Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Form/content and computer archives

There is an interesting relationship between form and content in the two articles for Monday that I want to clarify (but will probably end up complicating.) Two of the examples of new media archive “failures” that Gitelman pointed out (the internet is 1854 on the NYT web archive and the inability of the H-Bot to discern imaginary events) make me think of the formalism of computers—how they categorize and process data solely on its form and are unable to interpret content or meaning. I suppose that arguably computers can interpret content (if they are programmed to do so) but what I am really getting at is the inability of computers to process or interpret certain aspects of data. This reminds me of what P. Chun said in lecture a few weeks ago with the failure of both power point presentations and tape recording of lecture to be able actually teach students in the same way as a first person lecture would. Even if you fastidiously archive a lecture in digital form, it may not have the same pedagogical content as the lecture itself.
Ernst says something similar by pointing out that new media archives/computer archives don’t interpret the meaning of data (this is one of his importance “discontinuities” between a print archive and a computer archive). Multimedia archeology, he says doesn’t gloss over the discontinuities of history to create a concrete, comprehensive archive. It doesn’t discern which events are relevant or meaningful based on their place in a historical narrative or their cause/effect relation to other events. In other words, it makes no distinction between “signal and noise,” as Ernst hints at throughout his article. This is why a computer archive is actually a collection, because it doesn’t actively “determine what is allowed to be forgotten.” (119) If I understand correctly, this is also why he says that multimedia archeology is about formats (111, 113), because archiving done by a computer can only interpret the formalistic elements of data (be it images, words, or sound) to process and archive it. Ernst not only describes this archival phenomenon but also seems to support because it does away with hierarchy and language centric archiving. Erika said in lecture that Ernst is concerned with “how the operations of exclusion and inclusions are organized rather than what is being included/excluded,” but I am curious if Ernst himself is concerned with disregarding/excluding the importance of the meaning data (or error) content and meaning, or if that is actually his goal.
It also seems that Gitelman is arguing for an opposite conception of the new media archive in this form/content matter. She writes that “format is not what matters about documents,” and that “form takes second place to content.” (136). For her, data should be interpreted through its social context, because an archive should not only record data but express the specific hermeneutics and methods of data-interpretation of its time. When Gitelman calls her article < / body >, is she arguing for against a formal archive classifies by such “bodily” categories as location and title. This is at least how I interpreted the following statement: “The document I write and the desktop window I write it on are not materially different from one another…the former stands as a document because of its context, not its body, where context involves the whole social realm and human labors…of meaning and the presence of meaning.”
I’m not actually sure if G’s conception of archive is oppositional to E’s. Perhaps her idea of content over form is using the world “content” is to signify not so much the meaning of data but how our society interprets data. Still, I don’t understand how computers can create an archive based on the “content” of data…how can a computer classify or process a text except by its “bodily” information.

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