[-empyre-] Memory and Shelf Life - From IDC

patrick lichty voyd at voyd.com
Sat Nov 17 11:46:41 EST 2007

A post I put to IDC recently...

I hope it isn't too far out of context.
Hi, everyone - 

Great that this comes up again.  It's a bit of a cross for us, I think.

Sorry for not being more Chatty (I want to reply to Scott Kildall after
this dies down), but being in academis now rather than my old indie
practice slows me.


I hope not to talk too aphoristically, but this is a topic I got into a
huge row with a student in my Media Theory class this week about this
very subject.

We talked about the impact of durable media of any kind on culture.  The
interesting thing we touched on is that of the lifespan of a video tape
and that of a CD in terms of technological support, hardware
availability, media durability.  His argument is that since all media
degrade, it makes no difference how long it degrades - to him one year
is the same as a hundred (e.g. silent  film). 


However, I thought about how much poorer we would be if the works of
Deren were to have degraded in ten years.  Not all media will be
migrated - yes, this is a truism.  But on the other hand, I feel that it
is useful to engineer media that is durable enough to remain intact long
enough for the historians to get to,


I sit with concern when parts of the Leonardo archive shut down, Mac
Classic goes away, and so on.  It's so much like Gibson's Agrippa, which
erases itself as you read it.  The Internet is truly an oral culture.


I also consider that the current batch of media history being done is
roughly that of the Stewart Brand era - 60's, maybe early 70's.  That
seems to presuppose a 30-35 year event horizon, and this will not
survive except for book entries, and perhaps some video.  I remember
reading books like "the End of the Book", how my father's office in 1983
was going to go paperless, and so on.  None of this seems to really
unfold as we thought.  To expand on George Crlin, I think that the
amount of surety we have about any future prognostication slips away
proportionally to the distance we look ahead in time.


It seems to me that much of history will be defined by the atomic
record, by my estimation.  Adrienne makes a good point about Greek
Theatre, but I counter that events throughout time happen that we are
not accountable for which destroy our records.  We can be responsible
for what is within our power, and this is also out intent or


>From this, I have no problem if a media artist makes a piece that is
headed for a lack of supporting technostructire in 10 years, but that
artist also has to understand that their work is going to evaporate
before the historians get there.  This is also why I have an atomic
archive of my outgoing emails as well.


For me, I believe that the desire for a media artwork to be considered
in the historical record requires one to be intentional about the form
of their work, and the durability of that work is the artist's
responsibility.  If a work will be on delicate/ephemeral platforms, then
it needs to be well documented, or if it is Agrippa, it needs no such


However, when I hear the hue and cry of another obsolete medium/OS or
another digital archivist proposing multiple-century archives, I have to
be circumspect, as my information tells me that digital media should
have a maximum lifespan at this time of about 20-30 years - but tends
toward a maximum of half that.


Digital practitioners need to be honest with themselves, I think, and
plan their archival strategies at multiple levels of durability if such
things concern them.  If not then they are part of oral history, and not
the atomic one.  This is fine, if it is intentional.


Patrick Lichty

- Interactive Arts & Media
  Columbia College, Chicago

- Editor-In-Chief

  Intelligent Agent Magazine


225 288 5813

FAX 312 344-8021


voyd at voyd.com


"It is better to die on your feet 
than to live on your knees." 


-----Original Message-----
From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net
[mailto:idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] On Behalf Of Adrianne Wortzel
Sent: Friday, November 16, 2007 3:56 PM
To: idc at mailman.thing.net
Subject: [iDC] shelf life


What about Euripides?

Written on papyrus in an extinct language 25 centuries ago, the plays
have been preserved as texts and continue in performances  without
Euripides lifting a finger.  They are also reiterated, repurposed,
reinterpreted and even re-made   (see "The (Re)making Project - Charles
Mee at http://www.charlesmee.org/html/about.html.


Are our technologies harder to decipher/decode than an archaic language?
Are we imprisoning our works when we make them in technologies -- even


An aspect of mischief in my own work as an artist in is to embrace the
physical obsolescence of works by embedding their content in the context
of archaeological digs and lost civilizations. A case in point are "The
Electronic Chronicles."-- stories of a future archaeological dig which
excavates our own culture as if it was the past . Created in 1994, with
overzealous use of newly available html magicJ ( alignment and tables)
and written on a yellow pad on the subway, it is now inaccessible on a
CD of "pioneer web works" accompanying The New Media Reader which
demands System 9.  Update it?  No. It is, in itself now an
archaeological artifact. (Its also still visible on line).

I know these things are painful for archivists and artists to
contemplate , but isn't it also emphatically charming and Sisyphean to
have our work "frozen" in time?. We tend to experience both the newness
and obsolesce of technologies as ascendant through time, and indicating
revoluiton, but what is really changing?

Speaking of shelf life as one of stasis; this is signage from the
American Museum of Natural History, which, aside from terrifying kids,
lauds the process of decay as life enabling. 

"A square foot of dirt in a forest holds four times as many dead insects
and animals as how many humans there are on all of the earth. If the
pile just grew and grew the forest wouldn't get any light and air and
everything would die. This is called the Cycle of Nutrition and Decay."

