So, upon finishing Parikka’s What is Media Archaeology? (a before e, remember, a before e…), I’m not sure I have–or perhaps it’s good I don’t have–a stable definition of this study? Or is it a theory, or a process, or a progression (non-linear), or an experimentation, or a “cartography?” It’s somewhat unnerving to arrive at the end of an introductory text without being able to clearly answer the question that is its title, but perhaps that is Parikka enacting the methodologies he describes/builds upon– in that way, encouraging us to take part in constructing meaning out of our technological “progress” that is not ideologically rooted in the dominant, Enlightenment-style histories we have been given or any other history we would readily accept (if Parikka set out answering the question point-blank). Here are five reflections, in no particular order
1) What was most clear to me was Parikka’s discussion on steampunk and artistic uses for/ repurposing of old and dead media. This seems to suggest a new interaction between the technical (mathematical, scientific) and the artistic/aesthetic that can serve theoretical and political purposes.
2) Understanding that a connection exists between technologies past and present was also noteworthy – thinking about what was left behind, why it was, and how it has shaped our present media (alternate histories, marginalized histories, layered histories, non-linear histories). This demands an investigation of how our present media still interacts with/answers past needs – developing a sense of “We’re not so different, you and I.”
3) The notion of noise in media was a particularly tough section of the book, but the striving for “noise reduction” and the advent of spam, viruses, filtering technology, and hacker culture stuck out for me, along with the realization that information security was a problem even in the telegraph age.
4) Film theory was significant to Parikka’s work too -how some of those theoretical techniques could be applied to studying/analyzing/opening up media. Granted, this is probably an overwhelming over-generalization.
5) And wow, this text contained a lot of high theory when I was initially expecting more tinkering/thinkering with artifacts. Consequently I felt thrown into the deep end, sometimes because of the argument’s construction, other times by the argument’s content (overall, there seemed to be a definite assumption of familiarity). While Parikka asks “do we have to become engineers to say and do anything interesting and accurate about current media culture?” and answers that, fortunately, that’s not the case (loc 3449)…I’m not entirely convinced, as it seems the level of engagement desired would require such expertise.
Alas, to close with an attempted exercise in “thinkering”, Parikka’s section on noise did make me think about my own experiences as an intern at a radio station. There, I would have to edit my breaths out of recordings (which had been picked up and were often amplified by the microphone). I did this for normally pre-recorded materials like news updates and commercials, but elected to make such edits to informal bumps between songs as well. Upon playback, the breaths did jar me as “noise,” distracting interruptions where “natural” pauses should be, even though the natural should be the breath and it was not noticeable outside of the medium. Breaths were also not economical; when trying to edit a newscast to fit a 2 minute timeslot (when 2 or 3 sponsors needed to be mentioned) that noise–the human aspect–took up too much time. Perhaps I’m making too much of it, but thinking about it in these ways opens up critiques about increasing disembodiment and (maybe, if it’s not a stretch?) capitalism.