research design laboratory

Our Machines and the Stories We Tell About Them

On the first day of my postdoc, I had the pleasure and great privilege of attending a seminar by Matt Kirschenbaum, organized by Lori Emerson (Director of the Media Archaeology Lab) and James Asher, among others, at the University of Colorado - Boulder. Kirschenbaum is an incredibly inspiring scholar.

During the seminar, Kirschenbaum proposed that media archaeology can provide a theoretical framework for engaging with obsolescence as well as a set of hands-on commitments (still lacking or largely undervalued in academia, I think.)
The main ideas circulating during the seminar were about the materiality of digital objects, the 'radical presence' of obsolete technologies, and the (lack of documented) cultures and stories that surround these machines. Focusing on authors and e-lit, we explored the ways in which technology informs, shapes, and limits our ability to write. Beyond the final version of a text, we must look to the computers, hardware, software, signals, flows from social media, as well as assorted ephemera and digital detritus, that have all become important archival concerns for the media archaeologist. (I wonder, though, if we will soon look back and question 'finality' itself - as it seems to be an unquestioned (but shaky) pillar propping up the discussion of what counts as a text vs the rest, in the creative process. Instead, I wonder if the consideration that our machines are removing the notion of 'a final' (and 'original'?) text might significantly alter the object of study...) Another interesting comment made during the seminar, but that remained unexplored, was the idea of permance and preservation in relation to access to an author's work. But what happens (to the object of study) when it is created (authored) with an explicit idea of or intention for the archive? While a challenge to research, I do think impermanence and ephemerailty are necessary concepts to explore in their own right, and not simply as consequences of media history.
Based off the work of Kittler - credited as the ancestor of the concept, Ernst - who made it theoretically dense, Parikka - who made it sexy, and others, not mentioned, I think the canon forming around media archaeology is creating noticeable gaps, despite the careful methodologies it puts forward. I tend to think of media archaeology as inherently queer - in so far as it strives to recover destroyed, lost, or invisible media histories, or, in how it angles itself as an activist/subversive tactic - but I wonder what a self-reflexive feminist media archaeology might offer? While Wendy Chun and Lisa Gitelman are often cited and referenced, they continue to be sidestepped… and tacking on women to the list is hardly the point. I wonder how the notion of queer temporalities, or the concept archive in exile, for example, might enrich the dominant conversation about media archaeology.
Kirschenbaum clearly demonstrated the importance of gender in conversation with the machines we research; locating real people and real stories as the necessary first step to collecting data for analysis. A lead to follow...