Grinding Noises

Albums, Not Singles

The latest issue of A List Apart confirms what web designers already know: it's getting ugly out there. The dot-com crash has led to end-of-year lay-offs throughout the US, as the stories in this issue confirm.

It's all a passing phase, of course—anyone who seriously thinks that this is the death of the web is kidding themselves (or a day trader—same difference). The reason we've seen more tulipomania surrounding the web than there was around radio or TV is simply that at the end of the twentieth century we were well-primed for hi-tech breakthroughs, and were prepared to bet/invest accordingly. We could actually believe that they would change the world in a way that our ancestors couldn't.

That said, the early years of motion pictures were a similar tale of boom and bust: there was a huge craze for short films when the technology first appeared, but it tailed off quickly once the novelty wore off. Motion pictures only regained and held their grip on the public when they turned into something else: movies. Longer narrative pieces. Substantial entertainment, as opposed to insubstantial entertainment.

Most of what passes as web entertainment these days is not substantial. It's all short cuts. Flash tricks. Throwaway gags. Make no mistake, it can be very entertaining, and I have no problem with short-form entertainment: I'm a cartoonist, and I love sketch comedy. But a single-panel cartoon is not as likely to grab the world's attention as a full-length movie. Until the web can make that transition to longer narrative works it will continue to be seen as a relatively trivial medium, no matter what the converted (the ones I'm preaching to right now) say to the contrary.

What's that? The web is a business tool? A tool for direct marketing and improved mail-order services? A way of pushing glossy brochures down a phone line instead of through a mailbox slot? Well, yes, it's those things too. But so is television, and nobody buys a TV just to watch infomercials.

If you want to be an Internet rock-star, start behaving like a rock-star, not a one-hit wonder. Record albums, not singles.

First published in Walking West, 22 January 2001.

23 January 2002
©2001-02 Rory Ewins