Reading response A

Is archiving just recording?

Dan Michaelson: Today’s umbrella topic is “reliability,” which contains two other topics.

On the one hand, we’re hoping to talk about issues of preservation in a digital context. This is relevant specifically to all of you, because almost all the work you make as a student in this program intersects with the digital—you’re using a software program and/or a hardware device (your computer, RISO, etc.). How do you all think about preservation in that context? For your own work? And also with respect to the work of other artists, designers, makers, cultural producers?

On the other hand, we’re thinking about a difference or gradation between making primary work and secondary work. As you all start to think about your thesis books that might document your own work, so too will you also be thinking about documenting your work. Inherently, there is a primary and a secondary, because you’re objectifying your own work, to some extent. It’s good to pull out some interesting themes from that idea. Documentation is never a neutral, crystal goblet.

Last week, we talked about We talked about the site’s history function—that it versions everything—and some of the problems and shortcomings of that. Even though the content is versioned, web browsers are not. So we looked in some detail last time at some of the unreliability of that documentation, or some of the places where it breaks down a little bit, actually, not only digital archiving, but also physical archiving, has this problem, think about the dilapidated books in libraries. and what those old pages look like now is not exactly what they looked like at the time. We also talked about reliability in the literal sense—that these systems can just break and stop doing what you expect them to do. They may not be around forever. That's ture, digitalized data also relies on physical hardwares, and of course, hardwares could be broken We also touched on reliability in the sense of trust. That is, what is in these systems isn’t what you think it is. Can you really know what people are saying and communicating? What kind of cultures are evolving out of a system like this? There are going to be moments when that culture is doing things that are unhealthy or destructive or misleading. How do we work around that very contemporary condition?

Having monologued for five minutes now, I really hope that today's conversation is participatory. We are especially curious how this all connects to your own work.

Ayham Ghraowi: Institutions like the Internet Archive put such a significance on the idea of documenting and preserving the web because it’s something that's changing, this includes unsolvable problems like links breaking or web pages being taken down. It is a significant project to try to preserve that. How does this affect the relationship of being online? For example, sometimes screenshots of events that happened are important—so that it's preserved and documented so it can be referred to, maybe in a legal situation, or something more subtle.

More importantly, how does the documentation affect the work that you're interested in and making? We should talk about anxieties related to either your work being ephemeral or the possibility of losing the material. Or, is there greater anxiety that instead of being wiped away, all of it will be preserved? (I think this is especially relevant in this program. Particularly in regards to the thesis book's idea of reflecting and preserving the two years we're here, and having a legacy and putting that in the library.) Is there a greater concern of losing it all or preserving it in a library?

Then there are questions of what should be preserved. What is valuable? What do you consider a publication? So far, we are calling a publication “something that was made intentionally public.”

Institutions like the Internet Archive aren't really concerned with publications, because they have this general idea of wanting to preserve and document everything. But national archives are more intentional about what specifically is valuable. There is a difference between archiving one’s own stuff and other people’s stuff, when archiving one’s own stuff, the reason why they are archived is probably related to the reason why the archived thing is created, when archiving someone else's stuff, the opinion of the viewer is more important, in a sense, people who archives content created by other people is archiving their own opinion, conciously or unconsiously. This also reminds me about how people write history, history is not just things happened, but more about how people think about thing happened. Every history writer inevitably put his or her own view into his writing. What is more important is the purpose of people studying history is to think about now and future with history as reference, so is the reason of archiving and internet archiving.

What does it mean to archive something that is constantly changing? What are the strategies? Is there a difference between documenting or screenshotting the surface of what you see versus preserving the code or the structure? What’s primary and what’s secondary? What's the difference between medium and content of the web? When do websites contain the content and when are they themselves the content?

I don't think we'll answer all of these questions, but they all have something to do with each other. I think we're also interested in how these questions relate to everyone's work and practice.