Essay in lieu of examination

 

What differences do different archives make? What is the relationship between particular archives and the ways of living they allow/make possible? What kinds of authority do particular archives assist or challenge?

Traditional archives are being threatened with their newer, digital counterparts, revealing new sets of conditions that the customs of life. Through this shift, new kinds of authorities begin to be privileged and created – namely that of the ‘produser’, challenging the power traditional producers held over the public. The effect of contemporary archives in our ways of living furthermore reveals itself by a more dynamic relationship between Derrida’s concept of ‘archive fever’, the archive, and the user.

Vosloo (2005), in his analysis of Jacques Derrida’s description of an archive, explains to us that it is not only a configuration or recording of living memory, but is also related to consigning trails of the past into an external space (p.4). The definition of an archive historically referred to physical locations where documents are stored, such as museums and libraries, but it has broadened with the arrival of technological changes (Manoff 2004, p.2). The archive has inflated to include digital collections, including multimedia, images and sound, resulting to it becoming “a loose signifier for a disparate set of concepts” (Manoff 2004, p.2). Because of the conflation of time and space over the internet, files are being rapidly uploaded, duplicated and remixed, resulting in more interactive forms of archives. Facebook, for example, acts online archival system where users create personalised memory trails. As its help centre page explains (Facebook 2013), Facebook stores and collects groups of data together, in photo albums, in inboxes, ‘liked’ pages that include music and other media, and comments on timelines

Nevertheless, archives are innately violent in the sense that they have the potential to impose new orders that replace old ones, evident in how digital archives are dismantling their physical forms. Derrida describes this quality as ‘archviolithic’, a drive for the destruction of archives: it “not only incites forgetfulness, amnesia, the annihilation of memory…but also…the eradication… of…the archive, consignation, the documentary or monumental apparatus.” (p.11, 1995). This death drive not only destroys memory and culture, but the archive itself. It can be argued that digital archives are destroying the cultures and memories of their older equivalents. This is apparent in the disintermediation of book stores by their online counterparts, Ebay and Amazon. It is more common for consumers to buy through Ebay or Amazon (Sawyers, The Next Web 2011), removing the requirement to physically buy books – statistics about Amazon’s Kindle (Amazon 2011), predict the gradual decline of book stores, furthermore evidenced by the mass closing of Borders stores (Sawyers, The Next Web 2011).

The transition from analogue to digital archives results in a power shift, draining from traditional placeholders of authority, such as corporations, into the hands of the average citizen. Digitization leads to the merging of the roles of the user and producer to become the produser, actively contributing to archives.  Produsage.org explains that “produsers engage not in a traditional form of content production, but instead…the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement”(Bruns, Produsage.org 2007). Users are able to openly collaborate and create works given the right tools and structures (Bruns 2003, p.2). An example would be the structure of some online games, such as Spore.  Produsage.org explains that Spore is an open ended toolkit, nourishing “user-led innovation” (Bruns, Produsage.org 2009).  According to the Spore’s official website, users are able to create and evolve their own “creatures, vehicles, buildings and spaceships” that can be displayed and shared for others to use (Spore 2013), Boasting 180,124,488 users as of 13 June 2013 (Spore 2013) it is telling of the immense success Spore is in creating a blueprint where produsers learn and evolve (Bruns, produsage.org 2007).

The power transition is evident in a major aspect of Produsage, the movement from ‘gatekeeping’ to ‘gatewatching’, where the public gains more authority in the publishing of content. Traditional systems, where commercial corporations delivered to masses of consumers, operated by a process called ‘gatekeeping’. Gatekeeping is defined of the “act of deciding what will appear in the media” (Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport, 2008). Gatekeepers screen all information that passes through, letting readers only the portions that are approved to be published (Bruns 2003, p.4). With the emergence of the internet, ‘gatewatching’ has become more prevalent. ‘Gatewatchers’  “observe what material is available and interesting, and themselves provide condensed content guides and selected material” (p. 5).  The process of Gatewatching, in shaping a news story, is described by Bruns in A Gatewatching:Collaborative Online News Production(2005):The user pulls whatever information they deem newsworthy from a plethora of resources, where they then publish it through different editorial hierarchies that vary from totally user controlled to through established media corporations, then it is reviewed by the community in the form of comments and discussion.  This process of observing, aggregating and publishing material leads to a larger focus on user contribution.

