The MAL as (dis)organized Archive

Monday, April 21st, 2014 by kylebickoff

As I think through alternative ways of understanding archival order, and the ways in which the lab systems are organized, I decided to organize some photos chronologically. In the photo below I have arranged images of Apple desktop keyboards, specifically focusing on the placement (or lack thereof) of the arrow keys. In descending order, we have the Apple II, the Apple III, Apple IIe, Apple Lisa, Apple IIc, Apple Macintosh 512, Apple Mac Classic II, Apple Macintosh Centris 610, Aple iMac G3, Apple eMac, Apple iMac G4. These systems are arranged chronologically from the earlier (1977) to the most recent (2002). But is there really any sense of order apparent in these photos? What would Zielinski say? Certainly, it seems that to create any meaning in this ordered list, we would have to construct a narrative around this already organized list. But does that mean that a linear chronology is best for an archive? How about an archive of digital content?
The first photo contains only left and right arrows. The second contains ‘all four,’ but in a horizontal alignment. The third contains four, but arranged in a strange ‘L’ shape. The fourth a modified ‘L’ shape. The fifth, a reversion to the horizontal. The six, NONE AT ALL!. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… What does this all tell us? Very little. In fact, the layouts are representative of navigation, of interface. Maybe these systems should be organized based on their operating system? Do they have a GUI? Do they operate through a command line? These seem to be questions that help to define better categories in the archive.
I don’t have a single clear vision for ‘the one best way’ that the systems in the Media Archaeology Lab should be arranged. But I do understand that the lab is not currently using a better method. I am certainly open to suggestions on how a more ‘user friendly’ layout of computers in the lab might better help us as students and researchers as we’re using these systems.


This photo shows the keyboard progression I note.

The MAL as (dis)organized Archive


3 comments on “The MAL as (dis)organized Archive

  1. Lori Emerson says:

    Kyle, I love your collection (your archive?) of arrow keys on MAL computers – it reminds me of Joel Swanson’s project with delete keys. I’m only not clear on what your final project is going to be – are you going to propose a way to reorganize the lab or are you more just thinking through the affordances of a set of different ways to organize? Or are you suggesting the MAL organize by something as arbitrary and/but compelling as arrow keys? No need to respond necessarily – just pointing to some aspects that might need to be clarified.

  2. Kyle, I’m sorry I don’t have much to off as a means for reconceptualizing the archive. I am really excited to see where your project takes you, however. Arrows and the mouse both fascinated and frustrated me as I moved chronologically through Apple’s computers.

  3. kylebickoff says:

    Hi all,

    I’m not planning to reorganize the MAL based on this methodology. But I am trying to push the edges as creative practice here.

    My project for the MAL would, I believe, remain an intuitive and navigable system for researchers.

    But as I think through these needs, what might be the most useful? How is the current order constraining? What areas might I identify for improvement? These are just a few of the questions I’m thinking through.

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