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History Is One Second Ago, and How You Can Intervene in the Future


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Talk given at Archives Week, Western Washington State University, Bellingham, Washington, USA in May 2010 by Rick Prelinger

Talk given at Archives Week, Western Washington State University, Bellingham, Washington, USA in May 2010 by Rick Prelinger

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  • 1. History is One Second Ago, and How You Can Intervene in the Future Rick Prelinger Bellingham, May 2010 Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial licenseMonday, December 27, 2010Thanks!
  • 2. Monday, December 27, 2010so today my angle will be radical traditionalism. what? seems like an oxymoron. does it meansticking our head in the ground while the rest of the world speeds past us? is it just talking the talkrather than walking the walk, trying to have our cake and eat it too?how do we, as artists and makers, deal with changes that might be unsettling? do we plunge intothe future? do we stick with what’s familiar? there’s a lot of pressure to decide. one thing we mightdo is ask how real these questions are, whether they represent actual alternatives.
  • 3. Monday, December 27, 2010is freer culture all about working for free? are we losing our shot at the great billable event in thesky? are the new models of production and distribution just a big steal? will emergent makers andnonprofessionals destroy culture?
  • 4. Monday, December 27, 2010Maybe the new models aren’t really so radical or so threatening.We might find some answers by looking at some of the ways we think about history, and thenrecalling a bit of the history of archives.
  • 5. Monday, December 27, 2010History has always been contested territory.
  • 6. Monday, December 27, 2010It’s not a warm and fuzzy place, not a place to look for consensus.
  • 7. Monday, December 27, 2010If you ask historical questions, don’t expect simple answers.
  • 8. Monday, December 27, 2010And if you ask who controls history, don’t expect a simple answer either.
  • 9. Monday, December 27, 2010And yet, there’s tremendous interest in history, and it’s become part of the cultural mainstream.This can often lead us to ask complex and penetrating questions. Who and what inhabited thisplace before us? Who were our ancestors and how did they live? What were people thinking anddoing during this or that war, this or that storm, this or that migration?
  • 10. Wall separating Black and White neighborhoods, Detroit, 1951Monday, December 27, 2010So our natural interest in history leads many of us in the direction of historical documents. Now,historical documents may be loaded — maybe even incendiary. They may trace complicated, evenviolent histories. As a consequence, sometimes people resist evidence, sometimes they hide it,sometimes they destroy it.
  • 11. Monday, December 27, 2010And sometimes they try to wrap history in scarcity (just like almost everything else). They imagine that it isvaluable, they try to make money from it. I guess I do that too. But there’s also history that belongs to acommunity, that might be shared, that’s defined as no one’s private property. That’s a traditional way ofthinking about knowledge that’s now coming back into focus.
  • 12. Las Vegas, NevadaMonday, December 27, 2010So there’s one big question to keep in mind — should traces of history live in private hands, or should we insistthat history, heritage and even culture be common property? And what would it mean to call it common property,anyway?
  • 13. Monday, December 27, 2010So today I’m going to begin by talking a little about history and how it’s filtered through archives, and how we mightimagine different ways of collecting and different kinds of archives, practices that better serve the interests both of peoplenow living and those yet to be born. And then I’m going to segue into a little bit of our own history, milk it for what itmight mean, and talk about some of the new models we’ve been working with. Then I want to look at thesemodels and talk about what I call "historical intervention" -- how we can inject the past into the present to change thefuture.
  • 14. Monday, December 27, 2010ok, so who am I to talk about all this?I sometimes call myself a recovered archivist, but it’s hard to recover from being an archivist, maybeI’m kind of a meta-archivist nowi sometimes think of myself as a maker (one feature-length film)for sure I’m an outsider librarianand, oh yes, i sell footage for a living
  • 15. why are archives important?Monday, December 27, 2010so why are archives important?well, obviously: historical evidence is fragile. Much has disappeared. The canonical missions ofarchives are to preserve historical records — to make them accessible — to organize, describe andcontextualize them.
