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Habits of Living Thinkathon — Day 3 Live Blog: Eivind Rossaak on Archives in Motion

Posted by Jadine Lannon at Sep 30, 2012 02:00 PM |
The Habits of Living Thinkathon (Thinking Marathon) is being hosted by the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, from September 26 to 29, 2012. The event brings together a range of multi-disciplinary scholars and practitioners. The aim of the workshop is to generate a dialogue on the notion of surrogate structures that have become visible landmarks of contemporary life, and to produce new conceptual frameworks to help us understand networks and the ways in which they inform our everyday practice and thought.

Eivind Rossaak talks to us today about Archives in Motion, and how networks, especially those created though interaction with technology and social media, have consequences for the way we conceptualize the idea of the archive. He runs us through a brief introduction to archival theory to helps us understand how the purpose, structure, and function of archives and their artifacts have changed over time, and leads us into an exploration of contemporary developments and discourses on archives. Currently, Rossaak is interested in themes of counter-memory practices, software vs. memory, and whether or not social media is a form of archives in motion.

When approaching social media as forms of archives in motion, Rossaak calls on us to think differently about how we understand archival activities. Using the example of Youtube, Rossaak reminds us that we can’t just think of Youtube as a video archive or a repository of confessionary personal information, but instead we should begin to see Youtube as a platform of networked documents, and a site of network creation. Youtube videos are essentially linked; they are not just video logs, but emerge as the expressions of nodes in a complex network database.

Eivind calls upon the example of the Boxxybabe meme to help us understand this new way of being networked. The Boxxybabe video did not just go viral, it cut across many spheres of human interaction and activity, to the point where the identities and activities created by the Boxxybabe meme were experienced in both the online and offline worlds. The Boxxybabe video becomes a technological article in itself, as it testifies to multiple networks. Further, it represents new forms of associations created between objects that are both human and non-human, and motions towards a cyborg turn in the way we become human through the extension of human lives in cybernetic networks. The networks created by this plasticity between the human and nonhuman leads to new methods of social memory creation, and therefore new understandings of archives in motion.

Rossaak’s presentation prompts an ardent response from the participants. Participants discussed issues of anxiety associated with memory failure and how this leads to the desire to preserve. This leads into an exploration of what an archive really is and whether archives require institutionality or can be understood as personal. In this understanding, there is no need for counter-archives because archives are being built everywhere, all the time, and this facilitates the understanding of social media as archives. Participants agree that further study should be pursued around this concept.

Other issues are brought up around subjects that were not addressed in the summary of archival theory, mainly around ideas of locationality and objectivity in the collection of information for archives, selectivity of information that goes into archives, the labor of the archive, and the implication of locationality in the understanding and function of archives.

A large amount of further discussion is centered on the human and non-human elements of archive and network creation, and the activity of becoming human through the creation of non-human networks. Nishant Shah, our facilitator, sums up the main theme of this discussion with the following tweet: “If our idea of the human is mitigated through the non-human, then all attempts at being human will always be about being networked.”

Personally, I thought the concept of archives in motion was incredibly interesting, and I would like to push the ideas of the motion and a recreation of what it is to be human a bit further. I wonder if these structures of social memory and complex offline/online networks that are created through interaction with social media actually represent a movement not only towards our abandonment of the concept of an event or object of being rooted in time, only able to be understood and documented once it has ended (therefore allowing us, using a linear structure of time, to understand it by viewing its beginning point and end point), but also towards viewing ourselves as being in motion, as well. What does it mean to be a human in motion? Does it mean the abandonment of linear temporality? Am I able to see myself, my identity, as not rooted in time but as a node in a network of my self? Can personal conceptualizations of “self” be networked? Is this what it means to be a human in motion?

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