Alvin Toffler wrote a book in 1970 called Future Shock. In it, he described how some people, particularly older folks, seem to suddenly wake up one morning and not recognize the society in which they live. As if they woke up in another country where everyone spoke a different language and had different customs. But the problem, he noted, was not one of culture shock, but what he termed future shock, though the effects are quite similar.
Toffler went on to lay out how and why this is a fairly recent phenomenon. The gist of his arguement is that, if it feels like society and technology are speeding up, it’s because they are. Quantifiably. Moore’s Law states that computer processing power will double about every 18-24 months, and that exponential growth has a direct and ongoing impact on society. Essentially, Toffler argued, that culture had to adapt and change at about the same rate that computers did in order to continue to function effectively.
Where future shock came into play was when someone did not or could not keep up with the technology, and are suddenly forced to confront the changes in a very dramatic fashion. The little old lady, for example, who’s been quite happy playing her VCR tapes suddenly finds that she can no longer get the machine repaired or replaced, and even the replacement technology (DVDs) is nearly obsolete.
This is relevant to webcomics in two ways. First, newcomers to the form can’t necessarily rely on advice from the old guard cartoonists. I’ve heard Scott Kurtz say repeatedly that, when someone mentions that they’d like to do what he did to break into the field, he tells them that they first would have to go back in time to when he first started because the landscape has changed so dramatically since he began PvP back in 1998. The culture is different, the technology is different, the audience is different. No one can replicate what Kurtz did now, not because he was that special and unique but because the environment he worked in no longer exists.
That’s not to say verteran webcomic creators have nothing of value to pass along to a new generation, just that their experiences might be wildly different based on when they’re starting.
The second thing to keep in mind is that webcomics, by their very nature of relying on technology for their distribution if not creation, are subject to the same issues as every other technology. Namely, that every 18-24 months, computing power will have doubled, allowing for new and faster ways of processing data. In the early days of webcomics, each strip had to be uploaded manually, typically through an FTP process, and hard-coded onto a web page written in very simplistic HTML. It worked at the time, but it was tedious. Trying to follow with that process now would put a creator a severe disadvantage, because they’d be spending much, much more time devoted to laborious technical aspects of their job rather than either actual content creation or promotion and marketing.
This means that a webcomic creator needs to be at least nominally aware of technological updates and shifts in the digital landscape if they want to remain relevant. Letting those types of changes slip by unnoticed can impact not only the effeciency of creating a comic, but can lead to a work that seems stagnant and out of date, both creatively and from a business model perspective. And if you don’t believe me, take a look in your local newspaper and see how the comics there compare to some of your favorites online!