  • 16. Sony PetaSite mass media storageMonday, December 27, 2010Well, so what?We have a kind of reverence about archives. It is vague, not reality-based. People expect archives to be there when theyneed them. We say, “they’re doing important work,” the same way we might praise an oil spill responder, a garbagecollector, a cop who arrests a driver that’s hit a cyclist.
  • 17. Monday, December 27, 2010But classically archives belong to larger organizations: governments, churches, universities,corporations, even families. They’re usually not public institutions. Like many children, they wereconceived to fulfill the agendas of their parents. They make their own rules. Most of the time,except in special cases (like some government agencies), they can choose whether or not theircollections will be open, and lay down conditions for access to and use of their materials.
  • 18. Welcome to SFOMonday, December 27, 2010It might actually be revealing to think of archives as gatekeepers. They exercise practical controlover historical materials. They can arbitrate and administer peoples’ connections with their history.They can let pass certain histories, block others.Is this good? We might answer this in different ways, depending on which histories we agree with.
  • 19. Monday, December 27, 2010But this means that archives can be institutions of denial as much as institutions of memory.This means they can practice strategic forgetting, tactical denial.We know they have done this time and again.
  • 20. Monday, December 27, 2010So a quiet, dusty collection might in fact possess the potential to sustain or destroy consciousness, to control how weunderstand our history, and ultimately control how we remember.
  • 21. Monday, December 27, 2010Stewart Brand was right in a way: information wants to be free. The massive secret archives of the Soviet Unionopened, to some extent, for a time in the 1990s, and we’ve recently heard about how human rights researchersstumbled on the secret police archives in Guatemala, and are now doing conservation work and digitizing them.
  • 22. Monday, December 27, 2010But right this moment, countless archival records that we are not allowed to see are beinggenerated. Some of them will be destroyed, but many of them are likely to find their way into thepublic domain. It often takes more energy to repress than it does to release.
  • 23. Monday, December 27, 2010So it might take longer than we’d like, but most secrets get out eventually.On the other hand, culture that’s not secret, but simply under copyright, may never escape thearchive.Consequently, the archive needs help to pull the doors open. This means us.
  • 24. Monday, December 27, 2010We have a wonderful infrastructure of public, private and personal archives in the world, but wehave very little guarantee that we can see, hear, or touch what we need to, now or in the future.Public libraries have an ethic of access and a tradition of openness. Archives don’t have that yet,and we don’t have a strategy to move in that direction. Nor do we have a culture of risk-taking.
  • 25. Monday, December 27, 2010So using historical materials to intervene in the present and shape the future is a very old practice,but it started to hit big in the 1970s, when media began to embrace the past, not always for theright reasons.
  • 26. 1960s: Oldskool TV docs: war, disasters, movie stars “Official” materials: newsreels, gov’t films 1970s: Key compilation features: (Gizmo, Brother Can You Spare A Dime) Nostalgia craze begins, heavy “retro” marketing 1980s: Media business opens up, many new distro outlets Cable, homevideo need cheap airtime Archives flower: Atomic Cafe, music videos, countless commercials, corporate videos, cable docs, MTV on-air promotion, etc. Ephemeral films resurface The past reemerges in color AUDIO AND VIDEO SAMPLING 1990s: Remixing infects art world 2000s: Remixing moves from art to amateurismMonday, December 27, 2010We see the emergence of hitherto unseen archival material in TV and documentaries — industrial, advertising, amateur,educational, purely evidentiary films and similar visual documents. These more populist genres edged out more "official"materials, such as newsreels and government films, and began to increase popular consciousness of archives. “Where did all thisstuff come from?” people asked. Atomic Café, made in 1982, was an important waypoint. The efflorescence of mediadistribution outlets acted like a magnet to pull images out of archives. I’d also point in passing to something that arrives later —the emergence of sampling and remix culture, which I think has a non-trivial connection to archives.
  • 27. movement from institutional to individual productionMonday, December 27, 2010In the 1970s and 1980s, people typically needed groups and organizations to make work. But in the past twenty yearsproduction has shifted to something people do themselves. The tools got cheaper and easier. And at the same time socialand cultural history became a mass interest. Now people are making work all by themselves. This is where the profile ofthe archival user starts to change. And this is where the old-school media maker might start to feel threatened.
