate, allowing for a birefringence, splitting of the beam and thus risking the disc unreadable. (3) The Blu Ray’s furnishing has advanced disc media storage, past the realm of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang nostalgia and home video and into the ambiguous space of the locus. As Chun mentions, “A locus is a place easily grasped by memory, such as a house, an intercolumnar space, a corner, an arch, or the like.” (1) The Blu Ray thus becomes a locus, a hybrid space between time, space, and light, for high speed media storage and data recording — or is it memory, or memory making? And where does the Blu Ray position itself within the very same rows of once-new media storages that lined my childhood wonderment?
As Mattern mentions in “Before BILLY,” “What were, only a few days before, systematically coded wares in a miscellany of merchandise, are now individuated objects, appreciated for their distinctive functions or aesthetic values, classified and authorized, in part, through their place on the shelf.” (2) The Blu Ray will become yet another marker of our ephemerality, baring a once-advanced infrastructure, while slowly becoming shrouded in a familial dust of the former. And just as our storage furnishings and equipment morph with time and technology, so do the phenomena we exploit for change. The harnessed energy of light we have sourced to capture and reveal information has inversely pushed our desires to reach a point where information can travel at the speed of light. But have we become lost in the shadows of this unfathomable velocity, where our information has become too quick to capture?
1.Wendy Hui Kyong. “The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory.”Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, no. 1, 2008, pp. 148–171., doi:10.1086/595632.
2.Mattern, Shannon. “Before BILLY: A Brief History of the Bookcase.” Harvard Design Magazine, President and Fellows of Harvard College, www.harvarddesignmagazine.org/issues/43/before-billy-a-brief-history-of-the-bookcase.
3.Mesnik, Bob. “How Blu-Ray Optical Discs Work.” Kintronics, Kintronics, Inc., 1 Mar. 2016, kintronics.com/how-blu-ray-optical-discs-work/.
4.YouTube, Into the Ordinary, 6 Sept. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-jxTzFrnpg.