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Agnes Blaha & Andreas Leo Findeisen

Vienna, Austria
Transforming the Digital Archive
Monday, 11th September | 14:00 – 15:30

During the last two decades, a large part of born-digital content has shifted away from written language, both in public and private communication. Live streams and YouTube videos have started to supplement or even replace the catalogs and proceedings of academic and cultural events, while user-generated content and social media began to drift from written posts and status updates to more immediate and image-based formats such as Snapchat and Instagram. Along similar lines, theorists of digital culture today call for new forms of research and communication, including e.g. computational journalism that enables the public sphere function of the media to make sense of the large amount of data which governments are generating, and for adopting more fluid formats such as articles that combine text, image, video, computational applications and interactivity. Ironically, and from the viewpoint of questions of preserving and spreading knowledge relevant to the cultural memory, this development leads to an increase in both transparency and obscurity: Transparency, because public talks and other content that used to be guarded by both physical and immaterial barriers, only accessible to a relatively small circle of like-minded individuals, are now there for everyone to see, worldwide, usually for free, and for an indeterminate number of years. Obscurity, because these non-textual media formats can hardly be parsed by today’s conventional search technology in spite of all recent progress in the domain of picture recognition and natural language processing, which unfortunately means that a large part of available knowledge might never be found or used. Archiving is thus not only an issue of preservation, as the numerous initiatives of the last years might suggest, but much rather a question of simultaneously engaging with digital culture production, dissemination, access, and ownership. In this context, the interdisciplinary publishing platform TransformingFreedom.org – open archive for digital culture can serve as case study that highlights multiple aspects relevant to possible future roles of the humanities within society. The idea emerged in the mid 2000s at the theory department of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Teachers, tech staff and students of e.g. philosophy, sociology, experimental physics or media art set out to reach a practical goal: producing or re-publishing relevant knowledge as a contribution to a respective online debate. Since then, our authorsǯ lectures, speeches and discussions were transcribed, contextualized, and indexed for video navigation by headlines. In some exemplary cases, the re-published version could reach 15 times as many recipients compared to the original source available via YouTube. Still, this open archive strives to remain an imaginary space that relates more to a theatrical or performative discourse than to a strictly academic one, while showing howa public space can function in a post-digital framework. Instead of aiming to establish yet another canon of indispensable artifacts, the resulting archive strives not only to make information readily available, but also to acknowledge and respect the aesthetics and values of immediacy, transparency, and openness central to digital culture.