  • 28. entitlementMonday, December 27, 2010Many archivists are noticing that people are beginning to feel quite a sense of entitlement regarding archival collections.They sometimes make demands that are really difficult to address. On the positive side, we’ve ourselves discovered thatpeople develop passionate interest in unedited archival footage; they don’t care about editing, narration and backgroundmusic, they want to see the original document! And many people remix, reedit and recontextualize the collections.Unless remixing turns out to be a fad, just an ephemeral style, we are just at the early point of what I believe will be anenduring and robust sector of media culture.
  • 29. The Bouvard and Pécuchet problemMonday, December 27, 2010Flaubert’s book about two uncritical collectors and seekers of knowledge offers many insights for today, and Ithink it also speaks to fan culture. It tells the story of two elderly men who collected historical docs, artifacts andtrivia in the 1840s, wowed by the aura of these things and the presumed value of the information they collected.But they could not reconcile opposing viewpoints, and the more they gathered, the less they knew.This is key reading for archivists, people interested in fan culture, and really for anyone who thinks that the morewe collect and the more Google digitizes, the more we know.
  • 30. Monday, December 27, 2010But overall, what we are seeing is the abolition of archival privilege, a significant growth in the ability to see, if notto touch, archival imagery. (I’ll talk about “touch” in a bit.) Archives no longer decide, or can decide, who theirusers are going to be; those that try to are fighting a losing battle. There is a parallel here in the world ofmediamaking: the “red velvet curtain” that many mediamakers have historically striven for -- in the States thiswould mean that your doc premieres on HBO or PBS prime-time, that it has a major theatrical release, etc. Only afew makers have that privilege. Now a different set of factors, some impossible to predict, rule. You can’tnecessarily control who will see (and who will pay to see) your work.
  • 31. Monday, December 27, 2010And somewhere around here is where my own experience starts to kick in....
  • 32. Monday, December 27, 2010Back to 1980. I’m a college dropout and working as a typesetter. This is now pretty much anextinct job. I move to New York hoping to work my way into working on a film crew. This doesn’twork and I keep on typesetting.
  • 33. Monday, December 27, 2010Now it’s 1982. Friends of mine make a documentary called Atomic Cafe. It’s a big success for adoc, and plays all over North America. They’re given money to make another movie, which they callHeavy Petting. It’s about sex and romance in America after World War II. I’ve always been interestedin archival film, and their budget is low, so they hire me as research director. I get to quit workingmidnight to 8 am shifts.
  • 34. CBS News library,Washington, DC 2009Monday, December 27, 2010I start to learn about archival research -- who owns historical images and sounds, and how to prythem loose. And I try to figure out how to show concepts; how to show events and ideas that youcan’t look up in the old card catalogs at the network TV news archives and the newsreel collections.I realize that to show these you need to go to the films that were made to condition and convincepeople -- to make them into good citizens, good consumers, good workers, good students, goodboys and girls.
  • 35. Monday, December 27, 2010And so I was drawn to collecting educational, advertising and industrial films, first for the movieand then for myself when the movie goes on the skids and rests for a few years. My collection gotreally big really quickly.
  • 36. Michigan Central RR terminal, DetroitMonday, December 27, 2010Who knows, but perhaps 500,000 ephemeral films were made in the US. We’re a very media-richnation -- we throw away more media than most other nations produce. Most of this material’s inthe public domain. There were, and still are, many huge opportunities for the collector, archivist,scholar, producer. This material was sitting all over the country, ignored. Hadn’t been targeted bylegacy archives. There was room for me to roam freely.
  • 37. Monday, December 27, 2010This was a dirty, and sometimes expensive job, but it was DIY archival practice. I traveled to manycities in America’s rustbelt, and collected films from colleges and university distribution libraries,from high schools, from prod cos that had gone out of businesses, from labs, from people whoworked in the industry. Yet I was still only a collector.
