Media in Transition 6: Summary Perspectives

moderator: James Paradis, Writing and Humanistic Studies, Center for Future Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Mary Bryson, Centre for Cross-Faculty Inquiry in Education, University of British Columbia
author: Marlene Manoff, MIT Humanities Library, The MIT Libraries, Center for Future Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: John Durham Peters, Communication Studies, University of Iowa
author: Thomas Pettitt, Institute of Literature, Media and Cultural Studies, University of Southern Denmark
published: Jan. 17, 2011,   recorded: April 2009,   views: 4711
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At the end of the three-day Media in Transition conference, panelists swap impressions and reactions, offering some notional themes for future symposia.

Mary Bryson frames her comments as “a mash-up aggregation.” The conference’s “massive disagreements and sometimes awkward silences and gaps” were beneficial, “as we make our way in the present imperfect of media studies.” For Bryson, a key question arose: “What time is it here?” The past, present and future are now intertwined in media studies, and often in “incommensurable tension.” The next conference might wish to “mobilize and re-territorialize” itself across borders, making itself available in multiple host locations.

The traditional discourse around libraries and archives no longer serves us well, observes librarian Marlene Manoff, who calls for a “new terminology to describe or think about collections of digital objects, especially when they involve new services and functionalities.” She was “happy to hear a universal acknowledgment of the volatility and mutability of the digital record,” yet finds herself “still at a loss when it comes to questions about what should or should not be saved.” Colleagues in the profession have been “discussing the social and political implications of selection decisions for a long time,” and today, with so many people creating and collecting digital objects and files,” she perceives “a much broader conversation,” although there is yet “no cultural consensus” about these issues.

John Durham Peters offers three observations: He first addresses the difficulty of organizing knowledge in a field as diverse as media studies (or for that matter, in other modern scholarship). Peters likens media studies to “a 17th-century cabinet of curiosities.” He also gives “two cheers for breakdown,” for the ways that archives fail to conserve “all kinds of stuff.” He asks if we would regard Sappho as such a good poet “if we possessed all 12 of the books.” He’s not trying “to praise barbarians who want to burn libraries,” but to point out that “what counts as historical record is exceedingly malleable.” His last comment involves the “interesting reversibility” of transmission and storage. To “transcend time, we must use up space, just as to transcend space, we must use up time.”

Thomas Pettitt admits to an identity crisis of sorts -- that “those of us who do literature but who have lost faith in literature as a rounded concept are not quite certain what it is that we do.” Possibly as a result of the welcoming nature of the conference, he wonders if “over time, literature studies people will find our true identity within media studies.” Literature is a form of culture production whose scholars focus on aesthetics, particularly those in a verbal form. The conference was absorbed with questions of quantity (“megas and teras”), but asks Pettitt, “Have we neglected (aesthetic) quality as a factor?” And finally, he found confirmation in the notion that “advances in media technology are taking us back to conditions as they were before some of the mechanical inventions.” Is this “business of the future looking rather like the past?”

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