Loss of culture

I’d like to try a thought experiment with you – dear reader.  Imagine that tomorrow you decide to go out and experience some culture.  As this is a thought experiment let’s also assume that money is no object, and that you have the resources to be able to accomplish this – I suppose the question is – what would you like to go and experience?

Would it be a play, or a movie?  Would it be a novel or sculpture or a painting.  Let’s put a pin in this for now, and assume that you want to go and see the Mona Lisa.  So how would you do it?  I think it’s common knowledge that the Mona Lisa is located in the Louvre – Paris, so you get on a plane or whatever mode of transport is most applicable and find yourself in Paris.

You walk up to the wall where the painting should be – but it isn’t there.  It has gone – vanished.  Would it be fair to say that worldwide culture is now poorer for the loss of this artwork?  This leads me to think that culture is dependent on the artifacts that we as humans create and apply value to.  This means that the doodlings I make while on the phone aren’t necessarily cultural, unless some cultural value could be applied to the doodlings.

This brings me in a roundabout sort of way to the importance of maintaining the digital artifacts of our culture.  I previously blogged about the potential issues that could occur if we leave content floating on web servers somewhere, and the rest of this story is related to that.

I received the following tweet today from the internet’s Jono Bacon:

No Jono's world of metal for me
No Jono’s world of metal for me

This seems similar to the scenario I wrote at the start of this article – I’ve attempted to access the cultural artifact, but cannot due to my physical location. I’d like to suggest that this would be like stopping certain nationalities from seeing the Mona Lisa.

Severed Fifth Creative Commons
Creative Commons’ Severed Fifth article.

Anyway the tweet got me thinking about Jono and metal.

You may (or indeed may not) be aware that Jono is quite an accomplished musician and a few years ago he set up a band – Severed Fifth, which released 2 albums under a creative commons license.  I found an article on creativecommons.org which had links to severed fifth.

Clicking on the link doesn’t take me to the  band web site – it instead shows the Apache it works screen.

www.severedfifth.com - It works!
www.severedfifth.com – It works!

More cultural artifacts that I cannot access – this time because they haven’t been preserved.  It might be argued that these assets are not lost – they are potentially preserved on the way back machine or the internet archive.  This is the same problem that has affected the Dr Who community – the problem of missing episodes.  It makes me wonder whether there is a danger that the ephemeral nature of the internet means that there is whole swathes of culture being deleted because it’s really hard to think about the value that some future generation may place on the almost disposable nature of the current age.  What if you wanted to go and play a 1980’s paper boy video game (emulated or on the arcade) – do you know where you could find it?  Or how about playing interphase

Hopefully this article has identified a number of issues relating to the access of culture – in case my writing style is somehow unclear, I’ll summarize them here :

  • Discovery

If you didn’t know that the Mona Lisa existed – how could you find it? Is there some catalog of cultural assets? I suppose I could use wikipedia or google to locate other pieces of art

  • Access

How can you attain access to cultural artifacts

  • Preservation

How can we be sure that content that exists now will be available next year… or the year after that? There was an OggCamp video from 2010.  It was preserved on Vimeo, but was removed.  I no longer have access to it.

  • Filtering

I some times doodle while I’m on the phone, or I’ll sketch while waiting for a program to compile.  Dave sometimes animates little 10 second animations. Would these be cultural assets?

Mike is the programmer in the bunker. He writes software for a shaddowy software house in Worcester. He works mainly in .NET and python, but equally has found himself having to support different technologies such as MAXScript and .NET integration. Spending most of his time working on his passion of content packaging, and is currently working on an ebook authoring system for Ubuntu. Although he is the main programmer on the site he doesn’t do much with regard to writitng games