  • 38. Monday, December 27, 2010Working with the Voyager Company starting in 1986 helped me realize that what I was doing bothfitted into the archival and historic contexts -- that I was doing archival work where little had beendone before, but also practicing history without a diploma. Slowly I began to figure out what Imight be doing, and began to show films around the country and in Europe...did some laserdiscs,videotapes and ultimately CD-ROMs -- I say ultimately because this was a new and promisingmedium at the time.
  • 39. accidental and uncurated work,Yorkshire Sculpture Park, UKMonday, December 27, 2010But life got really interesting for us when we started to have our own experiences with the gifteconomy: experiments with models of plenty.
  • 40., December 27, 2010At the very end of 2000 we partnered with the Internet Archive and opened up our online collectionwith about 300 archival films, free to download. Its now over 2,100 items. For us, the onlinearchives marked a move from having a repository, a collection, to convening a workshop, a placewhere people went to make new work and could meet others in the process. Three years later, weopened a library.
  • 41. Monday, December 27, 2010In summer 2004, my spouse Megan and I opened our private research library to the public. We arein downtown San Francisco, in the South of Market area, in rented space that once was an industriallaundry. When we opened, 60 of our friends spent 8 days together shelving books. We’reappropriation-friendly, and we encourage people to come and scan, copy, photograph thecollection. We have about 1,200 visitors per year, not counting people who visit off-site special-event libraries we set up. Were open about two days a week -- almost every Wednesday afternoonand evening, and usually three Sunday afternoons a month. We never know whos going to comeduring open hours, so are usually surprised. We also make appointments for out-of-towners andhost a good many classes and workshops.
  • 42. www.prelingerlibrary.orgMonday, December 27, 2010It’s not a film or video collection -- it’s about 50,000 books, periodical volumes, zines, maps, governmentdocuments and maybe 30,000 items of print ephemera. Each Wednesday, anywhere from zero to 25 people cometo use the collection and often cross-fertilize one another. Some are regulars, some come for the first time.Neither of us had ever imagined a library could be such an interesting place.
  • 43. Monday, December 27, 2010Nor had we imagined that such community could build around a collection. But we’ve had over6,000 visitors, mostly artists, writers and real librarians who are curious about what we’re doing,and all kinds of amazing things have come to pass because of the library. It is where we do muchof our work -- we’re independent scholars -- and increasingly it’s also launched a whole bunch ofvery interesting collaborations. We are doing books, installations, museum exhibits, andresidencies that are all based around the library.
  • 44. Monday, December 27, 2010The library is comprised of our combined personal book collection, and is centered on ourrespective and combined research interests, which include, but are not limited to:
  • 45. Monday, December 27, 2010North American regional landscape and land use history; the interests around which we met andfirst combined our collections and collection-building sensibilities
  • 46. Monday, December 27, 2010Media history; incorporating all the print materials ancillary to the film archive
  • 47. Monday, December 27, 2010urban and infrastructure history
  • 48. Monday, December 27, 2010histories of underreported social and political narratives
  • 49. Monday, December 27, 2010with emphasis on public domain materials, especially government documents which are so rich inlandscape history
  • 50. Monday, December 27, 2010and social history
  • 51. Monday, December 27, 2010and image-rich materials
  • 52. Monday, December 27, 2010We collect out-of-print materials and ephemeral literature -- works that were published withoutbeing meant for posterity; works intended only to have a temporally or situationally limited lifespan.These are some of the most powerful and compelling documents in the library -- in any library --because they often shed light on moments and trends that would otherwise be described only byhistorians.
  • 53. Monday, December 27, 2010They illuminate ideologies and cultural sensibilities that may or may not have made a lastingimpression on the official historical record.
  • 54. Monday, December 27, 2010The library doesn’t have a catalog. Rather, it’s arranged in subject clusters that reflect a homegrowntaxonomy of knowledge, specific to our library. The subjects begin with the local (San Francisco, whereour feet meet the ground, and progress through about 50 areas until we get to science and space). Mostlibraries are query-based -- the first thing you see when you walk in is a computer, with a blinking cursorinviting you to search for something. We find that reductive and limiting, and instead expose all thematerials so that people can exercise their powers of discovery and, as a writer said, “find what you’re notlooking for.” The metadata is itself the data.
