OAKLAND, Calif. — Recently I’ve been fascinated by the Digital Archaeology blog, a website developed by curator and internet historian Jim Boulton. Its icon, a pixellated flashlight, captures, in my mind, how the site works: by shining light on different corners, never quite capturing the whole. The site was energized early last year when it began posting again after a hiatus. One article, “Get Off the Internet, I need to Make a Call,” discusses the odd — and largely arcane — experience of having both the internet and the phone tethered to a single connection. And the more ethnography-oriented story of dying in a text-based role playing game, or MUD:
In the virtual space, gender, age, race and physical ability recede. The story of a LegendMUD player called Karyn is revealing. After a two-month absence from the game, a letter from her parents claimed she had died in a car crash. Many of her online friends were upset and created a virtual garden of remembrance. They were no longer playing a game. Their grief was real.
The blog emerges out of a 2010 exhibition at Internet Week Europe that got attention for bringing together the “most significant sites of their time” and displaying them in their original presentation format. This meant, of course, reviving candy colored iMacs and other relics of another technology era. If wwwtxt, which I write about earlier, is like a curated media history of how we communicate online, Digital Archaeology more closely resembles a natural history museum.
A project similar in spirit comes from the Internet Archives new residency program. With Hyperallergic’s own Ben Valentine in the mix, the program invites participants to take residence on the tumblelog and mine the archive’s rich repositories for interesting tidbits. The schedule accommodates week-long projects for 52 “residents,” who’ll be doing work for a year. I’ll be excited to see what they come up with.
The notion of internet history as a form of archaeology is an intriguing one. What the term suggests is a disconnect between cultures, despite the undoubted influence of the past onto the present. Though the legacy of the Roman Empire dominates so much of our language, laws, and architecture today in the West, an actual visit to an ancient Roman site provokes a disconnect. The same could be said of the internet and our experience of its history from as recent as a decade ago.
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