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Alternatives to contemporary capture culture explored


The perils, pitfalls and also the positives of media technologies such as Facebook are investigated as a Malmö University researcher examines personal archiving in an era of capture culture.

Jacek Smolicki

PhD candidate from the Living Archives research project, Jacek Smolicki has questioned how digital memories are used by popular social media channels and network technologies, and explored alternative methods of archiving everyday life.

The results are published in his thesis, ‘Para-Archives: Rethinking Personal Archiving Practices in the Times of Capture Culture’.

His research explains how information voluntarily entered by individuals, or involuntarily captured by increasingly automated technologies, can be stored and, potentially, used by third parties for other than intended purposes. 

“I am trying to approach our contemporary culture from the perspective of archiving, and trying to question what the very term archiving means today with this abundance of digital technology. Popular services like Facebook have a degree of freedom, but there are certain hidden archival layers to all interactions.

“Facebook has a whole depth to it. It is accumulating data that we are not even aware of. Our interaction via network platforms creates imperceptible repositories of our everyday lives and social relations — some data is not given to us in a direct way, but is being archived and distributed to commercial partners beyond our perception.

“The very fact that social media services let us communicate and share memories on such a scale certainly has some positive sides, but there is what some people refer to as a ‘surveillance-convenience trade off’; for being able to freely operate within these frameworks we disclose certain aspects of our lives, and perhaps, to some extent, constrain our imaginations as to how we represent those lives.”

Smolicki also suggests that such sites are often interested in how you feel in the here and now, and are structured accordingly.

“If we really want to consider personal archiving then perhaps we need to look somewhere else. These platforms are not interested in creating an account of your life. They want to gain an understanding of how you are feeling or what you are doing in the present moment. On these platforms, the larger historical significance of personal memory seems to disappear.

A series of transformations of Smolicki’s personal archiving  practices featured in his research.Post-digital archiving

“I am interested in exploring other alternatives for personal archiving, and for the last several years I have been developing different, creative techniques of recording, mapping and mediating the everyday, focusing, for example, on soundscapes.

“Every day, I try to record a minute of specific soundscapes. I then add a comment to some of them, to give context. I have seven years of recordings of different situations that I have been part of in some way. It could be a squeaky train in Budapest, or political unrest in Istanbul. Sound is an entry point for me to engage in and understand events, spaces and cultures. At the same time, my techniques are deliberately designed to create some kind of a subjective record of our times — an archive with depth that moves away from the instantaneous.”

Smolicki wants us to rethink archiving via the digital tools we already use. He explores how technologies concerned with the momentary can be rethought to serve long-term goals. He is looking at several alternatives and, along with ‘minuting’ soundscapes, he also uses a GPS watch to record daily walks in public spaces, which he later turns into a graphical mark.

“The general premise of this thesis is that there is no way to avoid being technologically captured or archived. Instead of denouncing these technologies, I want us to think about how we might use these circumstances to generate meaningful accounts of our lives.”

Text: Adrian Grist

Last updated by Adrian Grist