Saturday, July 12, 2014

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] Oral culture and new media WAS: Re: ART, NEW MEDIA, AND SOCIAL MEMORY

Dear Roger,

On 10.07.2014 15:30, roger malina wrote:

> re oral cultures- as you will have seen we just issued a call for memoirs by
> pioneers in the art science technology field to document their memories of
> work done before 1985 see:

This is a very good effort!

> in their book chapter 13 Only you can prevent the end of history (
> ) Rick and Jon recommend to curators interviewing
> the artists extensively and including these in the archive of the work- as
> oral historians will tell you- the way that memories evolve in time requires
> analytic approaches of their own ( see for instance the guides for
> conducting oral histories
> )
> one of the pluses of the digital age is the ease with which now we can
> document things orally and preserve them= it would have been great to hear
> leonardo da vinci musing on what he was trying to do

What I was trying to get at with my message about trolls, warez and bronies was
that when it comes to history being conserved outside of memory institutions --
I would consider this an important property of oral history --, we shouldn't
take 'oral' literally. While I also would enjoy 'hearing' the musings of LDV[1],
in the networked age this should mean something else.

When for example we have artists and innovators video-interviewed about their
memories, this will produce a linear media file, maybe a transcription, but
what's next? It can go to storage, but that is not oral culture. The information
circulating in perpetuity inside communities is not conserved because some
famous, important person said it, but because it is useful, typically *useful
right now.* These uses range from building identity to gaining twitter followers
or just putting teenage energy into form. But the artist interview is hardly
useful to anybody outside of memory institutions or the artist themselves. When
the memory institutions disappear, the 'oral history' will be gone. -- I don't
mean that memory institutions will all cease to exist, I just want to illustrate
the difference to what I consider oral history.

Let me explain on the ground of two occurrences:


When Jason Scott founded the Archive Team in 2009 to create a copy of Geocities,
the web hosting service that was the poster child for amateur web culture and
deleted by Yahoo!, he made a big fuss about it. He framed Yahoo! as the villain
and innocent users as the betrayed, with his Archive Team about to bring at
least a glimpse of justice. This story worked, and many online publications
mentioned Geocities' deletion and sometimes wrote some 'funny' article about it.
In 2009, it seems like everybody hated Geocities. The word Geocities was used in
a degrading way to describe a certain style of web publishing and web user. But
Jason Scott managed to turn the narrative around, and suddenly, the actual
former users of Geocities realized that there is more than shame to their role.
Since Geocities itself had vanished, they came out and expressed themselves in
the comments sections of online media that would cover Jason Scott's story. They
wrote how it was for them to use Geocities, what was good or bad about it and
what they are going to dearly miss. Sometimes interesting conversations started,
sometimes nothing happened after a former user posting such a comment. The
amount of oral history captured by this framing of an activity that happened in
a completely bodiless and timeless space as a simple story, good vs evil, is
amazing. These records will not survive forever, but at the moment they are
inscribed in contemporary social media and keep the memory of Geocities and its
users around for a bit longer. I believe this action did at least as much to
help Geocities survive as the act of copying it. These records provide a
cultural context that the files alone cannot.


I was one of the handful of users downloading the complete 1TB Geocities torrent
released by the Archive Team in 2010. It took 5 months. Why was I so patient? Of
course I am super passionate about Digital Folklore[2], but also the torrent was
organized in a way that parts of it were already *usable.* Olia Lialina and me
could start working with fractions of the data as it dribbled in.

In the end, the torrent dried out pretty quickly after Scott had published the
last missing files. This Geocities project is interesting for very few people,
the torrent can not be considered oral history.[3] While participating in the
swarm, I never saw more than 20 other users, only 5 to 7 stayed till the end.
Two years later, the torrent's files were uploaded to the Internet Archive;
however, see if you can find it.

My goal was to make real digital-oral history from the Geocities material. Two
years after starting the download, I had developed an automated system that
would use an emulated legacy operating system and browser to access the
material, so Netscape would surf to every single conserved Geocities home pages
from the torrent all by itself. A screenshot would be taken of each home page
and automatically posted to tumblr.

The setup of the system which would ultimately define how the screenshots look
was an act of dressing the data up as much as possible for wide circulation. It
had to look 'old', it had to give as much context as possible, it had to
generate suspense and interest. Tumblr has the limit of 75 posts per day, so the
system was made to post a new screenshot every 20 minutes.

Tumblr was chosen as a platform because of its young audience that is apparently
mostly interested in visual culture. Also, the spreading of material works
openly and effortlessly on this platform. Today, the tumblr blog One Terabyte Of
Kilobyte Age[4] is approaching 14'000 followers and almost no picture goes
un-noted ('note' is tumblr's term for other users re-using the material on their
own blog). In February, I did an anniversary restauration of the three most
noted Geocities home pages.[5]

But why would anybody follow such a fire hose-like stream of screenshots of old
web pages? Not because these users want to conserve history, but because the
material has immediate use. It is 'weird' (most teenagers have never experienced
the web before its industrialization), it looks catchy, each screenshot is
self-contained, big enough to tell a story and small enough to fit into any blog
layout. Not only does each one show a part of the web site, but the browser and
a few pixels of operating system are present as well, hinting towards a context
where software wasn't trying as hard as it could to become transparent. Also,
the presentation as a stream essentially turn it into a soap opera. In other
words, it is perfect blogging material. Each image works by itself or in
combination with other images. Users *use* it to express themselves, to start
conversations, to surprise somebody. The history part is a mere side-effect.

Each screenshot is stable in a sense that the very complex artifact, actually
made up of dozens of parts and complicated processes of assemblage, becomes a
single thing that is not cut and dissected by contemporary social media systems.
-- To keep this integrity doesn't work with for example text.

The only problem with this project seems to be that material rarely leaves
tumblr. But if you see any Geocities screenshot around anywhere, it is very
likely that it orginated there.

> on p227 of the book rick and jon have recommendations to creators/artists on
> how to document their work to improve the likelihood of their work surving-
> what is missing from these recommendations is that the artists at the time
> they show their work document their thoughts at the time via podcast or u
> tube videos-many artists now do this and clearly this becomes a mechanism for
> creation of social memory- we may see new forms of oral culture and social
> memory developing as the born "selfie" generation takes off

I think we do not 'may' see it, it is actually happening right now :) We 'may'
understand it better to serve our purposes I hope.

However, traditional audio or video interviews are no fit material for this type
of circulation. They are rather 'mother copies' (Rinehart) from which one could
generate items that can survive as digital-oral history. For example, the
excellent re-coded pioneer works by Frieder Nake etc are fine as Processing or
Javascript code, but they would be even better if the process of the creation of
such an image would be published as a GIF animation. Only few users out there
are using communication systems that enable them to post and execute Javascript,
but they can post GIFs on tumblr, twitter, Google+ and so forth. When it comes
to interviews, I would also consider to take the most striking phrases and
publish them like this:
Or the like :)

Best greetings,


[1] LDV would maybe have been Leonardo's handle in the FLOSS community.


[3] It is a great misconceptions that to publish something as a torrent
will ensure that somebody will actually download it.


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