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Next Monday I’ll be taking part in an event hosted by Counterpoint at the ICA to discuss Charlie Leadbeater’s pamphlet on Cloud Culture which is being published on that day, but has already been trailed here and here. In that pre-publication writing Charlie has focused on ownership and control of the cloud as the big issues. While I agree that these are important questions, I’m more interested in the effects of cloud computing on the things we make and do and how we use them to understand each other and our world.
Something came clearer for me before Christmas when I was watching archive film from the British Council as part of our work with Counterpoint.
It was that in tandem with the abstraction of work away from the personal creation of physical objects, through mass production to stuff that’s all about thinking and using our brains, there has been a parallel abstraction of our cultural artefacts away from intimate cultural exchanges, through analogue representations and now digital representations.
The film archive work we did (and, I hope, we’ll continue to do) centres, for me, on how to deal with these analogue artefacts in a digital age. Yes, we can translate some of the experience – we can digitise the film and make it available on the web. The British Council has tried sharing stuff like that. Many other institutions are making their collections available online too. But it’s not the same as sitting in a little screening room at the BFI, handling the film, watching the soundtrack oscillate, seeing the richness of the monochrome. And watching these things on a computer screen on your own can’t compare to sitting in a cinema, watching them projected at the scale they were designed to be watched and with friends with whom you can chat about them immediately afterwards.
Are these experiences really important or are they just romantic nostalgia pieces for those born in the middle of the 20th Century? Can the web and a cloud-powered internet replicate these experiences? Should we be asking it to?
Counterpoint will publish Charles Leadbeater’s report Cloud Culture on 8th February with a debate and conversations at the ICA featuring Catherine Fieschi, Charles Leadbeater, Ekow Eshun, Paul Hilder and me. If you haven’t received an invitation but you think you should be there, please let me know.