After reading the article “The Geology of Media”, published in The Atlantic, and Chapter 1 of Media Archeology this week, we had the opportunity to meet with author Jussi Parikka and other scholars on Friday to discuss media archeology. One of the main themes of our conversation was the importance of the nature of a medium. The physical essence of a medium and the process by which it is made are very important and often influence the messages sent through them. One clear example of this, which we have discussed previously this semester, is print vs. digital books. We had all agreed that it is easier to study and memorize things with a physical copy. As I learned today, there are even book subcategories within print vs. digital and each one can produce a unique experience.
Different techniques for printing/publishing books over varying time periods result in distinct types of books. The tactile sensations and look of the books themselves depend on the process and influence the message. One exciting story we heard about today was a digital copy of a book written over a hundred years ago that is going to be physically printed in a similar manner to how it was originally produce. This reverse translation from digital to old methods to create the facsimile is being done in part to make a statement that sometimes the process of making can be more important than the end result. To this point, we heard an example about an aborigine style of art focused on the form and not the product. With its focus on the material manifestations of culture, media archeology provides a great framework for critical analysis of such forms and practices. This theme also relates to the ways in which we have critiqued digital media thus far. Video games are a particularly apt example of how media impact the message. Due to how interactive and flexible they are, they are capable of doing unique things other media cannot.
Another big talking point from our discussion was that no matter what discipline, everyone should consider the physical and ecological impact of a situation as an ethical obligation. We think of data and the internet as virtual, but there is a physical basis. A cloud is not just a cloud, there has to be physical storage for all of it. Parikka provided us with the anecdote of the old paper mill on the river near his hometown in Finland that has since been turned into a Google data center. It is almost inconceivable to us that data needs to be cooled, but it in fact does have substance. This is problematic because the substances of modern technologies are often toxic chemicals. The environment is something we have really only discussed in this class in the context of the novels we have read, Neuromancer and The Difference Engine. In The Difference Engine, the proliferation of new technologies resulted in a very polluted environment. The environmental concerns in our society today are very real and since the creation of media is contributing to these problems, there is a role for ecological concerns in media archeology.
One of the most thought provoking ideas from our discussion was the concept of accidentality. The theory is that whether a media takes off or becomes obsolete is determined largely by accident. The example given was that text messaging initially became popular in Europe simply because the phone companies made it cheaper than phone calls, not necessarily for any reason having to do with the benefits of the technology itself. As we explore new topics as the semester continues to progress, I think it might be interesting to consider in each case that whatever technology we discuss only came in to existence by accident.