  • 55. Monday, December 27, 2010We’ve also digitized just over 3,700 public domain books, pieces of print ephemera and periodicalvolumes in partnership with the Internet Archive, which are freely available for download and reusewithout restrictions.
  • 56. Monday, December 27, 2010Print is dying, right? Migration to digital is irreversible, right? The “screenager” generation turns away from physical objects,right? We’ve found that none of this is true. We have a constant stream of younger visitors who seem mesmerized by thecollection and pull out an incredibly diverse array of materials. They sometimes have to be literally ejected at closing time. Wefind that paper-based materials seem to function differently in a world that is growing digital, and that digital materials tend totake a secondary position when the paper materials are accessible and organized in a way that fascinates. We don’t think we’removing toward an all-digital world, but rather a hybrid analog-digital world.
  • 57. Monday, December 27, 2010Events also happen around the library. This slide shows the Illuminated Corridor, an outdoor audio & video remix event that took placelast October, made by musicians, performative projectionists and a bunch of artists. Most of the material came from our online archives,some from our open library, and the center image is my movie, for which Gino Robair composed a new live score. About 400 peoplecame. The projections are in the parking lot on the wall of our library building.
  • 58. Monday, December 27, 2010Weve also brought the library to Maker Faire for the last two years, which is a gathering/conference/skillshare/performance of almost 80,000 people who are focused on reframingtechnology as something you can do with your own hands and tools and reshape toward your ownends. Last year we had about 1,500 visitors who spent hours reading old how-to books andmagazines, and made many new friends. Were a small workshop; the Faire is a huge workshop.
  • 59. enclosure plentyMonday, December 27, 2010These are some of our small-scale solutions to the divide between enclosure and plenty. In a moment, I’ll look atthem critically.
  • 60. WONDERFUL AND UNPREDICTABLE THINGS HAPPEN WHEN ORDINARY PEOPLE GET ACCESS TO PRIMARY MATERIALSMonday, December 27, 2010I show this slide every time I talk, and here it is again. It bears repetition. The model of plenty paysoff in ways that we cannot begin to imagine.
  • 61. "Given material abundance, scarcity must be a function of boundaries." — Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, 1979-83Monday, December 27, 2010So we have great tools and technologies that we hope can enable almost universal access to culture. At the sametime, technology is unevenly distributed, and it can also enable an unprecedented level of enclosure. I’mespecially thinking about digital rights management, electronic locks and keys to control access to digitalmaterials. All of us will have to decide which tools we want to use and which we’d rather not pick up. Plenty andscarcity aren’t inherent characteristics of culture, but attributes with which we choose to surround it. And the sameis true for openness.
  • 62. Monday, December 27, 2010When we make and distribute work that’s more open, we’re on our way towards redefining how culture behaves. I believeOPENNESS, which is a young word and still imprecise, is critical to our futures. Openness means different things in differentsituations, and it can be expressed differently in different works. There’s no single formula for openness, and no one should beforced into manipulating their work so that it conforms to someone else’s idea of what might be open. But that said, opennessmay be one strategy that helps enable makers to survive in a confused cultural and media landscape. Certainly archives need to bemore open.
  • 63. touchMonday, December 27, 2010What’s openness? Openness means not just seeing the image of a book page, but seeing the text too and being able to mix and manipulateit. Not just watching a movie, but being free to download the shots, the EDL, the edit timeline and make your own cut. Not just the musicbut the MIDI. Openness on the web means that we all have to be able to crawl, navigate and index what we find. And since openness isntjust the freedom to read, listen, watch, feel, smell, taste, but also the freedom to remix in all of these sensory domains – in the digital worldthis means that you have to be able to touch the object itself and touch the code that makes it play, display or manifest itself. This is what Imean by touch — the ability to engage the object in a profound and unconditional manner. We need FREEDOM OF TOUCH because wecannot anticipate today how we will want to approach culture tomorrow. We may want to compute upon it. We may want to immerseourselves in it. We may want to segment it.