 

A key difference of these open sourced archives is that, as Bruns says, when produsers “can read, redistribute, and modify the source information for a piece of news, the understanding of news evolves. People improve, adapt it, people fix bugs. This can happen at a speed that seems…astonishing” (Bruns, 2003, p.2). This is contrast to gatekept archives where, by having a clear divide between producer and user, many shortcomings are created. Traditional archives like newspapers are hindered by the slower speed at which they can travel to consumers. There is also the risk that many gatekeepers’ responsibilities for journalistic integrity, impartiality and neutrality are diluted by other purposes (p.4). Bruns identifies that the gatekeeper may have commercial considerations as their priority, for instance (p.3). This is evident in American media, which is dominated by six large commercial conglomerates that own media outlets: Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, News Corporation, CBS Corporation and NBC Universal(Synder, The Economic Collapse Blog, 2010). Ben Bagdikian identifies the repercussions: “…narrow control, whether by government or corporations, is inherently bad. In the end, no small group, certainly no group with as much uniformity of outlook and as concentrated in power as the current media corporations, can be sufficiently open and flexible to reflect the full richness and variety of society’s values and needs” (pp.223-224, 2000). Furthermore, several studies revealed a conservative political bias across mainstream news archives (Shah 2009, Global Issues). Gatewatched archives, however, open up space for diverse and competitive streams of thought. Participatory news site, Ohmynews International, opens up opportunities for a wide variety of perspectives from various grassroots reporters (Bruns 2007, p.3).

Nevertheless, gatewatched archives also suffer from the downside that content is often not regulated enough. As Nunberg says, “Media like the web tend to resist attempts to pose the sort of solutions that enable us to manage…the steady increase in the number of print documents” (Nunberg 1996, p.126). As a result, there is an overflow of information found in digital archive of the web, as well as a prolific number of archives found within the whole netscape. Repercussions include not only the lack of quality content, but the ability for users to collaborate in activities that may be perceived as abusive. One such group of users are often referred to as ‘trolls’, who are defined as users who engage purposely post incendiary comments to provoke emotional reactions (Pcmag 2013). Trolling becomes quite harmful to the concept of Produsage, disrupting the constructive sharing within an archive: Donath notes that a “troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling – where the rate of deception is high – many honestly naïve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings”. Troll culture is quite common on 4chan, an image based forum (Hoffberger, Thedailydot, 2012). A notable case is when 4chan users falsely posted on Wikipedia, twitter and Youtube that artist Justin Bieber had cancer, a hoax that fooled some users into shaving their own heads (Hoffberger, Thedailydot, 2012).

Archives not only embody the desire to destroy, but the desire to create as well.  Jacques Derrida describes archive fever as “a compulsion, repetitive, and nostalgic desire for the archive, an irrepressible desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a nostalgia for the return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement” (1995, p.91). Archive fever is essentially the intense desire to archive. This is an inherent trait of archives, visible even in its older forms: Howard talks about the immensely rewarding experience from sifting through historical archives (Early Modern Notes, 2007). However, modern archives act to furthermore facilitate archive fever.

The archival structure of video games accomodate archive fever by directly rewarding the player in making their character more powerful. Games become archives as they operate on the basis of collecting items such as clothing, weapons, treasure, achievements, scores, friends, experience points, and ability upgrades, thus forming records of historical data. These collections of data are often found in an ‘inventory’, menus and separate lists of images and text representing what you have gathered. The act of compiling such archives filters into what Yee (2007) identifies as sub-motivations: “Achievement (including advancement, mechanics, and competition)…Immersion (discovery, role-playing, customization, and escape)” (p.6). There are visible rewards for gaining an addition to an archive. In many mmorpgs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), the act of building an archive adds to the customisability of your own character, resulting a player’s increased sense of immersion and achievement. This is mostly due to the act of strengthening oneself by gaining a new ability or weapon. Furthermore many of these additions are visible towards other players, for example, others may see a new clothing piece an avatar is wearing – narcissism also plays a reward.

In video games, archive fever is also nourished by appealing to the players’ desire to search. Adding to your collection represents a reward for the players’ sub-motivations by appealing largely to what Jack Panksepp identifies as the human desire to seek. Constant dopamine rewards “promote states of eagerness and directed purpose” (Panksepp 2004, p.54). The search is undertaken by players in the form of exploring locations, continually fighting enemies in search for a certain rare item, and testing out new combinations for rewards.

Physical archives are being made redundant by the arrival of the internet archive, signifying a transition of the structures of power they once held. Control drifts away from traditional authorities, such as the broadcasting corporations, and into the hands of the mass public.  The user has to power to transform into the produser. Another major contributer is the movement from gatekeeping to gatewatching. However there are both positive and negative differences from the arrival of these electronic archives. Relaxing the screening process lets all sorts of messages through, not merely allowing for diversity in thought, but abusive behaviour. Another effect that comes from the digital archive is the capacity to exacerbate archive fever – online games being a particular structure.

Wordcount (without references and question): 1804

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