Thursday, April 3, 2008

cultural histories and new media

In the third part of Josh's lecture he discussed the empowered narrative and showed us the Ramesh website that attempts at documenting/archiving native cultures and communities via new media. Josh left us with the question of how this idea of using new media to archive cultures and traditions is similar to the memex. By creating a virtual world that is dedicated to the histories and traditions of the physical you are in essence, creating a space where time remains the only constant. There is no longer any actual landscape or locality associated with the history. They now become simply a .mov file on the internet, it is no longer tangible. Much of what is great about the history of our world is the ability we have to go and see and feel a place, and location. If you remove this you remove the very spirit or soul of that tradition. A digital platform may be perfect for archiving stories, or specific events, but you can never replace the sensation of physically being there. The memex deals with archiving of information and information alone. In this sense the archiving of certain traditions is possible, but it is only slightly better than the methods we have today, books, pictures, video, and audio. What a virtual space like a website offers is a coherent and organized space of these texts, pictures, video and audio. We can now instead of having a book, a picture, a dvd, and a cd, all tangible objects, can have a url and be able to experience all four and multiple versions of each. So for me a website like Ramesh is a cool idea, but it is limited to what we can digitalize, which at the current moment is text, pictures, audio and video. It does offer a platform however for people to interact, to discuss events, stories, and post their own videos pictures and audio to share with the community. The community feel could be facilitated through such interactions. However there is a definite disconnect to the impersonality of the set up. Nothing can replace the physical meeting of people of a culture, very similar to how you can never replace the feeling of being in a certain location at a certain time.

1 comment:

Paperback88 said...

This reminds me, as things always do, of an anecdote. I never seem to run out of these... Anyway, in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the stuffy librarian was asked why he never upgraded from books to archiving his vampire lore in computers. His answer was simply, "smell." Books smell, and smell is the quickest link to memory in the brain. The librarian was primed to remember after being introduced to the musty smell of thousand-year-old books, and thus could make quick connections with things he remembered reading at other times. Computers, he maintained, did not smell.
What's the point of this anecdote, besides that we all miss Buffy? The answer, and what you're getting at in your post, is that despite all of the web's amazing abilities, it will never be able to transcend its position as a collection of simulacra. For the librarian, he could not have the experience he was so used to, making quick associations by candlelight and working through these old tomes, filled with smell and just reeking with history. That whole "smell is the quickest link to memory" is really an excuse; the presence of books are a placebo resulting in better associations. Digital archiving brings to the table the same content, but it will only ever be a simulacra of the experience the librarian was used to.
However, books themselves are simulacra of reality; who hasn't seen the poster with "See the world!" on the top and "Read!" on the bottom? The librarian was simply defending another simulacra of experience, the archive in the library. Despite reading all about the jungles of Africa, Joe Shmoe reading National Geographic can't actually go there, and probably never will. So he reads about them, imagines them, "travels the world," but only in the stunted and problematic world of the simulacra. It's sad. Like you say, it can't beat being there.
Or can it?
See, in this more contemporary world of ours, or at least what I've seen in America, we are so inundated with simulacra that we never question their use, and can prefer them to reality. I've had conversations on AIM that I would never have had in real life because the experience of meeting and talking to people necessitates some psychological covering; on the internet, you're able to say what you feel and how strongly you feel it without any discernible social pressure around you. This is why I've abandoned AIM, by the way--nobody ever stops whining. But also, look at Disney World. The Disney Corporation makes billions of dollars off of this place because the allure of it IS as a simulation! Nobody thinks Epcot is actually representative of worldwide life (how many parades have you seen in Cambodia?). People come from all over to see the damn animatronic freaks singing "It's A Small World After All" even though they're not even close to real people, and the message of harmony is so sickeningly naive that the song had to cause crushing headaches in order for you to refrain from vomiting. My point is, maybe it's a good thing for the librarian to archive. He can make all the quick associations between content he wants using hypertext, and he can pull them up anytime in a split second instead of perusing through books that could give him black lung. Simulacra aren't that bad; we kind of like them. So much that maybe we should think about it a little more.