  • 64. tweaking the modelMonday, December 27, 2010Now, I’d like to talk a bit about modeling the commons.what’s the commons anyway?
  • 65. Wikipedia 2010-05-19Monday, December 27, 2010The original definition of the commons comes from land that was held in common and worked in common under English common law.The commons goes far back, even predating the monarchy. Here’s what Wikipedia said about the commons this morning.One rather unfortunate characteristic about the commons is that much of it is gone. Lost. Privatized or in the process of privatization.This means we have to avoid the nostalgia trap, yearning for something that we might not even recognize if we saw it again.
  • 66. Monday, December 27, 2010Many projects to try to recover the lost commons have cropped up in the last few years. A lot ofthese are internet-based, as the net gets many of us thinking about a world where there are nobillable events.
  • 67. Open-source licenses Open content initiatives Open education resources Creative Commons Wikipedia & associated projects Internet Archive UbuWeb p2p (some might disagree) “Web 2.0” sites (billions working for free)Monday, December 27, 2010Here are just a few that came to mind one recent evening. Some seem genuine efforts, otherssimulations. In other words, Ubuweb and p2p efforts represent a commons for some, a big steal forothers. So-called “Web 2.0” sites may feel like a commons to those whose lives are bound up withthe creation and exchange of information and all of the social benefits that arise out of networkedcreativity, but it remains true that the few are profiting from the labor of the many.
  • 68. Monday, December 27, 2010But some of these initiatives are great and there is a growing critique of rigid social and economicstructures that may not serve everyone’s needs. Perhaps we are starting to ask more of utopia thanwe’ve done in the past.
  • 69. Are we relying on post-scarcity models?Monday, December 27, 2010Our experiences have been wonderful, but they’ve led us to ask a few difficult questions. Are werelying on post-scarcity models? Are we modeling the kind of commons that works best for richpeople in developed countries?
  • 70. Monday, December 27, 2010For example, if we expect to give away content and support ourselves by touring, lecturing, sellingmerchandise, or value-added businesses, these are not universal alternatives. It seems to me thatKevin Kelly’s billable attributes of free content require a highly developed economic infrastructure,and assume a fully built-out Internet. And future economies may not support our models.
  • 71. Monday, December 27, 2010Are we creating a completely new organization of production? Are we developing new divisions oflabor, new kinds of property ownership, or are we simply renaming categories of exchange frompaid to free? Are we making structural changes, or are we calling the same things by differentnames? Are we relying on quick fixes?
  • 72. where do gifts really come from?Monday, December 27, 2010Many gifts are covertly subsidized. Our online archives is subsidized by a lot of expensive film-to-videotape transfer and cheap digitization from the Internet Archive. We subsidize our library withincome from our stock footage business. Our income is increased by the footage we give away forfree, but secured because we are represented by the biggest stock image company in the world(Getty Images), which gives us a market presence we would never otherwise have.
  • 73. who is paying for the gift economy?Monday, December 27, 2010Within a capitalist system, when you see a little commons, a little corner of the gift economy, youneed to ask who is making it possible.Many people who build pieces of great open-source projects rely on day jobs to survive. All of thepackets we send and receive ride on network infrastructure which is owned by corporations,governments or institutions. We build cool community wireless networks, but we don’t control thebackbone that connects them to the Internet.
  • 74. Monday, December 27, 2010Many people praise us for opening up our archives, but we haven’t opened up our whole collection.And would they still praise me if I let strangers into my house to sleep every night, in the same waythey praise me for letting strangers download unrestricted digital media files? Commons here, butnot commons there.
  • 75. Monday, December 27, 2010In other words, if I dip just one foot into the water, am I really swimming? I still have a leg to standon. I don’t have to trust the salt to help me float.
  • 76. new models of cultural distribution get people thinking about new models for distributing property which is great Pregnant turtle radiograph: Megan Shaw PrelingerMonday, December 27, 2010It is crucial to nurture and propagate commons models, but it’s also important to keep track ofwhat kinds of economies build out around the exploitation of free things — information, art, goods,services, and especially utilities.
