Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta! / Where Fork, Where Jump
The following essay is more descriptive of some of the terrain I’ve been traveling through than it is prescriptive. I’m hoping that some of the ideas that I float might help to generate discussion and move toward something dynamic—on and off line.
Not a Website
When I met with the organizers (Ashok, Jonathan, Sophie and Steve) in the fall to talk about my contribution to this project, I said I wasn’t interested in building a website. Fresh off mildly disappointing projects and more than a few brainstorming sessions on mobile devices, cross-platform content creation, and e-publishing, I was sick of the hype–sick of the promise that websites, social media, iPad/iPhone apps and ebooks were the answer to our communication needs.
When I said I didn’t want to build a website, only a website, I remember Sophie looking a little bemused. After all, I’d been brought in as a web dude, responsible for the project website. So I offered an alternative—”I like the idea of interlocking platforms,” I said. I’d like to help build “interlocking platforms.” Sounded good. It was agreed that’s what I/we’d do. Ever since, however, i’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out what it means to create interlocking platforms. As this event got closer, I started becoming panicky. What’s a platform? How are they going to interlock? What’s any of this have to do with truth & reconciliation?
What’s wrong with a website? Nothing really. A good website, like a a good map, good library, good encyclopedia, good movie channel, good photo album, good catalogue etc. is a good thing. I like websites, use them in my teaching and research all the time.
- INC: Institute of Network Cultures: http://networkcultures.org
- Bruno Latour’s site: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/
- birmingham complaints choir:
The problem is that many websites are not interesting, especially when they are linked to serious scholarly events. For years, every conference/symposium has had a website. But these sites seem to die with the event. The majority disappear or become repositories for bios and abstracts, a few pictures. The more ambitious will have video clips. Very few publish papers or proceedings.
This is not to criticize committed, well-meaning conference organizers who believe in the importance of their topic and of esteemed colleagues ideas. It’s more an indictment of persistent hold of moribund systems of print culture/capital over new media productions. Like the 20 minute conference paper, the conference website it lost in translation from print to digital media. And we don’t really know how to break out of this.
There are sites that resist this kind of closure and I will get to these later in my talk; but if you can think of positive examples please write them down or share them back channel.
How do we reconcile the conference website with more popular and populist forms of web culture. As an antidote, I’d like to speculate on something wildly different: animal photobombs
For me an amazingly powerful example of this is the animal photobombers. http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/greatest-animal-photobombers-of-all-time
While I’m not going to theorize animal photobombs, I want to point to a few instructive elements that help me to understand how the web works, or how the interlocking platforms of digital cameras, facebook/flickr photos, and google work:
- folks like strange, entertaining stuff, almost as much as the instructive and heavy—play is better than work, or at least these unscheduled, unprogrammed interruptions seem to be more engaging the regularly scheduled, weekly broadcast.
- users are not yet / not really in control of the camera’s auto-focus or self-timer functions
- untamed tech is metaphorically connected to unruly animal subjects—both demonstrate a preoccupation with the limits of human agency, the frontiers of representation.
- amazing numbers of people are willing to do the labour, be that a little or a lot, to make sure the stuff they likes gets seen
- our mistakes are often more interested than our successes
- the web is a visual medium
- social media is responding to a vacuum—we like examples like the revolution in Egypt or resistance in Iran because they valorize the dross and help drive up the value of shares in Facebook, Twitter, Youtube.
There’s a lot more to say here and I don’t want to get sucked into a vortex of web-centralization conspiracy. Others have put a lot more systematic thought into this than I have. My point is rather simple: photobomb trumps conference website.
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