Ephemerality (from the Greek word ἐφήμερος, meaning 'lasting only one day') is the concept of things being transitory, existing only briefly. Typically the term ephemeral is used to describe objects found in nature, although it can describe a wide range of things, including human artifacts intentionally made to last for only a temporary period in order to increase their perceived aesthetic value. With respect to unique performances, for example, it has been noted that "[e]phemerality is a quality caused by the ebb and flow of the crowd's concentration on the performance and a reflection of the nostalgic character of specific performances". Because different people may value the passage of time differently, "the concept of ephemerality is a relative one".
An ephemeral waterbody include springs, streams, rivers, ponds or lakes that only exists for a short period following precipitation or snowmelt. They are not the same as intermittent or seasonal waterbodies, which exist for longer periods, but not all year round. Small wetlands are often ephemeral.
Examples of ephemeral streams are the Luni river in Rajasthan, India, Ugab River in Southern Africa, and a number of small ephemeral watercourses that drain Talak in northern Niger. Other notable ephemeral rivers include the Todd River and Sandover River in Central Australia as well as the Son River, Batha River and the Trabancos River.
Any endorheic basin, or closed basin, that contains a playa (dry lake) at its drainage lowpoint can become an ephemeral lake. Examples include Lake Carnegie in Western Australia, Lake Cowal in New South Wales, Mystic Lake and Rogers Lake in California, and Sevier Lake in Utah. Even the driest and lowest place in North America, Death Valley (more specifically Badwater Basin), became flooded with a short-lived ephemeral lake in the spring of 2005.
There are also ephemeral islands such as Banua Wuhu and Home Reef. These islands appear when volcanic activity increases their height above sea level, but disappear over several years due to wave erosion. Bassas da India, on the other hand, is a near-sea level island that appears only at low tide.
Many plants are adapted to an ephemeral lifestyle, in which they spend most of the year or longer as seeds before conditions are right for a brief period of growth and reproduction. The spring ephemeral plant mouse-ear cress is a well-known example.
Ephemeral can also be used as an adjective to refer to a fast-deteriorating importance or temporary nature of an object to a person. Objects which are ephemeral "are often keyed to specific occasions that they outlast" and "confounds our notion of objects as static and stable". Professor of English, Gillian Russell wrote that ephemerality "in both its material and conceptual senses can...be said to be a constitutive feature of the age of print that began in the mid-fifteenth century. It is increasingly constitutive of the emergent post-print age too".
In the digital realm, online interactions have been said to straddle permanency and ephemerality, there existing a "rapid cycle" of new posts, participants adopt a social norm that "the discourse will pass and be forgotten as the past". Futhermore digital media's encompassing archival process, dubbed the "enduring ephemeral", means that information of varying importance can either be affixed or ephemeral. Ephemeral aspects are evident in instant messages, as they "[simulate] a fleeting moment in time" – in person interactions also feature ephemerality; significant amounts of living is ephemeral. Websites which makes use of ephemerality include Snapchat and Wickr.
Within the context of modern media dissemination, YouTube videos, viral emails and photos have been identified as ephemeral; as have means of advertising, both physical and digital and the internet collectively. Professor of Film and Television studies, Paul Grainge described modern "ephermeral media" as that which is brief in duration and/or circulation, adjacent to "the primary texts of contemporary entertainment culture". In 2009, Ian Christie considered that a substantial amount of modern media, aligned with "rapid proliferati[on]", "may prove much more ephemeral than the flip-book".
Ephemerality has received increased attention from modern academics, in fields such as: literary studies, art history, digital media studies, performance studies — "and the 'archival turn' in the humanities as a whole". In 2008, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun reflected that television scholars have grappled with ephemerality "for years". Historians of sound have contended the subject's ephemerality by relating it to more material forms.
Scholar of material culture, Sarah Wasserman asserted, that by 2020, "novels themselves come to seem increasingly ephemeral" — the means of composing a book, binding the components, has been seen as a way of elevating ephemeral material. Clive Phillpot expressed a similar sentiment 25 years earlier, writing that "books, catalogues, and magazines are basically ephemeral in terms of their substance (and sometimes their content)". Novelists, Margaret Oliphant and Andrew Lang managed the "problem of the ephemerality of their periodical writing" differently: Lang, hoping for writers' best work to be permenant believed that such legacy should be accelerated through a collection; Oliphant didn't, considering it unethical, she accepted the sovereignty of books, as that which is preserved.
Performance art has been described as ephemeral in nature and "cheap print culture of the eighteenth-century" was conceived as intentionally so; with regards to historical performances, the traces: playbills, scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and material artifacts are themselves ephemeral. As a result, witnessing a dance that will be rendered ephemeral is commodified and of greater desire to prospecting audiences. The documentation of other ephemeral events: protests, installations, exhibitions, are often meager. Ephemeral elements of decorative arts include: silver, glass, ceramics and furniture.
"[Ephemerality] and disposability" have been perceived as components "of an American ethos". Ephemerality has been identified as relevant to queer cultures; José Esteban Muñoz argued that queerness and ephemerality are intertwined, as the former has been expressed in methods which are prone to fade upon the "touch of those who would erase queer possibility". "[N]otions of ephemerality" were a "pivotal concept" in the Victorian era, according to, scholar of Victorian literature, Paul Fyfe; broadsides of the time, he wrote, "seemed to take ephemerality to an extreme".[a] Ephemerality, expressed both socially and materially, was profound in modernity and has "long been identified as [a] core attribute".
During the Baroque period, wealthy patrons would commission ephemeral creations from well-known artists of the time. These creations, often very expensive and time-consuming, were typically only used during one event before being dismantled or destroyed. One such work was the temporary volcano, created by Gianlorenzo Bernini for the Barberini family. The volcano, placed on the predecessor to the Spanish Steps, took three months to create and was destroyed in a firework display over the course of an hour. "Mostly, ephemeral objects disappear without a trace, but some of those objects persist, not entirely by accident, but usually because someone somewhere has preserved them. Browsing a collection of ephemera means, ironically, encountering objects that have been rescued from ephemerality", wrote Wasserman. Phillpot said of libraries: "They are perpetually engaged in contesting ephemerality".
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- Postcards, similarly, provide an example of a ubiquitous and ephemeral medium.
- Ephemeros, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, "A Greek-English Lexicon", at Perseus
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