  • 77. added value: color and sugarMonday, December 27, 2010Water might be free in many places, but fortunes are made in bottles and pipelines.Much UGC is free, but the people who build the indexes and link content to advertising are cleaningup bigtime.
  • 78. Monday, December 27, 2010Do commons-based models scale? What if all the other stock footage companies did what we did?Would we lose our advantage? Would the value-added services we charge for suddenly lose allvalue? In other words, would we kill the goose?
  • 79. Monday, December 27, 2010And while much information may be free, who owns the indexes? Who will own the segmentation,which is often the key to touching content in a smart way? We don’t have a good historymaintaining free and common indexes, do we? CDDB, IMDB, Usenet, the Web. We control themolecules, but not the compounds. I don’t want to have to pay much, if anything, to navigatecommon territories. So we need to build free indexes and infect content such that indexes remainfree.
  • 80. Monday, December 27, 2010Have we figured out ways to fully employ people’s time and effort in a commons-based scheme, orare we simply handing over a portion of our time and property to the commons, while holding ontothe rest?
  • 81. Monday, December 27, 2010The most disturbing question of all -- is free culture and the cultural commons just a fad? Will street-levelartists, entertainers and entrepreneurs, people who lead us all to the future, route around it, GET OVER IT,move onto something else? We know remixing and sharing are deeply traditional practices, but will theirmodern forms prove to be part of just another style that passes over us?
  • 82. Monday, December 27, 2010Is the commons a “hothouse” model, a self-consciously anachronistic model, destined for a short life? Oris it simply an artisanal, minority practice? Will it be marginalized both at the high end by theentertainment industry and at the low end by individual creators who have moved on to something else? Ihope neither of these is true. We need to build a commons that won’t be a fad, a commons that will bemore than a brand.
  • 83. Monday, December 27, 2010None of this is intended to say we should stop experimenting. Quite the opposite! When it comesto culture, the world of plenty is already here, and to acknowledge plenty makes culture plentiful.
  • 84. Monday, December 27, 2010Outside the cultural sphere, we’re dominated by complex issues : climate change, economics, energy, community, migration, howto make technology really useful, the chameleon-like corporation (and chameleon-like marketing) and the pervasive state.Collaborative and peer production (such as Yochai Benkler speaks about in The Wealth of Networks), decentralized industrial andartisanal models, and evolving gift economies may offer better ways to meet some of these challenges.We can find proofs of concept in the cultural space, and set useful examples without moving mountains. For me this validatesmany of the small-scale experiments in which many of us are engaging.
  • 85. NYC, 1952Monday, December 27, 2010And I think there are ways beyond some of these modeling problems.As Galadriel says, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
  • 86. Amateur Movie Makers, first issue, Dec. 1926 Movie Makers, Jan. 1934Monday, December 27, 2010So one way out is to look to ourselves and to embrace amateurism. Amateurism has a wonderfulstreak of idealism. The remarkable libertarian quote on top, and the contrarian quote below thattrashes Hollywood and praises outsider practice, testify to the commitment of early amateurfilmmakers and the promise of the medium.And amateurism and outsiderism can work in the contemporary world as well. It is time for a doseof do-it-yourself.
  • 87. Monday, December 27, 2010We’re seeing a huge upsurge in DIY culture and activity. Our library is itself inspired by oldskool punk culture, which encouragedand empowered people to take up the tools around them and just do it. There are many tendrils that lead back to a set of commonassumptions: maker culture, citizen science, hacking consumer products and technology, urban agriculture, blogging as journalism-- you will think of others.For archives and for makers, the field is wide open for experimentation, and we will all gain if we are open to unconventionalways of pushing our works out to audiences that we might not even have known existed.
  • 88. regionalism and the lure of the localMonday, December 27, 2010In the archival world, new ideas originate at the periphery and infuse the center: trends like regional andspecialized archives, which are the birthplaces of innovative practices. Many of them are DIY and community-based, like Home Movie Day and urban home movie recovery and revival projects. Home Movie Day wasn’tinvented at the Library of Congress or the Museum of Modern Art, but it is creating new constituencies and newsupport for archives.
