Monday, March 22, 2010

Texts, Contexts, and Temporality

From Time

The article “Texts Without Context” (New York Times) reviews a number of books that “share a concern with how digital media are reshaping our political and social landscape, molding art and entertainment, even affecting the methodology of scholarship and research.” Themes of fragmentation—epistemological, communicational, and cultural—dominate. Near the end, the article quotes William Gibson, who claims that, “The record, not the remix, is the anomaly today. The remix is the very nature of the digital.” To which Jaron Lanier responds: “culture is effectively eating its own seed stock.” Are these examples of what the article calls Manichaean arguments?

The issue of cultural fragmentation reminded me of Manuel Castells’s “Museums in the Information Era: Cultural Connectors of Time and Space,” in which he argued that cultural heritage institutions such as museums can be “cultural connectors for a society which no longer knows how to communicate.” The preservation of temporality is of particular significance:

Museums are repositories of temporality. They constitute an accumulated historical tradition or a projection into the future. They are thus an archive of human time, lived or to be lived, an archive of the future. Re-establishing temporalities in a long-term perspective is fundamental to a society in which communication, technological systems and social structures converge to destroy time by suppressing or compressing it, or arbitrarily altering time sequences.