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James Gleick on the value of objects

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2008

James Gleick on the value of objects in contemporary society. Mass produced and virtual items are getting ever cheaper while items like an original copy of the Magna Carta are getting more and more expensive.

Just when digital reproduction makes it possible to create a “Rembrandt” good enough to fool the eye, the “real” Rembrandt becomes more expensive than ever. Why? Because the same free flow that makes information cheap and reproducible helps us treasure the sight of information that is not. A story gains power from its attachment, however tenuous, to a physical object. The object gains power from the story. The abstract version may flash by on a screen, but the worn parchment and the fading ink make us pause. The extreme of scarcity is intensified by the extreme of ubiquity.

Gleick doesn’t adequately nail the “why?” here somehow…seems there’s more to it than just objects with attached stories.

Update: See also The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin. (thx, finn)