  • 89. Garden for the Environment, San Francisco, September 2007Monday, December 27, 2010The new archives don’t just live in physical and online spaces -- they take their holdings to where the people are.As soon as it gets dark, these people will watch an archival film about gardening, and there’ll be loud BOOS whenPop starts spraying pesticides on the vegetables.
  • 90. Herbert Bayer, 1946Monday, December 27, 2010Just because we live in an age when mass distribution is POSSIBLE doesn’t mean we all have to makemass media. The criteria for what makes something go viral are contradictory and opaque.
  • 91. Monday, December 27, 2010The rewards from working within specific communities often outweigh the actual benefits of massdistribution.
  • 92. points of departure (samples only) zines & independent pubs home movies → home videos online videos (82.900.000 on YouTube at 10:31 am, 7 April 08) curated collections of webpages (esp. personal profiles) local seeds (let 1000 Svalbards bloom) text messages, IMs, email TV commercials government radio comms records of nature/culture interaction Flickr self-help books 1840-present drugs & supplements packaging local and community arts documentation your own personal recordsMonday, December 27, 2010We can all be DIY archivists. There are many opportunities.Here are a few points of departure, some directions to think about. These came to mind becausethey’re bodies of cultural material that no one is doing anything, or at least enough, to collect.
  • 93. Decentralization Gift Experiment DIYMonday, December 27, 2010All of these are deeply traditional practices, and in fact they’ve been lost in the world of the modern market. What I likeabout these practices is that they’re well-suited to individual and small-group practice. Each is its own answer to thequestion we’re all asking, “What can I do?” And in a world where most mainstream media is owned by largecorporations, where the skins that stretch over reality change faster than we can keep track, where novel forms of mediaand promising technologies are born and die every day, it’s radical to look to these kinds of traditions as means to sustain.
  • 94. Monday, December 27, 2010There are many do-or-die choices in the world today, but within culture there is near-infinite roomfor experiment. Even though it often feels as if we’re living in a dystopian period, this is why it’s anexciting time to be alive.
  • 95. Photo: Amy BalkinMonday, December 27, 2010High on the hill above the Arctic Ocean, dug hundreds of feet deep into rock, is the Svalbard GlobalSeed Vault, perhaps the most important archives of our time. It opened on February 26th.
  • 96. Svalbard Global Seed VaultMonday, December 27, 2010Protected by motion sensors and polar bears, this repository stores samples of seeds from all over the planet. Itis the archives of biodiversity, the collection of last resort. It is the honored exception to the principle of universalarchival access. You don’t want to have to go in there.This is an essential project, but it’s also been criticized for its myopic focus on ex situ storage, and for takingaway seeds from farmers who are and always have been the real breeders of plants. Biodiversity preservationneeds to happen all over the world, and farmers need to be part of it. So along with crucial projects like Svalbard,we also need DIY and decentralized efforts.
  • 97. Photo: Jose Maria “Chema” BarredoMonday, December 27, 2010Culture, like water, small animals and seeds in the wind, is hard to enclose. But culture is also fragile. Ifwe start to run into involuntary limits on our mobility, our metabolism, and our freedom to consume, itwill be interesting to see what forms of cultural activity survive.
  • 98. Monday, December 27, 2010If we’re going to keep media alive, and, more important, if we’re going to give media reasons to exist, we can’t justfollow aging models. We shouldn’t make media in a monocultural context. We need to think about how we andour projects can be active players in the world. We need to work in a social way, to assemble public resources andprojects that have a true public presence. Our workplaces should be experimental farms, creative labs, noisyarchives, places for contemplation. We need to make lots more work, do it faster and cheaper, and strategize newways of putting it out.
  • 99. Monday, December 27, 2010The social contract between makers and audiences isn’t an abstract idea — it is constantly madeand remade through active engagement between people and the organizations they form. Andengagement is up to us.
  • 100. Dawn, not sunsetMonday, December 27, 2010Thank you.
  • 101. http://blackoystercatcher.blogspot.comMonday, December 27, 2010