When work is buried by its form in new technologies, its wonderful that
there are those who would put their ear to the ground to hear its heart
beating there and resurrect it, but considering the span of our
lifetimes and those of our literal or philosophical heirs,  what kind of
time are we talking about?  Years, Decades, Millennia?


Adrianne Wortzel
Professor, Communication Design
New York City College of Technology
City University of New York
300 Jay Street, N1113
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Phone:  718 260-5512
Fax:  718 254-5888
Email:  awortzel at citytech.cuny.edu

Patrick Lichty
- Interactive Arts & Media
  Columbia College, Chicago
- Editor-In-Chief
  Intelligent Agent Magazine
225 288 5813

FAX 312 344-8021
voyd at voyd.com
"It is better to die on your feet 
than to live on your knees." 

-----Original Message-----
From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
[mailto:empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Norie
Sent: Friday, November 16, 2007 5:56 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] November 2007 on -empyre- : Memory Errors
intheTechnosphere: Art, Accident, Archive

HI Mickey,
sorry i've been off line for a few days.
On 14/11/2007, at 2:25 PM, Madeleine Reich Casad wrote:

>> I think it's not so much the "fact of documentation" as the *act*  
>> of documenting... which is what Maria discussed in relation to  
>> peformativity. Which is why i was interested in bringing these  
>> examples up in the context of John's energy discussion -- because  
>> there is a palpable energy in those mediated performative  
>> encounters. That is, in the family photo instance, and in my  
>> performative encounters works with Maria, there is something like  
>> an energy shift at the moment when the relationships, with family  
>> or strangers, are mediated. It doesn't feel like a framing or  
>> superego thing, but like entering a zone *together*... we  
>> experience it as a zone of play... it's like there is an energy  
>> created together when we all enter that zone, and the invitation  
>> to enter is the invitation to document the moment which is about  
>> to happen. I suspect a similar thing is happening with the  
>> cellphone cameras events...
> Thanks, Norie.  You describe that energy beautifully here, and you  
> and Maria 'play' it beautifully in your work as well.
> And these energies are totally real; I don't mean to suggest  
> otherwise.  But I'm also interested in thinking about how such  
> energies open onto larger structures of power.... in the hope that  
> we might learn to dissuade them from doing so, I suppose.

i'm not sure what you mean by  "how such energies open onto larger  
structures of power". can you say more?
> You write that:
>> the invitation to enter is the invitation to document the moment  
>> which is about to happen.
> I'm reading this invitation to document as also an invitation to  
> become part of a document; I think it points to the uniqueness of  
> the moment and also the way that, when we're aware of the moment's  
> uniqueness we agree somehow to document it with our very selves, to  
> be irretrievably changed by it, in ways that may not be predictable  
> before the fact.  And accepting that unpredictability and the risk  
> it entails is probably an essential element of joining the energy  
> of the moment in the first place.
> Maybe it takes some shift of awareness to draw the "magic circle"  
> that differentiates (if only partially) the zone of play from that  
> of non-play, and the presence of a mediating or recording device  
> like a camera is enough to prompt that shift in awareness.
yes, good point... useful for us in thinking about how media are  
working in these encounters
> But I think it's also important to ask what forces we bring into  
> the circle (desire, ideology, expectation...?) and how they shape  
> the kinds of interaction that unfold within that zone.  (Eg, what  
> defines the field of possibility, what options are available to us  
> when we Play Together?  How do we know?)
> So that's one reason why I wanted to think about specific recording  
> devices as active 'players,' with characters, lives, and contexts  
> of their own, which they actualize in us and bring into our  
> interactions with each other.  The camera for example belongs to  
> certain (image) economies of valuation and exchange, and certain  
> cultural practices as well... The analog camera by its very nature  
> points to after-the-fact-ness, and on some level that influences  
> our interactions with it: our awareness of the after-the-fact, our  
> anticipation of what the after-the-fact image might be, what it  
> might look like, how it might relate to other photographs, how we  
> might *want* it to relate to other photographs, etc.  But cellphone  
> cameras, especially in your students' example, seem to do something  
> different.
> Which is how I ended up with all sorts of questions about the  
> scenarios you described.  Like:  What does one customarily do with  
> a cellphone camera, or how does one pose for a cellphone camera?   
> If after-the-fact is an option you can take or leave as you like,  
> what possibilities do you have for using or circulating the  
> potential after-the-fact images?  These are fairly new cultural  
> developments, but it seems like customs, practices, and economies  
> are emerging already....  So I wondered: if you're recording an  
> image in anticipation of one day performing nostalgia, do you use a  
> cellphone camera for that?  Or does that ritual of memorialization  
> demand a different instrument?
I agree with your points about 'after the factness' and how its  
different in analog and digital and how it makes the encounter feel  
different. it does seem like the cellphone camera is, or has been in  
a strange zone -- both enabling a certain sort of performative moment  
of sociability and connection that gets its energy from the fact that  
it might become part of an archive or nostalgia but not needing to  
actually do so to play that role.
> Take care,
> Mickey
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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